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Football - Spiral of Denial
Anyone heard anything good or bad about the book, Spiral of Denial?
Sounds interesting, but it's getting no play in the media.
Public-opinion force evident among athletes, officials and media
Fans, meanwhile, can handle truth of rampant drug use
By Matt Chaney
Posted Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I'm hatin’ today on those persistent absurdities surrounding muscle doping in American football, the ridiculous talk and action that serve to cloak systemic use of anabolic steroids, biosynthetic growth hormone and more substances in the game.
Denial both direct and subtle powers the nutty excuses, nonsensical propaganda and surreal PR scenes. This trusted principle of evasion directs athletes, coaches, organizers, testing officials and media in a charade of anti-drug morality that affixes blame and punishment solely onto individuals, therefore helping sustain the problem throughout every level of football.
The spiral of denial, theoretical force of public opinion, is evident in the football-drug model encompassing those complicit parties, and actually lends sense to recent goofiness involving the NFL:
*A strapping young star, Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, says his body is a male anomaly, capable of producing high levels of human chorionic gonadotropin, a glycoprotein normally found in pregnant women.
*Associated Press football writers strip Cushing of their Defensive Rookie of the Year Award for his suspension of testing positive for artificial hCG, banned by the NFL as an accompaniment to steroid cycling, then the scribes re-vote to give that award right back to him.
*Former and current players turned sportswriters and bloggers, notably Ross Tucker, claim to see little or no PED use in the NFL despite the 50-year presence of anabolic steroids and the 25-year circulation of recombinant growth hormone.
*League and union officials still portray steroid use as minimal in the league, or “isolated,” and claim they see no problem with recombinant hGH, the widely popular performance-enhancer the NFL doesn’t test for.
*Politicians and anti-doping officials insist “Olympic testing” can stop muscle drugs in the NFL; meanwhile, WADA testing caught less than 1 percent of athletes at Beijing and has produced only one suspension for rhGH in 1,500 blood samplings since 2004.
For proper perspective or historical reality, anabolic steroids entered football by 1960, with high-school players the first reported users, about the same time that weightlifting blossomed under the training mantra of “bigger, stronger.” Androgenic drugs and juiced specimens covered the pro and major-college ranks within 20 years, and during the 1980s steroid users proliferated at elite levels, took over small-college football, and impacted competitive prep leagues, according to a wealth of evidence such as revelations from numerous players and coaches. I’m a witness and former perpetrator, having injected testosterone as a college player in 1982 and, later as a student coach, having driven players toward getting big as possible, which led me to find a bottle of “test” for one of them.
Documented information gets murky at the 1990s, the see-no-doping decade in American sport, as both the NFL and NCAA enforced drug policy that quelled insider allegations. The dying Lyle Alzado was an exception, his deathbed confessions of abuse and charges of lousy testing and pervasive doping in football; in addition, a 1993 investigative book alleged steroid abuse and other misdeeds in the Notre Dame program of coach Lou Holtz.
But the 2000s have broadened public awareness of drug pervasiveness in several sports, especially baseball, with hundreds of athletes exposed primarily through unprecedented criminal probes into trafficking of steroids and hGH. The NFL’s tight control on insider information endures, but a scandal blew up around the 2002-04 Carolina Panthers, numerous players exposed for receiving prescriptions including testosterone and growth hormone from Dr. James Shortt, later convicted of criminal charges. The case illuminated gaping loopholes for testing in the NFL and all sports, with those Carolina players among countless league-wide who have registered false-negative results through the employ of undetectable substances, or by timing use of patented drugs around known gaps in random urinalysis.
The ever-increasing sizes of football players constitute smoking-gun evidence of a continuing drug epidemic. Pro and college officials now acknowledge widespread use in the past while claiming to detect no signs at present. But players have only grown larger since the 1980s, with no reasonable explanation other than drugs to explain the difference, say medical experts and more qualified observers. When the NFL instituted steroid testing in 1987, the entire league had about a dozen 300-pound players; today, almost 400 such giants dot team rosters. Muscle doping is advantageous to playing every position, and the sizes of present-day quarterbacks average nearly the same for offensive linemen a half-century ago, at the commercial release of Dianabol pills.
Denial carries on, silly but effective in deflecting attention from football’s multi-generational muscle doping. The mythmakers remain resilient--jocks, coaches, officials, testers and parrot news media--unified in the old, false-hope message that purports users to be scattered individuals and certainly not infesting the system. Their storyline, voiced consistently over five decades, always places widespread doping and poor detection as part of the past, with bona fide testing as always imminent. The narrative has never been true, and likely never will.
The Cushing case is demonstrative of spiral theory, the denial dynamic outlined by sociologist Stanley Cohen. Key forces take action, groups' casting blame solely toward the individual, Cushing, while everyone, including him, paints an image of drug-free competition or the distinct possibility.
Cushing yammers about unnatural hCG level, whatever he’s saying there, but the athlete claims unequivocally he didn’t use the prescription drug because of synthetic androgens, to restart natural testosterone after a steroid cycle shut it down. That’s a tough sell. Cushing’s bio on the Texans site lists him at 6-foot-3, 262 pounds, while describing him as “fast.” Back home in Jersey, where steroid rumors began about Cushing in high school—hardly atypical of an NFL player, incidentally—his personal trainer calls him the proverbial genetic wonder or freak, terminology found nowhere in medical literature.
