Steroid.comJANUARY 18, 2008
Dr. Charles Yesalis
I saw Mark MacGwire hit his record setting home run in my friend’s apartment. That is, the home run was hit, and I was in my friend’s apartment, not that Mark hit it while he was in my friends apartment. Mark MacGwire has never been, to my knowledge, in my friend’s apartment.
I would know this kind of thing.
This homerun would change my life, or at least my career, although at the time I didn’t know it. I wasn’t even watching the game – I was waiting for my friend and his girlfriend to finish getting ready to go out. This homerun was a turning point in the so-called steroid era of professional baseball. Prior to that, there was still some shred of belief that “creatine” and “glutamine” could be behind the new physiques of baseball’s homerun kings. EAS, in their magazine, Muscle Media”, actually ran an article called “The Barbarians of Summer” which spoke about MacGwire and Giambi, and how they were dedicated weight trainers and watched their diet and all that…I think it was even intimated that they used EAS supplements.
Flash forward a few years, and virtually everyone in that “Barbarians of Baseball” article has been named in the Mitchell Report. And I’m on the phone with Dr. Charles Yesalis, talking about steroids…interviewing him really, bringing up all of the names from that article I had read as a teenager. He had agreed to give me a few minutes…he actually gave me 37 of them.
If you don’t know who he is, you probably don’t watch much television….or at least anything having to do with steroids. And the reason I called him is that I wanted to learn about his actual position on anabolic steroids. You see…when he’s asked to give a magazine or television program a quote, they just use what they want…and they never really ask him about his views on steroids or testing or sports in general. Hell…for all I know, he doesn’t even like sports or steroids, and is just doing a job (that’s not the case though).
Of course, I know who he is, and have read all of his books – and of course, he had the courtesy to pretend to know who I was also.
I had an outline of questions, and had wanted to ask him some questions on the sociology of steroids…i.e. how steroids play out in society. When I posed the idea that he was a bit of a steroid-sociologist, he replied that he was an epidemiologist (someone who studies epidemics). That changed the way I consider steroids in this country…there really is a steroid epidemic. In this case I interpreted that to mean (in the context of our conversation) that he was studying the outbreak of steroids in our culture.
About 20 minutes in, we were discussing parenting, books about Babe Ruth, our favorite baseball players (he’s a Mantle, I’m a Maris), Dan Duchaine, out-of-print steroid books, and the legalization of marijuana.
Have I mentioned that I have the coolest job ever?
I guess, coming from a philosophy background, I was more interested in what he actually thinks about steroids in sports. I mean…does he actually care about professional athletes using anabolic steroids?
The answer is “sort of”.
Of course, we’re both professionals in this field…but that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun talking about sports and steroids.
And while talking to him, I found that just like our position here at steroid.com, he feels that the problem with professional athletes is that kids try to emulate them. And of course, he’s right. And of course, neither he nor myself thinks that there’s much of a difference in the advances we’ve seen on the technological front (bats, cleats, Astroturf, creatine) that make steroids into something outside the realm of what’s being done to advance sports performance in other ways.
In fact, although I don’t know if he’s gone on record saying this yet, but he doesn’t see a huge problem when a responsible adult – preferably under a doctor’s supervision - decides to take anabolic steroids to look better (or feel better). In fact, when he looks at the legal ways of doing that (cosmetic surgery was the example he used), he doesn’t think that anabolics constitute some kind of rick above what has been deemed accepted/acceptable in other areas of cosmetic improvement.
In fact, because of the hypocrisy of the anti-doping programs now in place, he had (at one point in his life) favored doing away with them completely. I contend that this would create the “level playing field” that ant-steroid pundits cry about perpetually. Think about it…if everyone could use steroids, wouldn’t that totally level the playing field?
At steroid.com, we favor legalization of anabolics for use by responsible intelligent adults…and while Dr. Yesalis doesn’t lean that far towards our point of view, he isn’t going to lose sleep if adults are responsible adults turn towards anabolic steroid use to look and feel better. Granted, neither of us support breaking the law.
I, on the other hand, lose sleep about the fact that we’re not afforded that right by our government.
But the common ground is there, I think, between me and Dr. Yesalis (at least, over the course of our 37 minute conversation, that’s what I believed). The problem, as both he and I see it, is that children and high-school athletes often try to emulate their heroes in professional sports. The correlary to that problem is that athletes are (wrongly) role models and heroes.
Dr. Yesalis’ hero growing up was his father; mine is my mother.
The ability to swing a bat made us admire ballplayers for their skill, and both of us enjoyed/enjoy playing sports immensely…but another person’s skill at doing so isn’t reason to use them as a role model. I think most sensible adults would agree on this point.
For my position, I think that this generation of parents dropped the ball (pun intended) with regards to how athletes are perceived. Isn’t it likely that the 17 year old who idolizes Jason Giambi was at one time a 7 year old who’s father liked the Yankees, and at some point instilled that idolization into his kid?
That’s not to say that we don’t still enjoy watching our sports…both of us enjoyed the Sosa/MacGwire home-run race, and neither of us cared one way or another about the steroid allegations afterwards,- other than from an academic point of view. I remarked that the thing that really made that point in baseball’s history fun was that the players were having fun. You could see it…they were enjoying the game, and for a brief moment in time, baseball wasn’t a multi-billion dollar industry, it was the stuff of childhood fun...even if it was still just two guys doing their jobs.
Kind of like me and Dr. Yesalis.