NEW YORK— Representatives from Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and several other major sporting organizations announced Tuesday that a study conducted by an independent agency has determined that your personal favorite player "almost certainly" took steroids if he or she played at any point during the past 150 years.
"We are saddened to announce that any and all professional athletes regarded with respect or affection by fans of professional sports was a regular user of performance-enhancing substances including, but not limited to, the anabolic androgenic steroid class of synthetic hormones," MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced at a press conference Tuesday, where he was accompanied at the lectern by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, NBA commissioner David Stern, and representatives from the governing bodies of 22 other major sports. "We sincerely apologize for, and confess that we share in, the profound feeling of disappointment and betrayal that our fans must be feeling at this time, and ask that you exercise patience as we release the entire 20,000-page, 36-volume set of our findings."
An early abstract of the report covering what its authors are calling the "main items of interest" in this latest and most comprehensive steroid scandal was released to major news organizations immediately after Selig's announcement. Although the document is an extremely abbreviated outline and contains only the names, career stats, substance-use summaries, and excerpts of confessions from all the players in the Halls of Fame of every current sport, its effect on fans and sports reporters alike was profound.
"You assume an unpopular guy like Bonds is juicing. But Hank Aaron, one of my personal heroes, injecting synthetic anticortisol as he attempted to break beloved legend Babe Ruth's career home-run record—which was set on a steady regimen of racehorse amino acids mixed with brewer's yeast? I mean, my God," said ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons. "And to think, he couldn't even have played in the big leagues if Jackie Robinson hadn't summoned the courage and the intravenous Boldenone he needed to break the color barrier. I just… There's just no end to it. No end."
"It's not just difficult for fans to believe, it's difficult for them to absorb," said CBS Sports reporter Bryant Gumbel, who says he has read roughly 150 non-consecutive pages of the abstract. "The nation's sports addicts can accept that infamous antihero Ray Lewis used steroids, and maybe controversial bad-boy Warren Sapp, or even rough-and-ready Brian Urlacher, but favorite son Peyton Manning? Golden boy Joe Montana? Ahmad Rashad? Johnny Unitas? Bart Starr? Sammy Baugh? Garo Yepremian? And beyond that, I mean come on—what about fans of Mario Andretti? Of Jean-Claude Killy? Greg Louganis? Vince Lombardi? Secretariat? What the hell has been going on, and why didn't anyone want to see it?"
"I think it will be relatively easy, if not pleasant, for people to accept that baseball and football players have used steroids since Abner Doubleday first mixed human adrenaline with tincture of calomel or Knute Rockne snorted powdered bull's plasma," said Sports Illustrated contributor Frank Deford. "Then people will learn about the hydroanabol of medical student Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four-minute mile, and begin to put things together. Naturally, they'll think, Billie Jean King needed steroids to beat a man, albeit an out-of-shape and temporarily off-steroids man, at tennis. And of course the 1980 Olympic hockey team beat the Russians—weren't America's free-market steroids naturally superior to those used by the communists? They'll ask themselves, 'Do you believe in miracles of modern medicine?' I know that I do, now."
For most sports fans, all of whom have had to accept the fact that their favorite players were lying to them in the interests of increased performance, the damage to the reputations of their once-beloved heroes is worse the further they look.
Callers to sports-talk-radio shows nationwide seem to have reserved their most vehement condemnations for Roberto Clemente, who is now known to have been flying an enormous load of steroids to Nicaragua when his overloaded airplane crashed in 1972; for Lance Armstrong, who, as it turns out, doped his blood so heavily during his cycling career that his own bone marrow ceased working between 1999 and 2003; and for Jason "J-Mac" McElwain, the autistic Rochester, NY high-school senior whose six consecutive three-point shots captured the collective imagination of a nation unaware the teen was injecting dihydrotestosterone.
Still, many fans believe that sports will survive this most recent episode of disillusionment.
"There are still great moments in sports, shining examples of the human spirit, if you know where to look for them," said New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey. "It's inspiring to see Earl Woods introducing his toddling son to the wonders and challenges of golf and steroids. To think about UNC freshman Michael Jordan discovering that his body responds to steroids three times as well as a normal basketball player's. The courage of Sandy Koufax refusing to pitch or use steroids on Yom Kippur. Barry Bonds setting the home-run record. All of them, equally meaningful."
"I just can't see this turning people off of sports," Vecsey said. "We'll just be that much more prepared, that much wiser, when the next steroid scandal comes along."