Manny Ramirez: The dangers of doping, and the lesson learned




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Manny Ramirez: The dangers of doping, and the lesson learned

Performance-enhancing drugs have been around for almost 60 years, but their prevalence today means we have to use high-profile cases to open conversations with our kids.

By Lisa Sweetingham
May 15, 2009

I'm not a huge baseball fan. I don't know what all the stats mean or how many home runs away from Godlike status Alex Rodriguez might be. But when left fielder Manny Ramirez rolled into town last year, Dodger fever struck. I became a regular reader of the Sports pages of this newspaper and discovered ESPN on the TV remote. And I was charmed to learn that a friend's 8-year-old daughter, a Pony League All-Star slugger, had taped pictures of Ramirez to her bedroom wall when most girls her age covet the Jonas Brothers.

All that Manny love turned cold last week after he was suspended for 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy -- bad news that came just days after allegations that A-Rod may have been juicing as early as high school and during his time as a Yankee.

As a journalist, I've spent several years hanging out with drug dealers and drug cops to cover the trade, and I suspect that the reasons people take performance-enhancement drugs aren't so different from why they take cocaine or Ecstasy. They want to be better, sexier, more heroic versions of themselves. Bob Hazelton wanted that too, but more about him later.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids, which can be injected or taken orally, are synthetic derivatives of testosterone and have been used in clinical practice since the 1940s for burns, surgery, radiation therapy and, since the 1980s, for treatment of cancer and AIDS-associated wasting syndrome. Their earliest documented use for performance enhancement was in the 1950s, by Soviet weightlifters.

But in the last 30 years, usage has spread beyond elite athletes, who sought to secretly enhance their competitiveness, and into the realm of individuals who seek greater self-perceived attractiveness. Amateurs and athletes are equally at risk for side effects that, according to the Mayo Clinic, include liver abnormalities and tumors, high cholesterol, aggressive behavior, depression and severe acne. For adolescents, there is an additional risk of stunted growth.

Side effects specific to males include increased breast size, baldness, shrunken testicles and infertility. Females are at risk of baldness, increased body hair and a deeper voice -- all of which recall the saga of Heidi Krieger, the 1986 former East German shot-put champion who was fed such high doses of steroids by her coaches that, in 1997, she gave in to her stunning metamorphosis, underwent a sex change operation and became Andreas Krieger.

Experts say chronic steroid abusers add "accessory" medications to their performance-enhancement cocktail. Though one steroid might make your muscles bigger, you'll need another to get that lean, cut look. Throw in some Tamoxifen to help prevent breast enlargement, Viagra for sexual dysfunction and human chorionic gonadotropin -- the drug that got Ramirez banned -- to revive testosterone levels. The list goes on when one's desire to get bigger, faster and stronger knows no bounds.

Steroids aren't physically addictive, but their psychologically addictive properties are well known to researchers. Hamsters will self-administer testosterone directly to their brains even to the point of death. As for humans? Former heavyweight boxer Bob Hazelton testified in tears before Congress in 2004 about his addiction.

Hazelton began using in 1970. By 1985, he was spending $200 to $300 a week and took as much as 1,400 milligrams a day of a drug whose therapeutic dose was closer to 5 or 10 milligrams a day. In 1986, after suffering from debilitating heart attacks and blood clots, his left leg was amputated below the knee. He kept on doping. A year later, his right leg was amputated. He quit using and started speaking out, from his wheelchair, about the dangers of steroid abuse.

Hazelton's story still gets to Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy assistant administrator in the Drug Enforcement Administration's office of diversion control, who also testified that day. Rannazzisi is a pharmacist by training and a drug agent by trade, and he works closely with Major League Baseball to share information, technical advice and trends in the illegal use of anabolic steroids. For the record, the DEA thinks MLB is doing a decent job of making players accountable.

"I think they're doing everything they can to identify people who are abusing performance-enhancement drugs, not only to protect the integrity of baseball but also to protect the health and safety of players," Rannazzisi says.

The DEA isn't interested in singling out players for prosecution, but it is targeting the organizations that distribute steroids for non-medical use.

As a father of five, Rannazzisi admits that he cares deeply about whether professional sports players are doping. "In addition to it being a violation of the law, it sends a bad message to our kids," he says.

Thankfully, according to the latest Monitoring the Future study, 91% of American 12th-graders disapprove of steroids, and just 2.2% report having ever used them.

