Simmons on PEDs in Sports

Submitted by JeepinBen on February 3rd, 2013 at 11:43 AM

In case you missed this article from Friday, Simmons does a great job discussing a couple of "modern miracles" that may warrant a bit more scrutiny. I'm not saying that I know that any of these guys are juicing, but Simmons's list of "people who should have to pee in a cup" makes some excellent points. Interested to hear what the board thinks of it. Why don't we have better PED testing in sports? Reasons cited often include players' freedoms, and that blood testing is invasive, or something. Well, there are all kinds of random and invasive rules commiserate with playing pro sports. Hell, the combine has a literal meat market where players walk around in their underwear and are measured in front of hundreds of men. I'd think that the clean players would push hard for more testing.

Remember as you hear today that a 37 year old tore his triceps 2 months ago and is now on a "victory tour" making tons of tackles... that the NFL doesn't test for HGH.


The following anecdote is also 100 percent true … When Bertrand Berry and Ty Warren suffered a complete tear of their triceps, it took them six months to recover. When Arizona left tackle Levi Brown suffered a complete tear of his triceps in August 2012, the Cardinals immediately put him on their season-ending injured list. When Ray Lewis suffered a complete tear of his triceps in mid-October, we thought he was finished for the season … only he returned to action a little more than two months later. During the third month of his "recovery," he made 17 tackles in a double-overtime playoff game in Denver. In 13-degree weather. At age 37. So when Lewis's name landed in this week's PED scandal, nobody tumbled over in shock. We wasted the rest of Super Bowl week talking about him, wondering whether he cheated, watching his denial for signs that he was lying, Googling "deer antler spray" and talking about everything other than the game. Eventually, the moment will pass, like it always does. Nothing will change. Sadly, the collective irresponsibility of some sports media members — call it "cornballbrotheritis" — ruined any rational media member's chances to question the current environment. You don't trust our ability to handle such a loaded subject, nor should you. We've ruined your trust too many times.



February 3rd, 2013 at 12:39 PM ^

Athletes would complain.  I know they tried doing blood samples for boxing.  This was one of the speculations between the "Mayweather Pacquiao Super fight".  One wanted a blood sample, the other didn't.  They said no because taking a blood sample makes you weaker and drains your energy. But they do blood samples for the olympics so I don't see why they can't do it here.


February 3rd, 2013 at 12:50 PM ^

I think it's essentially negotiated collusion between player and owners.

They don't do blood testing or use biological passports (where elevated levels of testosterone, hemoglobin, etc., rather than chemical markers count as evidence of doping) in US pro leagues because: 

1. Pro athletes have insisted that drug testing regimes be part of collective bargaining agreements, rather than mandates by league offices, and there are enough players doping that they have negotiated agreements that allow them to avoid being caught.

2. Team owners and league commissioners are not interested in having large numbers of their players caught for PEDs.

In soccer, they do use biological passports, largely, I imagine, because an international body (FIFA) asserts control over testing rules as part of their mandate to enforce the laws of the game.

snarling wolverine

February 3rd, 2013 at 12:56 PM ^

#2 is unfortunately a big problem.  Cycling has been cleaning itself up (at least somewhat) in recent years with the biological passport, but it's come at a huge cost to the sport's reputation, with lots of stars getting caught and having their records stripped.  Pro sports owners may come to the conclusion that it's not worth it from a business standpoint.



February 3rd, 2013 at 12:33 PM ^

He was.  He compared Peterson to Lewis and basically came away saying he belived Peterson (largely because he "liked him") and didnt believe Lewis.

I think it's one of the best pieces Simmons has ever written.


February 3rd, 2013 at 12:57 PM ^

He also says that there's enough circumstantial evidence surrounding Peterson that you can reasonably believe he didn't dope (early in career; doc stated, post-surgery, that his knee appeared to have no prior injuries, rapid but not completely unreasonable recovery time; was athletic freak before injury) vs. Lewis where every piece of circumstantial evidence made his "shit detector start vibrating like a chainsaw" (2 month recovery vs. 6 month norm; 37 years old; unreasonably high performance level on return).

I agree that it's a wonderful piece, both about PEDs and the self-editing that journalists engage in.

Business Time

February 3rd, 2013 at 2:00 PM ^

He also conveniently left out the fact that one of these players just knocked one of his beloved Boston sports teams out of the playoffs and one of these players did not. If you don't think this affected his conclusions on Lewis and Peterson, you haven't read enough Simmons.


February 3rd, 2013 at 3:48 PM ^

Simmons admits to subjectivity in the article. But the problem of not believing someone doped because you "like them" is real. Which is why I argue that we go about things the wrong way when we ask, "Is this athlete doping?" Because our answer is colored by our feeling about the person.

The correct question to ask is, "Is there a benefit to doping in this sport?" If there is, people are doing it, unless it is really well policed--and no sport is well policed. 

