There's a certain anniversary irony to the fact that Alex Rodriquez's illegal doping ban appeal hearing is taking place this week, for it was, essentially, a quarter-of-a-century ago that what we think of as the drug era in sports began.
And here A-Rod is now, 38 years old, his body in betrayal (perhaps from years of all the drugs), hitting .244, hearing boos, even at home at Yankee Stadium, yet pleading desperately for a lesser sentence at the price of suffering more embarrassing revelations — a figure of pity that no one does.
So begins the second quarter century of the drug era.
Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on this issue.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Oh, man. David Greene is off today so we can't hear his reaction to this news. He's probably still out partying because his Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds six-to-two in a National League wildcard playoff game last night. Over in the American League, the post season is going on without the Yankees. Alex Rodriguez faces his own cloudy future as he appeals his lengthy suspension for doping.
And commentator Frank Deford says it's all happening close to a previous sports doping anniversary.
FRANK DEFORD: There's a certain anniversary irony to the fact that Alex Rodriguez's arbitration hearing is taking place this week, for it was essentially exactly a quarter of a century ago that what we think of as the drug era in sports began. Oh sure, the use of steroids and blood doping traces back at least into the 1970s. East Germany itself was a pharmacy masquerading as a country. And there was considerable suspicion, never proved, that the sprint records set by Flo-Jo, the late Florence Griffith Joyner, were steroid-enhanced.
In 1988, at the Seoul Olympics, I saw a side-by-side video of Flo-Jo from 1984 and that present time. She looked and sounded like a different person. The comparison was so shocking that the producer told me he feared it would be an ugly bombshell back in the USA, if such incriminating evidence were shown about an American heroine. So NBC shelved the tape.
Instead the bombshell came a few days later, 25 years ago, September 27th, 1988, when Ben Johnson, Canada's hero, was stripped of his hundred-meter gold medal when tests showed a performance-enhancing drug in his system. So began publicly, with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love of Victory in the Time of Steroids.
The drug cheats are similar in that they all immediately deny the charge, and wonder how such an alien substance could possibly have snuck into their pure body. But in contrast, how utterly different the guilty athletes are as people. Some remain incredibly arrogant. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who were like giddy little children when busting home runs, acted like fools when called before Congress.
Others, like Marion Jones - and eventually McGwire, too - do ultimately express regret. The major point is though, that there is no one personality type that succumbs to the temptation of taking advantage of drugs.
Could there, for best example, be any more different characters than perhaps the two most famous drug cheats, Lance Armstrong and A-Rod? Armstrong haughty, disdainful, so self-assured, a star in an individual sport who became something of a mob boss with his devoted cult of accomplices; and Rodriguez, phony, fragile, unloved, so insecure, a star in a team sport who searches desperately just to be accepted by his colleagues.
And here A-Rod is now, 38 years old, his body in betrayal - perhaps from all those years of drugs - hitting .244, hearing boos, even at home at Yankee Stadium, yet pleading desperately for a lesser sentence at the price of suffering more embarrassing revelations; a figure of pity that no one does.
So begins the second quarter-century of the drug era. You'll never guess who'll be next to be seduced.
INSKEEP: Frank Deford comes to us every Wednesday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.