Manny's fall from grace at least provides an opportunity to discuss the dangers of performance-enhancement drugs with our children.

"I'd never say to my own kids that somebody is bad or evil because they've done something like that," Rannazzisi says. "What I'd say is, 'He's made a mistake, and we don't want you to make that same mistake.' "

Which is pretty much what my friend told his daughter on their way to a Dodger game. She was disappointed at first, but she shrugged it off and focused on the other players. I might follow her lead. I never cared about the stats anyway. So, Manny, when you return in July, if you can stay off the juice, I'll keep reading the Sports section.

Lisa Sweetingham is the author of "Chemical Cowboys: The DEA's Secret Mission to Hunt Down a Notorious Ecstasy Kingpin."

Can baseball avoid an error on Latino players?

As more Latino stars become eligible for the Hall of Fame, the keepers of the game will have to think hard about questions of racial prejudice and performance-enhancing drugs.

By Zev Chafets

June 24, 2009

This summer, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., is marking its 70th anniversary with, among other highlights, "Viva Baseball," its first permanent exhibit on Latin American baseball. At the exhibit's opening, former first baseman Orlando Cepeda spoke for the nine Latinos already inducted into the Hall. "To be here today," he said, "we went through some obstacles."

Cepeda was referring to the racial prejudice and cultural incomprehension that Latinos have encountered since 1871, when Cuban third-baseman Estaban Bellan of the Troy Haymakers became the first Latino major leaguer. For more than seven decades after that, only "white" Latinos were allowed in the majors (and even they often felt uncomfortable) -- until Jackie Robinson integrated the game in 1947. Many took Anglo names or otherwise downplayed their roots. Even Ted Williams, one of the best-known players in baseball history, got through his entire career without publicly mentioning the fact that his mother was a Mexican American.

After integration, dark-skinned Latino stars began playing in the U.S. The first Latino elected to the Hall of Fame, Roberto Clemente, was called "Bob" on his early baseball cards. He bitterly resented the way Anglo sportswriters quoted him in pidgin English and portrayed him as a "typically" temperamental Puerto Rican.

These days, writers no longer make fun of the accents and temperament of Latino players (at least not in print), but there are other, newer stereotypes to contend with. The most damaging is the notion that Latinos are responsible for introducing banned steroids into the pristine sanctuary of major league clubhouses.

This image owes a good deal to the fact that the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball was revealed to the public by the self-proclaimed "Godfather of Steroids," slugger Jose Canseco. It is also true that a disproportionate share of Latino players have been caught juicing. In 2005, according to Newsweek, almost two-thirds of the players who tested positive (and half the minor leaguers) were from Latin America.

"The data raise a troubling possibility that few in baseball would like to address head on," Newsweek concluded. "Are players from Latin America simply too driven to succeed?"

In many Latin American countries, the same steroids that are banned in major league baseball can be bought over the counter like aspirin or toothpaste. It is unlikely that players from those countries can be made to believe that using them is immoral. Is it cheating? Well, baseball cheating is as old as Babe Ruth's corked bat and as winked-at as Gaylord Perry's spitball. Ruth and Perry are in the Hall of Fame, part of a vast roster of immortals who used stimulants, downers and booze to help them perform, heal and get through the stress of major league competition.

Supreme Court rules against NFL in antitrust case

The 9-0 ruling declares the teams are individual businesses and not a 'single entity' and leaves owners open to be sued if they conspire to restrict competition in the sale of merchandise.

By David G. Savage

May 25, 2010

Reporting from Washington

The National Football League is not a single business shielded from the antitrust laws, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, dealing a setback to sports leagues, which seek to closely control the marketing of their teams and their spin-off products.

The 9-0 ruling leaves the owners of most pro sports teams subject to being sued if they agree among themselves to restrict competition between the teams over their sale of merchandise.

The ruling reinstates an antitrust suit filed by a suburban Chicago maker of stocking caps, which lost its right to use NFL logos on its caps.

Ten years ago, the NFL gave Reebok an exclusive license to sell caps and hats with team logos. American Needle, the suburban Chicago firm which lost out, argued the deal hurt consumers and competition. Afterward, prices of hats spiked upward, the firm contended.

But a judge in Chicago and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the antitrust suit on the grounds that the NFL was a "single entity" and cannot be accused of conspiring with itself.

The Supreme Court disagreed. In American Needle vs. the NFL the court ruled that the owners can sometimes be sued if they conspire among themselves to restrict competition.