Asking the question that way allows us to be reasonable. In '98, we asked ourselves, "Is Mark McGwire doping?" And for many of us, the answer was, "McGwire's a nice guy. He loves his family. He has been up front about supplements and denied steroid use. He is respectful of the legacy of Roger Maris. I like him. I think he's clean."

But what we should have asked was, "Is there a benefit to steroid use in Baseball? Would it be caught? Would players using steroids be able to perform incredible feats?" The answer would be, yes, no, yes. And we could then logically conclude that people in steroids likely doped, and that they would be successful and powerful--and therefore conclude that most of the leading power hitters were likely doping.


February 3rd, 2013 at 12:50 PM ^

Players association and owners are both to blame. It's in both their interests to ignore the obvious until the public pressure is too strong. The players association constituents were trying to do anything possible to support their players which included opposing all sorts of testing and the owners in the past turned a blind eye and would rather stick their head in the stand than risk a strike or anything like that so they caves immediately. Blood tests, unlimited testing should be in place but the union will opposed based on BS privacy concerns and the owners don't want/care to fight the fight.


February 3rd, 2013 at 1:06 PM ^

Should these people that have been accused of juicing be removed from NFL's hall of fame? There are not like in baseball, the majority of the writers that vote say they will never vote for anyone that has been accused of juicing (A-Rod, Sosa, etc...)


February 3rd, 2013 at 1:12 PM ^

not just the one's they "suspect", the NFL would be in the same boat the Tour De France is in - no believes the results because evryone is cheating.

If the NFL did true random blood tests throughout the season, I bet 60-70% would fail to some degree.  MIke Golic said it on Mike&Mike the other day, the only testing they do is at the end of training camp and everyone knows, it's coming, if you fail you're an idiot.  His words.

snarling wolverine

February 3rd, 2013 at 1:19 PM ^

Yeah, that's the problem - the fallout would be enormous.  The only way to avoid a huge number of positive tests would be to announce loud and clear that it's coming for next season (there'd still be some idiots who test positive, but not as many).  There would likely be a shocking downturn in a lot of players' performances the next season.  

In the long run, though, tough drug testing could save football.  Taking PEDs out of the game would make it slower, and the collisions wouldn't be nearly as violent.   That could cut down on some long-term health issues.  (Reducing PED use likely would also cut down on them, too, of course.) 


Magnum P.I.

February 3rd, 2013 at 1:19 PM ^

It's a good piece by Simmons. No mention of PEDs in college sports, but I'm sure we'd all be pretty crestfallen if the reality of juicing in NCAA football came to light. If you think about it even for a minute, with all the consequences college ball has for kids' futures, the logical question isn't "why would college football use PEDs," but rather "why wouldn't they?"


February 3rd, 2013 at 1:28 PM ^

Also, I think the questions of "what's legal" are interesting too. The example that using a dead guy's ligaments is ok; Using more of your own blood isn't. I think it's interesting, with what's legal and what's not.

And for all the damning that McGwire and  Sosa have gotten... they didn't actually break any rules. It wasn't illegal to use steroids in baseball when they did. IIRC, HGH is still legal in the NFL.

snarling wolverine

February 3rd, 2013 at 2:19 PM ^

If you think only SEC players are using steroids, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.

PED use is rampant from high school onward.  (Hell, maybe it starts even earlier, I don't know.)  I knew guys in high school who roided up.  Two of them received MAC scholarships.  I would imagine that every college football program in the country has some guys that either are using or used to.  



February 3rd, 2013 at 3:02 PM ^

As that 30-for-30 film did a great job of presenting, the Southwest Conference (and much of college football, no doubt) was awash in dirty payouts, but at least you could say SMU was paying kids who could play and were getting results on the field.

Switch in "steroids" for "cash" (or more likely, steroids plus cash) and you've probably got college football today, including Alabama and many others.  But you can say this for Bama: at least they're getting major bang for their syringes/bucks.  If your players juice, they ought to at least have the decency to be good, which they are.  


snarling wolverine

February 3rd, 2013 at 3:46 PM ^

I don't think this is necessarily program-directed.  I don't think a typical college S&C coach is handing freshmen needles and telling them, "Here's how to juice."   Part of their job description involves warning athletes against unsafe training methods, which includes PEDs.   But they can't monitor the players 24/7.

The PED use starts in high school (think of the pressure these guys face to secure a college scholarship) and simply continues in college.  There are well-established networks out there where athletes can obtain PEDs.  You can google online for information.  It's not hard to get your hands on HGH if you want it.  It's not some state secret that only Alabama knows about.




February 3rd, 2013 at 3:54 PM ^

This is an interesting discussion, one worth having.

