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Shaun Assael is an award-winning journalist and author. As a senior writer with ESPN: The Magazine, he has covered everything from NASCAR to the NFL, and now works as an[…]

Pro sports should follow an Olympics model and create an agency for enforcement of steroid policies.

Cards: Are sports leagues complicit?


Shaun Assael: Yeah, I mean I do think that the leagues complicit is the have only, let me start again, if you are asking me if the leagues have been complicit, it is the bit of a loaded word short, did they know that they are was steroids in there ranks, the NFL mode and in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and then in the ‘90’s realize they had to be smart and put a drug testing plan at place and keep congress close, so that congress didn’t get too upset at them yes. The base ball realize that they were rife with drugs in the ‘90’s, yes the difference is that the base ball unlike the NFL, didn’t have that close relationship with congress didn’t try to understand the broad deterrence and deep boutique cheating is really I think where the NFL ended up there were base ball shoot have tried to end up. It said there is no broad deterrence and you had things getting more and more obvious until heads were going too big, records were being shattered and it was too late the horses already out of the bar and game.


Question: Should the government get involved?


Shaun Assael: I think which you see in pro sports is what you saw in Olympic sports which lead the creation about the world Anti doping agency and US Anti doping agency. In variably there was just too much conflict of interest to manage this yourself, a league can’t manage it is own drug testing apparatus, this is too much in center to cut corners, to let you stars out to try to bury positive positive tests, even though as most well intention program is going to be flawed in that respect, the difference of course is that pro sports have unions that are fighting to get position of some outside test will tell them what to do and how to do it, and that is where the Olympics and the pro sports are differ, but I do think that were leading to some kind of new era where you are going to see some outside control or enforcement in pro sports.


Question: Has congress made a circus out of steroids?


Shaun Assael: They started helping, I think when you saw Mark Mcguire take the fifth that was a focusing moment, when you saw Raffel Pamarow wag his finger and then later be found to have used steroids, it was again a focusing moment, Jose Conseco sitting there and insisting that this has been going on for years and America watched focusing moment, what we recently saw was an unfocused moment and that was two men Brian McBrain meet Roger Clements kind of engage in this public sop opera, to some extent I think that was the best thing that Major League Baseball could have had because it made it about two people and less about the issue and I think that in since that first hearing base ball has done a modest amount and then stopped and that they don’t think want to focus to stay on the intricacies of their policy, to that extent this circus soap opera was exactly what they wanted.


Question: What are other ways to prevent steroid abuse?


Shaun Assael: I hated to sound saccharine about this but really parents are the ones who are going to control, I mean if you look at who has an incentive to turn a steroid user, it is not a coach, whether or not the coach is obsessed with winning, the fact that it is on the coaches team, it is just going to be problem that he is going to have to deal with the most likely turn his head and not want to deal with it, that is arguably not going to be the school administration, it is probably not going to be the kids friends, it might not even be the kids on the rival team, so really who is going to turn you in if you are a user, it is the parents who know their kids the most, they know the nuance mood swings, they understand what there kids look like, they were around them all the time, they are the ones with the vested interest, drug testing will catch some I think there will be a lot of force positives because these are not the most sophisticated tests that are out there, I think kids they take multi vitamins that are contaminated might show false positives plus I just think the kids who want to be test, will be the test, I mean entire history we have, the early history of steroid testing shows that these things at the retail level before you get it to the more exotic stuff like carbon isotope testing and all the rest are fairly easy to be, so it is long a way of saying the best to turn I think, let me to sound saccharine is that all but parents who understand what changes that kids are going to and can spot them.


Question: Is testing the in the only solution in the professional leagues?


Shaun Assael: It is yeah, I mean at the professional level where you have the money to really do a out of competition testing so that you don’t know, when somebody is going to show up and you can’t be assured that if you go to the Dominican for three months, that somebody want, suddenly show up at your door by the way steroids are legal in the Dominican and I do think that the pro leagues are moving towards broad deterrents which is they want, they don’t want the embarrassing views that seems so obvious, so I think that they are instituting policies that create broad deterrents, what those policies don’t do is eliminate boutique cheating, which I think the leagues that don’t mean to cynical here, essentially want to tolerate I think congress will allow them to tolerate the boutique cheating the cream the clear the things that balco was a specialized lab where selling may I think the leagues will have greater tolerance for that if we are not all, if we are not at all seeing the more obvious examples.


Question: Are the Olympics the gold standard for enforcement?


Shaun Assael: Right so the I mean the pyramid here is the lowest level, about retail testing goes in the high schools it gets more sophisticated you go through the pro sports then the top of the pyramid is Olympic sports, where in every two years it is not just the best athletes who come out but the best chemists and the best chemical cheaters and so with every Olympics you have a kind of new test and it is more money has been poured into it so as the creation eight years ago with world anti doping agency with it is larger budget and larger research budgets you have better tests, so there is something like EPL which is an oxygen blood booster that blood oxygen booster, you see better tests to catch for that as well as the derivatives. There was a test for human growth hormone they debut at the Athens games and that was so bad that it caught absolutely no body, they have a spent a lot next last 4 years improving that they are going to bring it to Beijing and so these will be known as the HGH games, we will see how many people are caught, but the olympics are where the; because there is no union; and because this is a lead, athletes drug testers have folks where they can do whatever they want, so we see the big time testing unveiled.


Recorded on: March 18, 2008.