"Each of the [32] teams is a substantial, independently owned and independently managed business," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens. "Decisions by NFL teams to license their separately owned trademarks collectively and to only one vendor are decisions that deprive the marketplace of … actual or potential competition," he said.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, the NFL players and coaches joined on the side of American Needle, the cap maker. They feared that if the league were deemed to be a single business, the owners could agree among themselves on a plan to limit salaries. The court's ruling appears to put those fears to rest.

But the decision is not a total defeat for the NFL. Stevens said the owners had valid reasons for cooperating on many fronts to assure the success of the league. "The fact that NFL teams share an interest in making the entire league successful and profitable, and that they must cooperate in the production of and scheduling of games, provides a perfectly sensible justification for making a host of collective decisions," Stevens wrote.

In the end, the court did not set a clear rule. It said judges must decide whether agreements among the independent teams are reasonable, or instead amount to an unreasonable restriction on competition. The justices sent the case back to Chicago for judges to decide on American Needle's complaint that the Reebok deal was an unreasonable restriction on competition.


Fantasy boosts reality: NFL TV ratings hit a record this year thanks in part to fantasy football leagues

Fantasy football has broadened the game's appeal to include people who previously followed football little or not at all, and rewards viewers for watching from kick-off to the game's end.

By Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times

December 19, 2010

The estimated 29 million Americans who play in fantasy football leagues are helping the NFL's TV ratings to a record year. That includes the 10 San Diego moms who call themselves the Hail Marys.

When they first gathered three years ago, the group of women in their 30s and 40s was so green that one member asked if "fantasy" meant picking the hottest NFL players. Now they're a bunch of obsessives who, in building and competing with their pseudo-teams using real players and figures, pore over yardage stats and go by huddle-tough nicknames like the Grinder. And they watch each game like it's wanted for murder. "In fantasy football every game counts," said Kierstan Cleary, a pharmaceutical sales representative and mother of two young sons who described herself as at most a casual fan before joining the Hail Marys. Her viewing of games on TV during that time, she estimates, has tripled to about 30 per season.

And that, in a nutshell, helps explain why the story of TV viewing this fall has largely been one of the NFL and will likely go down as pro football's most-watched season ever. Twenty-six NFL games so far this season have grabbed 20 million or more viewers, a feat achieved by only nine non-football shows, according to the Nielsen Co. — and seven of those non-football shows were episodes of ABC's smash "Dancing With the Stars." Fifteen NFL games so far this year have averaged more than 25 million viewers. Just nine games hit that mark for the entire 2009 season.

The growth of the Internet has fueled the rise of fantasy football, and that in turn is driving record growth in NFL ratings. Fantasy has become the TV executives' friend for two reasons: It has vastly broadened the game's appeal to include people who previously followed football lightly or not at all, and it rewards viewers for paying close attention from kick-off to the game's final seconds. Fantasy has changed the meaning of the game far beyond the traditional rooting interest shared by hometown fans.

"It's not just that, 'I'm an Eagles fan, and I'm going to watch the Eagles,'" said Leah LaPlaca, vice president of programming at ESPN, which has seen double-digit rises in "Monday Night Football" ratings this season. "[If] I happen to have Peyton Manning as my starting quarterback and I happen to have Chris Johnson on my fantasy team … I'm going to watch the Titans and I'm going to watch the Colts, 'cause I want to see how those guys are going to do."

The fantasy site fanball.com, which is operated by Liberty Media, estimates that at least 29 million Americans play fantasy football. An entire media industry devoted to the subject has exploded, seeking to satisfy the "owners'" insatiable demands for the latest stats on the approximately 1,700 players in the NFL. That the Internet is uniquely suited to fill that type of number-crunching and record-keeping role has only accelerated the expansion of fantasy football.

"Before the Internet and before they had stats services like NFL.com and ESPN, which are running stats for you," said Michael Fabiano, a longtime fantasy football analyst who now works for NFL.com, "I was doing it on pen and paper. Now it's much easier."

The real breakthrough may have come over the last few years, as many websites aimed at hard-core fans have dropped subscription fees and offered their services free. Yahoo, for example, shed its $9.99 per-season charge for real-time fantasy scoring, as a raft of no-charge competitors flooded the market. After years of slapping its own brand on a game devised by CBS Sports, the NFL started offering its own free online fantasy game this year.

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