Now, I think the SEC is dirty, and perhaps that PEDs are a net asset to their teams. I don't think that other conferences are clean in this area. Unfortunately, I consider it likely that if all cheaters were known, we would find some of our own favorite sons on the naughty list. And yes, I do have some individuals in mind.

The thing is, if you have boosters who are committed to helping their program win, and willing to subvert NCAA regulations to do so, it is not at all unreasonable to think that one of the ways they may do so is to find ways to funnel PEDs to players. In fact, that might be easier to get away with than straight cash payments. Tacit advice on how to use and how not to get caught would also be relatively easy to do. People admire how sophisticated Lance Armstrong's doping operation was, but the truth is that cycling is a low-budget sport--one enthusiastic booster could develop a good doping program for an entire team.

But let's not throw stones. PEDs are likely a problem in college sports, but they are in no way limited to (or even significantly worse in) the SEC.


February 3rd, 2013 at 1:24 PM ^

The other really interesting thing in the article is Simmons explicit and implicit criticisms of ESPN, Grantland's parent company. He explicitly says that "ESPN Me" chose not to write about things that "Sports Fan Me" thought about, and that 


ESPN Me sticks his head in the sand and doesn't say anything.

ESPN Me occasionally pushes narratives that he doesn't totally believe in.

ESPN Me didn't have the balls to run two e-mails that you're about to read.

On the one hand, this says something interesting about the editorial freedom that ESPN has allowed Grantland. Clearly, Grantland's columns don't get run through Bristol. On the other hand, he's basically saying ESPN is everything that's wrong with sports journalism.

And implicitly, in his indictment of "cornballitis," he's saying that ESPN, and sports journalists more generally, can't be trusted to speculate on PEDs because they will reduce it to ridiculous debates and shouting contests where the goal is to make the most inflamatory statement possible without crossing the line, rather than exploring and understanding how testing regimes work and how PEDs have changed sports.


February 3rd, 2013 at 4:00 PM ^

This is one of the reasons this is a difficult issue. "ESPN Bill Simmons" isn't just someone who is trying to butter up athletes and gain access by being favorable, although that can be a problem; he is a person who is trying to exercise responsible journalism.

Remember how upset everyone was about Rosenberg throwing around unfair accusations of practice time? Multiply that by a million and you have an idea of how a fanbase would feel if someone like Peter King speculated that their favorite athlete was on steroids. With no real evidence. Suppose Bob Costas said, on NBC television, that he felt that Miguel Cabrera's triple crown was empty because he figured (without evidence) that Cabrera was probably juicing. Imagine the justifiable outrage in Michigan. 

I have people in mind who I believe probably dope in several different sports. Even in a diary I wrote on the topic, I decided I couldn't bring myself to actually name them (though I did leave some rather large hints). It is a big, big thing to speculate in official, public forums that a certain person is breaking the law and competing unethically.


February 3rd, 2013 at 2:44 PM ^

First I would like to thank the government for wasting all are tax dollars to find out if a millionare used PEDS.  I am sick of all this and it is now to the point where are government puts more time into this bullshiP instead of more important issues. Its a crock cause the heads of the major sports dont care if people use them or not they have looked the other way cause we are seeing better athletes and games.  I am just sick of this PED bs. To me whaterver someone puts in their bodies is their business and noone elses and they all know the side effects and the risks.  To me shooting people up with toradol is worse than any Ped to sports cause ur putting someone already hurt into more danger.  RG3 knows all to well.if all sports went to testing to stop all PED use we the fans are gonna lose interest cause the games wont be exciting. we all want to see speed in guys,, big knockout tackles, to homeruns to everything we been use to. I think they should just let whoever wants to do them do them. they will find a way to get an edge another way. 


February 3rd, 2013 at 3:16 PM ^

"We all want to see" um, no. I enjoy fundamental station to station baseball and a crisp form tackle. You don't speak for everyone. Many of us want to see fair competition. There is no point in playing monopoly if you're going to skim from the bank, and there is no point to sports if they aren't played fair. I like highlight plays but I love competition. Fair competition.


February 3rd, 2013 at 4:18 PM ^

The comical thing is...

Most medical experts agree that HGH, if it works at all, provides only the slightest advantage to athletes. Runners might lose one/tenth of a second off their times; injured athletes might heal slightly faster. For pro athletes, I guess, every little bit helps. But HGH isn't making football players heal in half the time. The science is clear on that. The "evidence" of HGH's magical healing properties is largely anecdotal and tends to come via doctors and companies who make a killing peddling HGH to people vulnerable to the placebo effect.


February 3rd, 2013 at 5:17 PM ^

I fully agree that players shouldn't be able to turn themselves into the X-Men by taking PED's, but I totally disagree that they should't be allowed to use them to heal.  A professional athlete should be able to take any substance that you or I could take to heal from an injury, or as a health supplement.  

This is typical of the media and organized sports in general: another gross and simplistic over-reaction to a complex problem.