Anthony Galea thickens the steroids plot

The narrative of the steroids era is still incomplete, an upright ladder missing many of its rungs. The top isn't the problem. Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, Marion Jones, Bill Romanowski and Victor Conte are well-recognized names, deservedly disgraced. The next level down, too -- the leagues, teams and player unions that played roles as enablers -- has been generally addressed, though often in a creaky, unstable manner.

Even those on the bottom -- the paying fans -- have been asked in this tumultuous time to look inward and examine why they pay and why they watch.

But an important middle rung -- the doctors who use their positions of legitimacy to provide illegal drugs to players -- is perhaps the most critical, yet most underreported, element of the story.

On Tuesday, Anthony Galea, a Canadian doctor who has been linked to treatment of numerous star athletes, including Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez, was named in a federal criminal complaint for allegedly providing human growth hormone to two NFL players, one former and one current. Galea already faces four criminal charges in Canada.

Accompanying those developments is the predictable, insulting level of public denial that has characterized the steroids era almost from its beginning: No one knows anything. New York Mets players Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, as well as Rodriguez, have met with MLB investigators and said Galea never provided them with performance enhancers. Beltran and Reyes also have spoken with federal authorities about Galea; Rodriguez has yet to meet with federal investigators seeking to interview him. Woods, too, when asked about his relationship with Galea in a media conference before the Masters, insisted that he has never taken performance enhancers. So no one, apparently, has done anything wrong.

Perhaps that's true. But the public record of cases in which athletes have been identified as users overwhelmingly reflects this trend: No one knows how or why his or her test could possibly have come up positive.

Just last week, Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was suspended by the NFL for a violation of its drug testing policy. And -- surprise! -- he said he has no idea how it occurred. Cushing, who was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, might still be green as a player, but he is already skilled in the fine art of denial.

The investigation of Galea provides insight into how illegal drugs move and how a legitimate, respected source such as a medical doctor becomes involved somewhere along the chain to facilitate their transfer into the hands of athletes, who often need an intermediary for an illegal transaction. According to legal documents obtained by ESPN, one of Galea's frequent destinations in the States was Cleveland, which is near Canada.

Galea's case eventually will play out in the criminal justice system. For now, it represents several continuing themes in the steroid narrative.

The first is that regardless of the desire by Major League Baseball or the NFL to get to the end of the drug era, there is still no end in sight.

The second is that the players Galea allegedly has treated -- Rodriguez and Woods, for example -- can hardly be welcoming another scandal. The BALCO indictments seemed to fizzle -- Bonds was indicted on perjury and obstruction charges more than two and a half years ago, still without resolution; and no BALCO defendant did prison time via jury conviction -- but the names involved (Bonds, Romanowski, Gary Sheffield, Tim Montgomery, Jason Giambi) were big enough that the country and the government took notice. The Galea case certainly has that potential, at the least.

The third is the most damning. Players continually ask the public to believe them, to accept that the entire PED world is one giant misunderstanding, yet they continue to make incredibly reckless decisions with their careers. Rodriguez earns $31 million per season and has access, by dint of his fame and enormous financial resources, to the best medical advice and care the world has to offer. But he apparently chose to patronize Galea, who isn't even licensed to practice in the United States.

The same is true for Woods, who seems as if he might be on his way to becoming golf's $1 billion embarrassment.

If you follow the logic, the decision-making of the steroids era athlete suggests widespread impropriety.

Today, whether the doctor is Galea or James Shortt (who served time for providing HGH to members of the Carolina Panthers) or others yet to be identified, players with money, access and power are turning to questionable sources for treatment of injuries. That suggests a serious lack of discretion, if not a suspicious desire to avoid the traditional paper trail.

Chances are, if an athlete decides to take an underground route to "wellness," he's doing something he shouldn't. Then when scandal hits, as it almost always does, these same players go into denial and express outrage at the injustice being done to their reputations.

And they wonder why no one believes them.

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron," "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball" He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/hbryant42 or reached at Howard.Bryant@espn.com.