Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Wonder...

[Saturday Night, no longer Live]
Andre Agassi, the famous and now retired tennis player, has publicly admitted that he took crystal methedrine. He did not say whether he took it while playing. We are to believe that this is a confession of his having had a bad habit rather than his having cheated at tennis.

The sports drug scandals we forever hear about are always about the use of anabolic steroids. (What does "anabolic" add to "steroids"? We all sort of know what steroids are. Does anyone have any clue what "anabolic" means other than that the writer is trying to sound like he knows what he is talking about?) The function of steroids is to enable the athlete to grow bigger and stronger and thus out-compete his non-chemically-enhanced teammates and opponents.

The most familiar example is the monstrous Barry Bonds who swelled to twice the size of his father, Bobby Bonds, who had also been an outfielder for the Giants.

But there is little talk of stimulants like cocaine and methedrine. Many sports are competitive as to stamina. One thinks of the fourth quarter of football games and basketball games, of the later rounds of boxing or cage fighting matches, baseball pitchers in late innings, the last five miles of marathons, the later laps of car races, and in Agassi's case of the fifth set of tennis matches.

According to the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, "The widely accepted time period for benzoylecgonine [the marker which indicates cocaine use] to be cleared from the urine is three to five days." Which means that, absent constant testing after sports events, there is no way at all to know whether athletes are using cocaine before or during contests.

My own experience of cocaine was on a hiking trail above Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. This was in the 1970's when I still smoked cigarettes and before I started bicycling. Carrying a backpack uphill at 11,000 feet of elevation was at the limits of my powers and I had to stop and gasp every dozen steps. A friend proposed we do a line right there on the trail. I thought it was preposterous but he pressed the case and I agreed.

It rapidly turned out not to have been necessary because the backpack wasn't really that heavy, nor the trail that steep, nor the air that thin. In fact the cocaine wasn't necessary at all because the hike really wasn't as hard as I had thought before taking it. Such is the power of denial.

Our incentive for taking cocaine was to make a camping trip easier. Today there are 40 athletes with contracts paying them a hundred million or more to compete. Just for clarity's sake that is $100,000,000.00. Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees is paid $275 million.

Would these guys take cocaine for a quarter of a billion dollars? And for success, fame, and the adulation of the public (including the female public)? Would you? I would.

Yet we never hear about it. Is the silence because the testing is effective and it is a non-problem? Or because it is widespread and there is not much that can be done about it? Agassi doesn't say.


  1. Or maybe Agassi was trying to sell a few books? Anyway, a packet of racket to make a camping trip easier? You must be made of piss. Its fun - not performance enhancing.

  2. Anonymous9:38 AM

    Anabolic refers to a set of metabolic pathways that construct more complex molecules from smaller units. Anabolic processes produce growth and differentiation of cells. They tend toward building up, creating a synthesis of complex molecules....for example, they will increase mineraliztion of bone and increase muscle mass.

    So "anabolic" is the part of the phrase that indicates increased muscle mass and differentiates those muscle builders from the steroids that perform other functions like shrinking inflamed respiratory tissue when you have an especially nasty flu or bronchial infection...or the steroids that decrease joint pain for old ladies with bad arthritis.

    A question for you....what the heck is a cage fighting match? Does that refer to small wire structures pitted against each other? Or are we talking about pissed off poultry?