From Press Row - The Changing Face of Steroids

Carla Peay | 2/20/2009, 11:02 a.m.

For the better part of this decade, former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds has been considered the face of the steroid problem in Major League Baseball. Whether it€s his race, his surly attitude toward the media, his well-documented problems with teammates, or his pursuit of the home run record, Bonds has been front and center of the so-called €steroid-era€.
But Bonds now has company on baseball€s version of a most-wanted poster. First, it was pitcher Roger Clemens, whose name appeared in the Mitchell Report linking him to steroid use. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was commissioned by the sport to investigate the use of performance enhancing drugs. His 20 month investigation and 400-plus page report cited Clemens, although the pitcher vehemently denies the accusations.

Now, perhaps the biggest fish of all has been caught up in the steroids net - Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez. Widely considered the best player in the game, the two-time league MVP admitted his guilt when a Sport Illustrated report revealed that Rodriguez had tested positive for Primobolan and testosterone in 2003. Rodriguez was the only player identified from a sample of 104 positive tests €" tests that the union assured the players would remain anonymous.

In an all out effort to begin repairing his now tarnished image, Rodriguez has begun his reclamation project, beginning with an interview with ESPN€s Peter Gammons on Mon. Feb. 16. That was followed by a 33-minute press conference in front of at least 200 reporters in Tampa on Wed. Feb. 18, as the Yankees begin spring training.

A-Rod may have earned a few points for admitting the truth when caught, because as former President Richard Nixon should have taught us all, the cover up is sometimes worse than the crime. But Rodriguez didn€t earn many points with his performance on Wednesday, during which he came off as evasive, disingenuous, arrogant, and only partly believable.

€When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure. I felt like I had all the weight of the world on top of me and I needed to perform, and perform at a high level every day. €I did take a banned substance. And for that, I am very sorry and deeply regretful,€ a contrite sounding, slightly misted eyed Rodriguez told Gammons. But by Wednesday afternoon€s media circus, the scripted A-Rod was out in full force. Unfortunately, the script was a bit farfetched.

The hardest to believe portion concerned an unnamed cousin, who apparently procured a substance Rodriguez claimed to know only as €boli€ from the Dominican Republic, and during the course of a three year period, the richest athlete in his sport injected himself with this substance bought in a country where the medical standards can€t come close to what is available in the U.S. At least Bonds went to a real chemist.

It took the investigative journalists of the sports world all of about a day to uncover the mystery cousin, now identified as Yuri Sucart, who has thus far declined to speak to the media. But somewhere, Bonds must be smiling.

When Bonds hit his 756th home run in August of 2007, breaking the mark set by Hank Aaron, his accomplishment was greeted by many with doubt and derision, followed by the sentiment that Bonds€ tainted record would only be a blight on baseball for a brief time. Just wait. When baseball€s patron saint of clean baseball, Alex Rodriguez eventually passes Bonds, the sport will have a true, clean, home run champion again. Not so fast, Bonds€ haters.

While A-Rod clearly hopes that his press conference was the beginning of the end, that is wishful thinking on his part, as his now tainted legacy will place him right next to Bonds among the €throw out the records and put in asterisks€ crowd. He will face questions from now until the day he retires, with the biggest one of all €" will he ever get in the Hall of Fame?

Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps, who was seen smoking pot on every front page in the world a few weeks ago, may be able to get away with the €I was young and stupid€ defense at age 23. He has lost a few sponsors, most notably Kellogg€s, and also has some image repair work to do, especially in light of a DUI arrest a few years ago. But by the time Phelps launches his long lean body into the pool in the 2012 Olympics, people will have forgotten about the bong hit seen around the world.

But for A-Rod to use that defense at age 26 and 27 is, well, indefensible. And he thought facing opposing pitchers in October was tough.

Carla Peay is the Sports Editor for The Washington Informer Newspaper.