The dubious excuses of NFL management and union officials are cursory at this point. Our football-obsessed culture allows them to get away with it, always, and these days any official with sense knows muscle doping is a ticking liability bomb. So they offer their own flimsy rhetoric about Cushing, regurgitating the unchallenged theme that a rule-breaker like him “cheats” a presumed large majority of “clean” players.
Nevertheless, a jock offender, coaches, officials are easy marks in critique of any doping case. The focus here is full range of denial for systemic doping, the spiral’s complete circuitry for dimming an issue from public view, and the self-serving postures of so-called watchdog groups are significant, the sport media and anti-doping agencies.
Football writers have enabled muscle doping from the beginning, looking away since the 1960s, and today stand thoroughly informed on the terrible situation. But generally the beat reporters of football are worse than ever for ignoring steroids and hGH, particularly regarding the teams they cover daily. Periodically sportswriters and editors get touchy-feely at industry conventions or meetings, and they resolve to really probe issues that threaten athletes, games and society at-large, like drugs, injuries and violence. Then they go home to the beats, back to their local teams and cozy sport associations, and do nothing.
Yet some football writers reared viciously on Cushing last week, attempting to retroactively remove his AP rookie award of 2009, when his appeal of a positive test result took its confidential route through league arbitration. The scribes were exhorted by Peter King, the Sports Illustrated football expert of all time, to follow their thorny path of both defrocking and reelecting Cushing as last year’s best defensive rookie. See reviews of the folly elsewhere, or simply read pathetic and hypocritical in a handy dictionary.
If football writers truly wish to take a stand on doping, they can start by cleaning their own house, finally getting to work on this critical issue. They can also grow stones by defrocking one of their own—King—for a horrid record of burying his head about football doping since random urinalysis and Alzado’s demise. From 1992 until BALCO revelations a decade later, King hardly mentioned “steroid” amid his voluminous reporting and bloviating in print, cyberspace and on television. And forget about human growth hormone in the period—King did. He also churned out books, big, happy ones regaling the legends and bereft of drug content, of course.
In 2009, football writers honored King with the McCann Award, bestowed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now they should take it back, for his gross negligence about muscle doping during a lengthy career. He should return it, if suddenly so committed to punishing guilty parties like Cushing and himself. But even today, King issues non-denial denial on behalf of his good buddies throughout the NFL: In straight face, King repeats the official line about scant doping in the league, offering his, ahem, expert estimate that about 10-15 percent of players are users—for all PEDs!
King has a compatriot scribe in blinders at SI, retired NFL lineman Ross Tucker, whom big Peter has chummily referred to as “a Princeton guy.” The 6-foot-4 Tucker, who topped 290 pounds for Princeton and hit 316 in the NFL, also enjoys broadcasting gigs after dropping about 50 since his playing career ended in 2007. Tucker estimates that a puny 5 to 10 percent of NFL players use PEDs.
How did Tucker traverse a vacuum of purity through cutthroat football, foremost the NFL jungle? “Maybe I am naïve...,” he allows on SI.com. Yeah, or he’s moronic, maybe dishonest. Christ, about 10 percent of players juiced on my team at little Southeast Missouri State in 1982, at cusp of steroids’ flood through NCAA Division II, where the rate could never be so low again. And we erstwhile juicers at small colleges barely grew half the size of Tucker and his peers of the modern NFL. Tucker's doping estimate for the league definitely sounds asinine, but he isn’t that stupid; his denial of a bigger problem merely protects the sport-media complex that rewards him, still.
Likewise, earnest rhetoric is lost on anti-doping officials, who seemingly make PR stunts their priority anymore, versus real work toward preventing PEDs. Olympic testing is inept at best or an utter failure at worst, plagued by woeful resources, impossible logistics, shaky science and daunting legal questions, according to a host of expert critics worldwide. But WADA officials figure their best defense is a nervy offense, constant trash talk through media, their lobbing insults at invalid testing of the NFL, Major League Baseball, and other sports. WADA and USADA, struggling for funding and backed by politicians, hope to gain testing for U.S. pro sports, and the mission appears to emphasize smokescreens to veil their own inadequacy at anti-doping.
Finally, football fans complete the circuit of denial about muscle doping, but they generally admit they don’t care, instead of acting otherwise. Fans write as much in online posts while also voting with their wallets, and the NFL reigns as the culture’s richest and most popular sport. Fans have never even blinked about football brutality, and today the game approaches 2,000 collision deaths since the 1800s, along with tallying thousands more indirect deaths. Fans don’t want morality plays or the oxymoronic promise of “safe football"; they just crave to see some ass-kicking. They want “contact ballet,” athleticism at brink of annihilation, observes professor Michael Oriard, cultural analyst and former NFL player.
Like fans, everyone else around American football must own up to the permanence of muscle drugs and the invalidity of anti-doping schemes underway or proposed. We need new thinking, realism in public debate, leading to less costly directions for turning back drugs and injuries. We need true reform of football hazards like steroids—or we will watch the gathering storm of health liability ravage the game instead.
Matt Chaney is a journalist, editor, teacher and publisher in Missouri, USA. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, including about his 2009 book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the home page at www.fourwallspublishing.com.
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