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A Sad Cautionary Tale Broader Than the More Publicized Bonds Disclosures,
This review is from: Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports (Hardcover)
It's hard not to feel a profound sense of disappointment after reading this comprehensive, well-written investigative report on the abuse of steroids by athletes blinded by their need to be victorious in their various fields. While Barry Bonds is the primary subject here, San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada are not as interested in sabotaging the star player's legacy-in-the-making as they are in exposing the breadth of impact that Victor Conte, founder of BALCO (an acronym for the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative), had in plying a number of star athletes with performance-enhancing drugs.
The reporters have done a remarkable job documenting the history of steroids, which were used as far back as the 1976 Summer Olympics where the East German women all too handily dominated the swimming events. One revelation for me from the book is how steroids do not directly enhance athletic performance but allow a greater endurance to train harder with a decreasing chance of injury and no need for recovery time. This nuance is critical in understanding how athletes can justify using such risky substances and escape accountability for their actions. This is the moral twist of the book and the one that resonates most clearly as a cautionary tale for future athletes in assessing their options.
Just as intriguing is the detailed chronicle of the rise and fall of the enterprising Conte, who went from being a bass guitarist for Tower of Power to the owner of a holistic health clinic to a highly paid consultant for renowned Olympic and professional athletes. Conte's real fortunes began with his discovery of a means to provide performance-enhancing drugs which would elude detection. At first, he saw the availability of obviously illegal steroids to targeted athletes as an opportunity to get them to endorse his legal nutritional supplements. Demand, however, went beyond his expectations, and he refocused his energy to identify creative ways to get the drugs into athletes, whether by injections, ointments or drips under the tongue.
At the center of the BALCO distribution scandal has been Bonds, who is certainly held up as the highest profile athlete under Conte's spell. The co-authors paint an alternately sympathetic and unflattering portrait of a prodigiously gifted athlete cast under the shadow of his father Bobby. The portrayal doesn't come across so much as exploitative as it does a typical case study into the competitive mindset of a professional athlete. Triggered by Mark McGwire's record-breaking 70 home runs during the 1998 season, Bonds was apparently determined to surpass McGwire by turning to steroids to bulk up his physique in the same way. His constant connection was personal trainer Greg Anderson, and through the next five seasons, Bonds' usage escalated and became more clandestine.
The result has been a stellar performance on the field with a hulking physique to match his superman-like transformation. Off the field, he evolved into a raging egomaniac not above cheating on his taxes or his wife. These are hostile allegations but ones that Williams and Fainaru-Wada support with reams of testimony by intimates and colleagues. In 2001, Bonds beat McGwire's single-season home run record, and he is on his way to beating Hank Aaron's career home run record this coming season. At the same time, Conte and Anderson, thanks to expert plea bargaining, saw minimal prison time for their actions. Whether Bonds is being held up as a scapegoat seems rather moot, as I cannot help but feel this will be an empty victory given the ample evidence the co-authors provide here. With Bonds' evasive responses in the press and the inevitable slander lawsuits, one gets little sense that there will by any abatement on the problem at hand.