McGwire Locked Out; Balco Journos Locked up?
There are two threads developing currently in the long-running story of performance enhancing drugs in the U.S.A., or more precisely in relation to the efforts to combat them since the BALCO revelations of recent years.
Firstly, last Tuesday, the Baseball Writers of America turned down former single season home run record holder Mark McGwire's nomination to the sport's Hall of Fame.
McGwire, of the St Louis Cardinals, broke Roger Maris' long-standing record of 61 homers in a season in 1998, recording 70 by the end of a season in which his battle for the record with Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa had captured the imagination of the American public. This record was subsequently overtaken by Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants' slugger who hit 73 homers in 2001, and who is one of the central figures over whom suspicion hangs in the BALCO case.
However, rather than proceeding to what would appear to be a well-deserved berth in the sport's Valhalla, McGwire himself has seen his achievements discredited due to the sudden exposure of the issue of steroid use in the sport since the BALCO revelations.
Ironically, it has been suggested that Bonds alleged use of steroids was prompted by the very attention that McGwire received in 1998. It was revealed that season that McGwire had indeed taken a dietary supplement called Androstenedione, however, while banned by the NFL and the IOC, there was no prohibition in existence in Major League Baseball.
This fact - that only since 2003 have steroid-prohibition and testing for banned substances been taken seriously by MLB - demonstrates the legal and ethical grey area that exists with regard to the subject. McGwire has steadfastly refused to "discuss the past", even in a Congressional committee hearing on illegal performance-enhancing substances.
While the substances discovered in BALCO are classified as illegal, because of MLB's hitherto almost non-existent doping policy, some have suggested that McGwire should not be persecuted for possible misdemeanours during his career which were then not necessarily against the sport's laws.
However in refusing to admit him to the Hall of Fame, it is clear that the baseball writers have made their own, damning judgement on his right to immortality.
Elsewhere, the two journalists who brought the BALCO scandal to light and revealed the involvement of a number of top athletes in the laboratory's activities are facing possible jail sentences. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, whose book Game of Shadows, brought much attention to the scandal and the alleged use of banned substances by the likes of Bonds (others implicated were British athlete Dwain Chambers, former Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Marion Jones and 100m runner Tim Montgomery), could go to jail for refusing to name the source that leaked to them the court testimony linking a number of athletes with BALCO.
The US Department of Justice has demanded that the two journalists provide details of the leak, information which Fainaru-Wada and Williams are unwilling to provide. The two are appealing a local court sentence of up to 18 months in prison.
A poor reward indeed for helping to expose the cheats whose activities have demeaned their sports, and led to the moral morass in which the likes of McGwire's legacy now resides.