Playing Under The Sports Radar

By John Smallwood
Updated: May 23, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — The most significant sports story of the year is unfolding in a San Francisco courtroom, yet it’s barely registering a ripple.

Over the past half decade, steroids, HGH and performance-enhancing drugs have become words as common in our sports culture as home run, touchdown and strikeout.

Yet, the trial of the man who literally started us down this path of inquisition is being given as much regard in the American sports media as a European soccer match.

In case you haven’t noticed, and given the minimal coverage it is receiving I couldn’t fault you, the trial of track coach Trevor Graham is going on.

Graham was charged with lying to federal investigators about his alleged role in distributing illegal performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.

Graham got the entire BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative) doping scandal rolling in 2003 by sending a syringe containing the then-undetectable performance-enhancing drug tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Not that Graham intended it, but his one action became one of the most important moments in sports history.

The collateral damage has not only altered the sports record book but it has altered our perception of virtually everything involved with sports, from the athletes down to the role of the sports media.

Historical sports figures such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Marion Jones have had their legacies destroyed.

Civil rights, moral responsibility, and, of course, race have been thrown into open debate over the drug culture in sports.

The federal government has spent millions of dollars on investigations, trials and congressional hearings.

Major league baseball – America’s national pastime – has had its integrity assaulted to the point where everything achieved is viewed with some skepticism.

The catalyst for many of our thoughts about sports for the past 5 years can be linked to Graham sending a needle of performance-enhancing drugs to USADA.

Let’s play an abbreviated game of connect the dots from Graham’s actions:

– The government investigation into BALCO for illegal performance-enhancing drug distribution.

– Bonds, Jones, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield are among the names of athletes who had their grand-jury testimony about BALCO leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle.

– The commissioners of MLB, the NFL, NBA and NHL testify before Congress about steroids in their leagues.

– Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro unconvincingly testify before Congress – jeopardizing their Hall of Fame status.

– The media starts self-examination because of its failure to intensively investigate steroids years earlier, despite mounting evidence of its presence in sports.

– Bonds is indicted on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges for his grand-jury testimony in the BALCO case.

– Jones is stripped of the medals she won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and is sent to jail after pleading guilty to perjury charges.

– The Mitchell Report names about 90 major league players as having used illegal performance-enhancing drugs, including Clemens.

– Clemens gives shaky testimony in front of a congressional panel and loses badly in the court of public opinion.

– Further investigation of Clemens leads to embarrassing allegations of several extramarital affairs.

The prosecution’s list of witnesses against Graham, highlighted by admitted steroid dealer Angel Heredia, is rocking the U.S. track and field community.

In addition to Jones, athletes whose names have been linked to steroids because of Graham’s trial include gold medalists Maurice Green, Antonio Pettigrew, Dennis Mitchell, Jerome Young and Tim Montgomery. Yesterday, for the first time, Pettigrew admitted using performance-enhancing drugs and passed all drug tests.

Months before the start of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, it is clear that virtually every athlete, particularly American athletes, will have a suspicious eye glancing at them.

The plain truth is that we are only seeing the beginning of the impact that the illegal performance-enhancing drug scandal is having on our entire sports culture.

Graham’s trial isn’t front-page headlines, but considering the ripple effect his actions continue to create, isn’t it worth more than an Associated Press brief in a notes column?