Their cups runneth over
By Steve Woodward
Special to Page 2

Major League Baseball, which historically has all but ignored drug testing, just figured out that youngsters in the Dominican Republic inject veterinary drugs -- intended for retrievers rather than outfielders -- as a cheap means of building up power and stamina to impress scouts.

Talk about being in the manager's doghouse. One day a kid is chasing a long flyball, the next day a Ford sedan. A Roger Kahn wannabe could pen "The Pooches of Summer."

Athletes and sports administrators are locked in this vicious cycle of suspicion, accusation, denial and drug testing that sometimes makes the Joe McCarthy era seem like a period of timid, passing curiosity.

Even the mild-mannered Belgians of world-class tennis can't stay out of the mire. You'd think the recent US Open women's finalists would have gleefully returned to Brussels for a victory parade and some nice chocolates. Instead, the dad of runner-up Kim Clijsters suggested to the hometown press that champion Justine Henin-Hardenne has undergone "unusual" physical development.

Tennis players are tested for almost everything except, perhaps, brainwave activity. Why, just this year, a test was added to detect the blood-booster known as EPO. Just what they need in tennis, another acronym. An EPO positive will land you in front of the ATP/ITF/WTA tribunal ASAP.

Drug testing of athletes around the world is already so pervasive that one naturally assumes Al Gore invented it. Like the Internet, testing and its ramifications are everywhere.

When the National Basketball Association last season started testing for marijuana and steroids, even league commissioner David Stern participated. Because you need five on a side to play a game, the NBA wisely tests its non-rookies and, presumably, its commissioner, only one time a season. If you're clean once, you're off the hook for the year.

What is that policy actually accomplishing? Isn't this akin to granting the right to bypass security on all future journeys to anyone who doesn't set off a metal detector at the airport on his first pass-through? "Right this way, Mr. Bin Laden."

Fact is, drug testing is a largely futile endeavor that costs leagues and sports governing bodies enormous amounts of money and erodes the credibility of everybody involved, mostly the innocent. Athletes and, by extension, their fans, today suffer from paralysis by urinalysis.

It is especially entertaining to watch the current drama unfolding in the world of athletics, inelegantly known in these United States as "track and field." Why don't we just call it "piss and moan?"

None other than the world federation of athletics, the shadowy, Monte Carlo-based IAAF, is convinced that we Americans protect our biggest stars when they test positive, by way of keeping network television executives and various sponsors happy, and American lawyers from representing an inordinate number of clients with zero-percent body fat. Why would they be suspicious of the USA? Next, they'll claim we let our Presidents and sports legends get away with lying under oath. Please.

To turn the tables and make us pay for our generations of indifference, the policy now is essentially to ban everything. American sprinter Kelli White is living under a cloud of suspicion because she might have ingested an evil, so-called "related substance" in the stimulant family of pharmaceuticals.

White says she took a medication prescribed to combat the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Narcolepsy can cause a person to fall asleep at inopportune moments -- such as, apparently, mid-stride in a 100-meter dash. The drug contains a stimulant related to other banned substances that might have given White an edge in winning the recent 100 and 200 at the World Championships outside Paris.

The IAAF is right, of course, when it claims White should have listed the prescription drug, known generically as Modafinil, on her drug declaration form when she arrived at the meet in France. (The truly cautious athlete arriving in Paris would have used both sides of the form and listed duck liver pate, espresso, Bordeaux and second-hand smoke, just in case.)

But what's with this? IAAF drug troopers refuse to let White off on an "inadvertent positive" because they claim they were about to get around to listing Modafinil as a "lesser stimulant." That's as opposed to a "heavy stimulant" like, say, heroin. One man's "lesser" is another's packet of Equal, no? Who draws the line? The IAAF could rule every test positive for something on its soon-to-be-banned list. Beware sparkling water. Those minerals might some day become a "related substance."

Why don't they just ban the testing? If we are all so worried that athletes ingesting performance-enhancing drugs will ruin sports, perhaps we should start pushing for the ultimate drug test. Let's make everything legal and wait for the body count to soar.

Think it's hard to win the 100 against juiced-up opponents? Try it on a track strewn with deceased, juiced-up, former opponents. (Ever notice the lack of reunions among pro wrestling's old-timers?)

Or, in deference to Reality TV, why not create a division for elite drug users? The International Olympic Committee could add anabolic steroid and stimulant manufacturing to its list of sponsorship categories, which would lead to more advertising and endorsement revenue. Who wouldn't pay to see our most juiced-up female swimmer dog-paddle against an opponent from eastern Europe with a John-Wayne-inflected deep voice? Wouldn't you wait in line to witness a group of sprinters run the 100 in, like, six seconds, then explode just past the finish line? Think of the applications for Sega and EA Sports. They could do a marketing partnership with NASCAR.

Rowing has its "eights" with coxswain and without coxswain. Why not allow other events to be similarly named? Who'd pass up "synchronized swimmers on speed" or "bobsledders on booze?"

Drug testing is random all right -- in its effectiveness. The labs were chock full of samples from cross-country skiers at 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Sure, three were nailed for using blood-boosting endurance drugs. Were there more? A crew of maids tidying post-Olympics housing found the Austrian cross-country team's rented Utah chateau littered with all manner of blood-doping paraphernalia. These guys were halfway across the Atlantic, oxygenated out of their minds, before the anti-dopes had a clue.

Since there are so few voices in the wilderness that believe performance-enhancing drug usage would decline quickly if we let the problem runs its natural, gruesome course, testing seems to be here to stay. But there is good news. Offenders are hilarious once exposed. They all start to sound like the chief navigator on the Titanic.

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Keith Newman was suspended recently by the NFL for violating its steroid ban. (The hidden news here is that there actually is a ban.) He'll sit out four games. Newman explained the presence of the steroid in his system by using a line first uttered by a guy in the Garden of Eden. It was, Newman said, "an inadvertent mistake".

Aren't they all.

Steve Woodward is a freelance writer without coxswain.


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