Victor Conte was the founder of the controversial Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, the firm that was at the center of a performance-enhancing drug scandal that touched athletes in baseball, track and field and other sports earlier this century.
BALCO was linked to track athletes C.J. Hunter, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Justin Gatlin, Kelli White, Kevin Toth, Regina Jacobs, John McEwen, Melissa Price, Dwain Chambers, Chryste Gaines, Chris Phillips, Sandra Glover, Eric Thomas, Calvin Harrison, Michelle Collins, Ramon Clay, Zhanna Block, Olga Vasdeki, Kostas Kenteris, Katerina Thanou and Jerome Young; baseball players Barry Bonds, Jason and Jeremy Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago and Armando Rios; football players Bill Romanowski, Barret Robbins, Dana Stubblefield, Josh Taves, Chris Cooper, Johnnie Morton and Daryl Gardener; swimmer Amy Van Dyken; and boxer Shane Mosley.
That is a huge cross-section of athletes all with ties to Conte’s former company. So despite any initial revulsion at hearing anything Conte might have to say, it would be wise not to dismiss out of hand Conte’s assertion to USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale published Thursday that as many as half of the players in Major League Baseball are still using performance-enhancing drugs.
Conte wouldn’t drop names to Nightengale but said: “I’ve talked to a lot of top players in Major League Baseball and they tell me this is what they’re doing. There is rampant use of synthetic testosterone in Major League Baseball.”
MLB, for its part, continues to be great at the old head-in-the-sand maneuver. MLB vice president Rob Manfred told USA Today, “There is no way that Victor Conte would have information that would allow him to have any basis on that. He’s just making that up. It’s a guess.”
Now if I recall, MLB also used the discredit-the-source strategy when a former player came out several years ago and dropped names in a book that dozens of players were using steroids.
As it turns out, Jose Canseco—for all his other failings as a human being—was pretty much dead on in his assertions about players such as Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, among others.
We don’t want to hear what Conte has to say because we’d rather believe the lie, the one that asserts that since testing for performance-enhancing drugs was instituted at the major-league level in 2005, the so-called Steroid Era is over.
It’s hard to hear what Conte is saying and not just because he’s a convicted felon and a former guest of the federal prison system. It’s hard to hear because we don’t want to hear it, we don’t want to believe it, even if we are surrounded by evidence that performance-enhancing drugs are alive and well in baseball and other sports.
One athlete from the recently completed London Olympics was stripped of a medal for doping: shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus, who lost her gold medal after testing positive for a steroid.
But she may not be the last. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge told the Associated Press last weekend that all samples taken in London will be stored and are subject to being analyzed again until the statute of limitations expires eight years from now.
Rogge said that as new testing technologies emerge, those samples are subject to scrutiny using the new methods for detecting doping. Indeed, the IOC is still investigating as many as five new disciplinary cases resulting from retested samples taken at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Conte’s most disturbing assertion to USA Today was when he compared circumventing testing to “taking candy from a baby.” According to Conte, “The only people that get caught are the dumb, and the dumber.”
It does beg the question: If more than 25 major-league players have been caught since the implementation of testing in 2005, how many have been smart enough to outwit detection? If Conte is to be believed, that number is in the hundreds.
Bad news indeed for those who wish upon a star that the steroid problem in baseball has been solved.