NEW MIND-SET WOULD PUT END TO STEROIDS

If beakers were scales, we wouldn’t have a steroid problem.

Baseball players get weighed all the time. So do football players and basketball players. If they are overweight, they can be fined. If they stay overweight, they may be cut.

No athlete has ever complained about being weighed, as far as I know. No athlete has ever hired a lawyer to keep his weight a secret, or taken the Fifth Amendment to hide his weigh-in results.

If drug testing were viewed with the same laissez-faire as weighing-in, we would have no congressional hearings, no legal tap dancing, no Barry Bonds or Jose Canseco frenzies. So why isn’t it? For the life of me I can’t understand, if you are truly interested in fair competition and protecting your personnel, why stepping on a scale is any different than urinating into a beaker. Sports are physical. That’s why players are weighed, tested, stopwatched and examined, head to toe, before every season, by a physician. Bodies are the investment. You wouldn’t run a factory but refuse to check the equipment.

Instead, steroids seem to hold a strange and unreachable place on the board, legal but not legal, against the idea but not against the rules, worth checking but only so often.

And so last week, at the now celebrated if inconsequential congressional steroid hearings, we had one guy, Canseco, practically reading from his book on how everyone was juicing up, while a bunch of other players said, “Huh? What’s he talking about?”

Don’t dismiss the whistle-blower

Does it bother anyone that the summer of 1998, hailed by many as the greatest in the history of baseball, now seems to have been a sham? Does anyone doubt that Mark McGwire, who shattered Roger Maris’ home run record that summer, was pumped up on something besides dumbbells?

“Did you take steroids?” he was asked at the hearings, in far more awkward words.

His answer? Always the same: “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Sounds guilty to me.

At one point, McGwire, whose body thinned and broke down en route to a quick retirement three years after he set the record, choked back tears when talking about kids who had died from steroids. Was he crying for them, for him, or for the futility of trying to undo whatever he had done?

Canseco, meanwhile, not only admits using steroids but seems ready to provide a live reenactment. Still, he should not be dismissed because he’s hawking a book or grasping at the spotlight. Folks said the same thing about Jim Bouton, the one-time Yankees pitcher when he wrote “Ball Four” back in 1970. Bouton was called a traitor, a liar and a “social leper” because he dared to tell people that ballplayers weren’t angels in the clubhouse or on the road.

Today, we’re happy if they stay out of jail.

Congress pursues publicity

Personally, I think baseball is kidding itself with the wagging-finger drug policy it just installed, making a first offense for steroids no more than a nuisance, all but erasable for a $10,000 fine. I also believe more trouble is on the way, because Bonds seems likely to break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run mark, which will spark the all-time asterisk argument.

But baseball is hardly the Al Capone of the steroids problem. Congress should be investigating bodybuilding, where steroids and growth supplements are as common as flexing, and where many teens get their incentive to try steroids in the first place. Check the Web. It is chock-full of sites on how to obtain, ingest and avoid prosecution for steroids, and they all contain images of bulging biceps, thick quads and mighty pecs. None of them boasts about hitting the curveball.

But nobody cares about bodybuilding. Members of Congress won’t get TV time acting as its noble protector. Baseball is in the crosshairs. The national pastime must be saved!

OK. Here’s the solution. You treat beakers like scales. You come in, you fill one up, you go out and play. They test only for banned substances. Every player. Every week.

It’s only complicated if you make it complicated. And it’s only unfair if you like an unfair advantage.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. “The Mitch Albom Show” is 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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