Barry, Barry, Barry...please say it ain't so. Say those 73 round trippers back in 2001 were not tainted by uh...flax oil cream. C'mon Barry...I trusted you. I believed you when you said you were clean. I know you haven't admitted to using steroids but...you sure did get huge...fast.
O.k. let's forget the fact that you just hit your 700th home run this past season, even though you're only the third player in the history of baseball to do it. Let's forget that you will probably pass the immortal Babe Ruth next season for number two on the career home run list, and we'll just forget that there is not even one asterisk sitting by your name on any of those records that you currently hold. But what we can never forget is how your obsession with greatness has helped foster an epidemic of performance enhancing drug use among athletes ranging from professionals to high school kids.
Now in your defense you are clearly not the only one. Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Marion Jones and every other superstar using these drugs are equally responsible, but you Barry...you were my man. You were a beloved Giant from my hometown of San Francisco. You beat the snot out of the hated Dodgers time and time again. You were a committed chiropractic patient for crying out loud. You even sang our virtues publicly saying that you used chiropractic "on a regular basis." By getting adjusted once a week, you felt it would lengthen your playing career. And now it all has been tainted.
I know, I know...it's not really cheating. As we are being told, it has only leveled the playing field, since most everybody in professional sports is now doing it. But, please tell us Barry, at what cost? I know you guys understand the risks. Lyle Alzado understood them - Ken Caminitti understood them - but do the kids who worship you and want to be like you truly understand them? The answer, Your Greatness, is...probably not.
To compete at the collegiate or professional level in any sport, most kids feel that they have to use performance enhancing drugs. Unfortunately they are unaware of the health risks involved in using those substances. Parents, coaches and health professionals have to take the time and tell children of the dangers involved in taking these substances, as do players like you, and trust me when I say, the dangers are many.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the naturally occurring male hormone testosterone. Although there are many different types, athletes generally take those that increase their muscle mass and make them more powerful. Essentially, the steroids decrease the recovery period needed by muscles so that they may build up (anabolism) quickly. Users, therefore, can increase the length and number of their workouts, experiencing enormous gains in size and strength.
There are many ways to take steroids. They can be taken orally, injected or used topically "The Clear" is a liquid placed under the tongue and was admittedly taken by Jason Giambi, while "The Cream" is what you, Barry, used topically, although you say you were unaware of the ingredients, thinking it was a flax oil cream. Others choose to inject the drugs, and many also inject human growth hormone to amplify the effects.
Athletes are not the only ones taking steroids either. Average men and women are taking them regularly to "look good". The health risks for men include reduced sperm count, impotence, gynecomastia (breast development), shrinkage of the testicles and painful urination. In women it can cause the development of facial hair, deepening voice, breast reduction and changes in the menstrual cycle. In other words, men may experience "feminization" while women may experience "masculinization" of their traits.
If used for a long enough period, either sex may experience severe acne, a bloated appearance, rapid weight gain, blood clots, liver damage, premature heart disease/strokes, elevated cholesterol levels and weakened tendons. In adolescents, it can prematurely close the growth centers of bones causing stunted growth. The most characteristic side effect though is severe mood swings. According to Dr. Gary Wadler, an expert on performance enhancing drugs from the New York University School of Medicine, "People's psychological states can run the gamut. They can go from bouts of depression or extreme irritability to feelings of invincibility and outright aggression, commonly called 'roid rage'. This is a dangerous state beyond mere assertiveness".
With all the dangers involved in using steroids, why has it reached such epidemic proportions with athletes and in health clubs? There are a couple of reasons. First, as we previously pointed out, many feel that they have to do these drugs to compete on the collegiate and professional levels. Major League Baseball's slack policies on the matter surely do not help. Even so, today's designer drugs are very difficult to detect, and when tests are eventually developed to discover them, newer drugs are produced and this sets the whole process back to square one.
Another reason is that we have a pervading attitude in our society to want things fast and easy. We tend to have an obsession with "magic bullets" like prescription drugs, liposuction and gastric bypass surgery. These procedures are so much easier than the hard work it takes to stay healthy, lose weight or as the case with steroids, "get ripped", that many would rather run to them than rely on their own efforts. Furthermore, when we have industries that push looking a certain way (Hollywood and Fashion) coupled with industries that push magic bullets (Medicine and Pharmaceuticals) and we throw in an industry that turns its head to the rampant abuses occurring within it (Professional Sports), what we are left with is a society willing to risk everything, including people's lives, for immediate gratification.
The abuse of performance enhancing drugs in athletics and its recent exposure may be one of the best things that could have possibly happened to both sports and society. Despite the doubts of some in Major League Baseball that anything will change, lawmakers from both parties have warned baseball to take care of the problem or face federal action. In other words, the party is now over. Not only may this clean up a few associations that desperately need it, it may also force us to look at the bigger issues that are underlying this problem - mainly how we view human health and where it stands on our list of priorities. If we have become so shallow that we would risk our well-being for a fleeting glimpse of glory, then we really need to do some serious soul searching about what is really important in life and look for other ways to experience it.
Not everyone can make it to the Major League level like you Barry, whether they are juiced on roids or not. Should we endanger the health of thousands of kids who will never make it to the pros, so that guys like you, Giambi and Sheffield can be immortalized in the record books? The message you are sending to the public is, "It's o.k. to place your life in danger...as long as you produce the numbers on the playing field, nothing else really matters".
Yet there are many who have preceded you who found their glory the old fashioned way...they worked hard for it, and they did what they did. If that meant hitting only 500 homers, then that's what it meant. If they couldn't do any more with their God-given abilities, then they settled for 12th or 13th on the list, but performance enhancement was never part of the equation.
All in all Barry, I will walk away from this mess with both hope and respect - hope in knowing that things will eventually be righted in sports, and that they will once again be a place where athletes can showcase their natural abilities. And yes Mr. Bonds, respect...respect for those unsung heroes who quietly accumulated their numbers and reached true levels of greatness, like Hank Aaron who became the greatest home run hitter of all-time (755 homeruns) with no chemical help whatsoever. Those times will come again.
-December 9, 2004