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12/19/2007

Well this shouldn't come as a surprise.

With the Mitchell Report out, perhaps the worst kept secret in professional sports has been aired for the world to see. Nearly 90 players have been named, and again there's nothing shocking. Upon reading the list of offenders, your mind either screams, "Well that was obvious," or, "Didn't cross my mind, but it makes sense."

I guess the glory days of old when the only thing baseball players would abuse was a bottle of hooch at the end of a double header. At least then, their legend status still couldn't be questioned. Regardless of how many shots Mickey Mantle put away after a game, you could not deny his talent on the diamond. Steroids, performance enhances and HGH do not allow for such wiggle room. In fact, the question has to be (and likely will) be asked about what is to become of the records set by the guilty.

Hell, some of them have been questioned from the onset.

I guess the question now is, why state the obvious? It takes a quick peak at Barry Bonds' rookie card to realize that 20 years later, something is drastically different. Even ten years ago, I knew something was up with Mark Maguire, having watched him from the time I was a kid. It's ridiculous for some players to assert otherwise, and when Roger Clemens, the 40-plus-phenom of pitching refutes such allegations, it looks silly and petulant.

Another question is how to clean it up. That's up for baseball's governing bodies to decide, and they'd better decide quick. It's not gonna be pretty… there will be a painful transitional period and there are probably going to be several suspensions before things begin turning around. Given the buzz surrounding steroids this year between Barry Bonds, Chris Benoit and the WWE's inconsistent Wellness Policy, you can expect Congress to take action sooner rather than later.

But I think the looming question in the back of everyone's mind is, "How did this happen?" How did America's favorite pastime become synonymous with synthetic testosterone?

Ultimately, no one is going to hold a gun to someone's head to make them take drugs. They will do it of their own volition. However, one question has to be why so many are making that choice. And the follow-up question should be, "Is it due to excessive pressure?"

Professional sports have changed, and many would argue not for the better. Expectations are far higher than they were years ago. You'll note that three of those names on the list were big names for the Yankees. Given the fact that Big Stein fired Joe Torre for not getting the Yanks into the World Series this year (in spite of 5 titles during his 12-year tenure in New York), can you imagine the type of pressure that has to have been coming down on the players?

Is it any wonder?

Baseball has been drawing lower ratings than ever before. Even this year, the fact that the Red Sox won seemed predestined as the World Series drew it's second lowest rating ever. Despite being well attended and beloved by purists, baseball is in a slump. You have to figure that the heat is on a lot of players to perform and produce results. With some players getting astronomical "A-Rod Salaries," you'd best believe that they are getting pressure from all angles to be worth that paycheck. This can only lead to mounting strain, and in many cases, anabolic therapy.

Now I know I recently joked about steroids in comedy with my tragic run-in with Carrot Top, but seriously, there's no joke when it comes to these drugs. This stuff is bad medicine, sometimes even at therapeutic levels.

Pro wrestler Kevin Nash was recently interviewed online following the Chris Benoit tragedy earlier this year. Obviously the topic of steroids came up, and Nash mentioned that after tearing his quad in a match, he was prescribed a low-level form of synthetic testosterone to help rebuild the muscles internally. At 6'10" and typically tipping the scales and about 320 lbs. naturally, he notes that he swelled to over 400 lbs. of muscle while still maintaining a "safe" testosterone ratio.

Now imagine overuse in any athlete.

What honestly frightens me is the potential usage in professional football (American style, not soccer). Those players are under what I think would be even greater amounts of pressure to produce results, and compete in a far more aggressive competitive landscape. Despite the shorter season, the physical rigors are infinitely more intense, and the size of many NFL players dwarfs even the most obvious users in baseball.

Being America's most watched sport doesn't help either. I find the psychological aspects of sports fascinating, and I really feel that intense media exposure coupled with the millions of dollars poured into just a single game run a risk to the competitors' lifestyles.

Now this is not to say that coaches and owners are outwardly approaching their players and encouraging them to dope. Rather, they are left looking for a way to make it happen. The demands placed on them by the culture threatens to amplify the expectations they set for themselves as perfectionists. That's when people start looking for back doors.

Sure, there are other factors at hand. Ego, the yearning to make more money, the thrill of competition, striving to set records, and probably on a deep level, the desire to play as long as possible for fear of what one's life will bring after they "break out of Shawshank" and are forced to survive in the real world. But I think more than anything else, the culture of these sports really needs to be thoroughly examined as a supplement to penalties and regulation.

Look at combat sports like MMA and boxing. You hear very rarely about steroid charges and suspensions in those sports. That is not only because they are so heavily regulated, but also because fighters have more time to recover between fights -- as much as 2 months between battles. This in comparison to the harsh schedule of football and the endless season of baseball. There's something to be said for the body's natural ability to mend itself.

One thing is certain: drug culture in sports is at least in part due to the sporting culture itself. If MLB wants to repair its reputation and not suffer even steeper declines in their ratings due to this all-pivotal "D-Day," an inquest of some sort had better be done fast into correcting the problem at the foundation rather than beefing up reactionary discipline.

Not only that, but as a fan, part of me would still like to believe that the Rocket I beheld so dearly during his early days in the Boston Red Sox really is an "all-natural" miracle man that can still get it done on the mound.

Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow.