Clemens hearing on Steroids

I have been watching some of the hearings, and what I found most striking was the difference between the Republicans and Democrats on the House panel. Republicans are defending Clemens, while the Democrats are going after him with everything they have. Republican Congressman Burton has just completely destroyed the former trainer, Brian McNamee, who was testifying against Clemens. McNamee claimed that there were times where conversations were said to have occurred that were just impossible, and the former trainer must have been caught in a what seemed like a dozen lies. The Republicans are fortunately standing up against the type of witch hunt that congress (particularly with the Democrats in charge) seems to special in getting into. I don't know whether Clemens is a Republican and that is the reason for the difference, but I would like to believe that there is something much deeper going on here.

For those interested, here is a very interesting report on Clemens' performance over time. Art DeVany, who is an expert on these things, has some various thoughts on this case here and here.



Did Mitchell Steroid Report Tarnish Other Players' Images to Protect Barry Bonds?

By putting together a long list of players who had used steroids, the Mitchell Report made it difficult for MLB to do anything to Barry Bonds. The vast majority of the 80 names listed were essentially unknowns, but there were enough names a few well known ones to make punishing people seem impossible. Many of those attacked where attacked based on virtually no evidence. Simply having one person mention their name was enough to get them included in the list. Well, some are fighting back.

NEW YORK — Roger Clemens posted a video Sunday repeating his denials of the steroids use alleged against him in the Mitchell Report and plans to be interviewed for a future episode of "60 Minutes."

The seven-time Cy Young Award winner was accused in the report of using steroids, an allegation made by his former trainer.

In October last year, the Los Angeles Times reported Clemens was linked to steroids in the May 2006 sworn statement of a federal agent who cited former big league pitcher Jason Grimsley. At the time, the names of players in the public version had been blacked out. When the full affidavit was unsealed Thursday, Clemens' name was not in it, and the paper issued a correction and an apology.

"I faced this last year when the L.A. Times reported that I used steroids. I said it was not true then, and now the whole world knows it's not true, now that that's come out," Clemens said in the video, which was posted Sunday on the Web site of his foundation and on You Tube.

His youtube response can be seen here.

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Steroids for Academics?

So why if this is wrong for athletes, isn't this wrong for academics? Will we soon have congressional hearings on this?

While caffeine reigns as the supreme drug of the professoriate, some university faculty members have started popping "smart" pills to enhance their mental energy and ability to work long hours, according to two University of Cambridge scientists who polled some of their colleagues about their use of cognitive-enhancing drugs.

In a commentary published in Nature on Thursday, Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir revealed the results of an informal survey they conducted of a handful of colleagues who are all involved in studying drugs that help people perform better mentally.

Ms. Morein-Zamir said they asked "fewer than 10" colleagues in different fields who have done research on cognitive-enhancing drugs, such as Provigil, which is approved in the United States to treat narcolepsy and other severe sleep disorders. "We know that some people—academics—they could be philosophers or ethicists or people who do neuroscience, they chose to take some of these drugs," said Ms. Morein-Zamir.

The notion raises hackles in some parts of academe. "It smells to me a lot like taking steroids for physical prowess," said Barbara Prudhomme White, an associate professor of occupational therapy at the University of New Hampshire, who has studied the abuse of Ritalin by college students. Revelations about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional baseball have stirred public interest recently, and she sees parallels between athletes and assistant professors. "You're expected to publish and teach, and the stakes are high. So young professors have to work their tails off to get that golden nugget of tenure." . . .

Worries About Side Effects

. . . . For example, she notes, cheating the body of sleep suppresses the immune system and impairs brain functions. "There's no reason to believe that modafinil is protecting you from these really bad effects of long-term sleep deprivation," she said.

In fact, although cognitive-enhancing drugs have been on the market for decades (The Chronicle, June 25, 2004), it sometimes takes that long for side effects to become apparent. A major study published in August by the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry showed that children with ADHD who had taken stimulants grew less than did children with ADHD who did not take the drugs. . . . .

Unfair Advantage?

Even with such warnings, the allure of chemicals that confer an advantage may be hard to resist for academics, given the pressures they face. If there were a cognitive-enhancing drug that did not have side effects, said Ms. Prudhomme White, "would I be tempted? Damn right I would. ... Who wouldn't be?"

In their Nature commentary, Ms. Sahakian and Ms. Morein-Zamir asked people to consider whether and when cognitive-enhancing drugs are acceptable. While many people might agree that students should not be allowed to use such compounds during, say, a college-entrance exam, society might decide that it was worthwhile for surgeons or air-traffic controllers to use them. . . . .

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Barry Bonds Perjury Trap

On Thursday, his very freedom was put in jeopardy when a federal grand jury indicted him on five felony counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, charges that could result in a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison if he's convicted.. . . .

Here are my questions:

1) Why wasn't he charged with illegal drug use? I have a hard time with these perjury charges where there is no claimed underlying crime.
2) Let Baseball deal with this. Why should this be something that prosecutors spend a lot of time dealing with?



How much weight to put on testosterone testing for Floyd Landis?

This is an interesting read.

Art DeVany has a nice discussion on the testosterone testing issues involving Floyd Landis, the Tour de France winner.

UPDATE: Landis failed the backup test, but the points raised by DeVany are even more important to read now. If Art is correct, the statements about Landis can only be viewed as a very cruel mistake.

UPDATE 2: Here is another take from the WSJ:
One evening nearly two decades ago, four Swedish men in their mid-thirties gathered to quaff about 10 alcoholic drinks over six hours. Two weeks ago, American cyclist Floyd Landis says he drank two beers and "at least" four shots of whiskey after the worst day of his professional career.

Besides a taste for the bottle, these five men have something in common: The day after drinking, their urine showed an elevated "T/E ratio" of testosterone to epitestosterone, hormones that occur naturally in the body.

For Mr. Landis, the test result was bad news: It may cost him the Tour de France title, as the elevated ratio is indicative of the use of banned performance-enhancing substances that raise testosterone levels. On the other hand, that Swedish night on the town -- part of a body of research on alcohol's effect on testosterone levels -- might help him clear his name.

Testosterone and epitestosterone generally are in balance in the body, but some athletes inject steroids or other substances to artificially raise their testosterone levels, which can help long-term muscle building. (Though it generally takes more than a single day for any muscle-building effect to appear.) The day after his drunken night, Mr. Landis's T/E ratio was found to be 11-to-1, well above the 4-to-1 limit set by international cycling. But athletes' testosterone levels vary widely; for example, a test1 of saliva in Canadian university students this year found an eight-fold range of the hormone. If Mr. Landis's T/E ratio is normally toward the high end, a night of drinking could have raised it dramatically, putting him above cycling's limit. . . .



Krauthammer discusses Barry Bonds and Steroids

Charles Krauthammer has a good piece in today's Washington Post. I have made these basic points before, though he may have done a better job of expressing the point.

. . . The idea that an athlete of Bonds's stature, for whom the body is both temple and bank vault, would be mistakenly ingesting substances is implausible, made all the more so by the evidence dredged up by two San Francisco sportswriters detailing Bonds's (alleged) gargantuan consumption of every performance-enhancing drug from steroids to human growth hormone.

But why should we care? What is really wrong with performance enhancement? We say we are against it because it diminishes striving, devalues achievement, produces a shortcut to greatness, etc. But in many endeavors we don't really care about any of that. Medical residents at hospitals have been known to take Ritalin to keep themselves alert on overnight shifts. If it enhances their thinking in the emergency room, what's the objection?

Many public speakers, performers and even some surgeons take beta-blockers to literally still their hearts and steady their hands. I've never seen a banner at the opera complaining: "Pavarotti does it on pasta." And what about the military, which pioneered some of these performance-enhancing studies to see how they could help soldiers survive the most extreme stresses? Isn't that an unqualified good?

Performance enhancement turns out to be disturbing only in the narrow context of competition, most commonly in sports. And the objection is not cheating nature but cheating competitors. It's basically a fairness issue.

When everyone has access to technological improvements (graphite tennis rackets, titanium drivers, more tightly wound baseballs) the sport may be transformed, but the playing field remains level. When technology is enhancing the equipment, fans become quickly reconciled to the transformation. (And it can be radical: The transition from bamboo to fiberglass totally changed the pole vault.) But when technology enhances the physiology of the athlete, we tend to recoil. . . . .



On Bonds breaking the Babe's record

I confess I have mixed feelings about Barry Bonds tying Babe Ruth's home run record I may have written op-eds with Sonya defending the right of baseball to make its own decisions on steroid use independent of any government intervention, but it is still quite sad about him breaking the Babe's record. On the one hand, it is nice to seem human beings accomplish more and more difficult tasks. On the other hand, there is something different in my mind to the Babe drinking too many beers and eating too many hot dogs and still completely dominating the sport in the way no one has done so since (e.g., home runs as a percentage of home runs hit by everyone else in the league at that time). As opposed to someone (such as Bonds) breaking the Babe's numerical record, but not doing so in any where near the way that he dominated things and getting the benefit of later scientific advances.



"Senate Reasoning" on Steroids

Senator Bunning's statement puts it this way: "I remember when players didn't get better as they got older. They got worse. When I played with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and Ted Williams, they didn't put on forty pounds of bulk in their careers, and they didn't hit more homers in their late thirties than they did in their late twenties...I'm willing to trust baseball, but players and owners have a special responsibility to protect the game. And they owe it to all of us to prove that they are fixing this terrible problem. If not we will have to do it for them.''

He doesn't define the "terrible problem" but presumably it is the pace at which new records in home runs were set over the 1999 to 2001 period. It turns out that he is wrong on even the simple factual assertions he managed to make, aside from the leap to a conclusion and the speculation he states in other parts of his testimony. Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth did not go into a steep decline; they sustained a high level of home run hitting far beyond modern hitters like Maris, McGwire, Sosa, and perhaps even Bonds, though we have yet to see how his career goes. Nobody, so far as I can discover, put on forty pounds, except players of the past many of whom drank rather than trained as modern players do. . . .

People might find the whole post from Art DeVany's website interesting. As usual, a few numbers go a long way in correcting some myths, in this case about steroids and home runs.



Have Steroids Changed Baseball?


First baseball player busted under new steroid policy

"Tampa Bay outfielder Alex Sanchez was suspended 10 days for violating baseball's new policy on performance-enhancing drugs, the first player publicly identified under the major leagues' tougher rules. The suspension begins Monday when Tampa Bay opens its season against Toronto, the commissioner's office said Sunday."

It is surprising that the first person "caught" using steroids is someone who might have been using an over the counter remedy. In any case, I am concerned that this policy was adopted because of political pressure from politicians and not because the parties really wanted it. For my past perspectives on this issue see here and here.



New piece up on the congressional hearings on steroids

Sonya Jones and I have our new piece up on the congressional hearings. Among other points, the piece on National Review Online notes:
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Tom Davis (R., Va.) dismisses baseball's new rules, justifying the tough threats because steroid use by juveniles “is a public health crisis. [W]e have the parents of kids who have used steroids and committed suicide.”

The New York Times this month ran a long story this month on the late high-school-student Efrain Marrero, whose family claims that his stopping using steroids provides a “plausible explanation” for his suicide. While there is no scientific evidence linking steroids and suicide, the Times points to “persuasive anecdotal evidence.”

Yet, some perspective is needed here. While Davis claims that currently “over a half a million youth are using steroids,” the Times notes that, in addition to Marrero, only “two previous suicides had been attributed by parents to steroid use by young athletes.” With steroid use in high schools dating back to the 1950s, the suicide rate — even if Marrero's death were actually linked to steroids and not other factors — seems negligible compared to a male suicide rate for 15-to-24-year — olds averaging more than 20 per 100,000 over the last 30 years.

Even more startling is how the young male suicide rate has fallen over the last decade while steroid use has grown. On Meet the Press, Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) claimed that, over the last decade, steroid use had risen from one out of every 45 kids to one out of 16, while the young male suicide rate has gone down from 26 to 20 per 100,000.



Congressional Investigators of Steroid Use in Baseball said to have the wrong motivations

George Will gives Congressmen Tom Davis and Henry Waxman a trashing.

The committee has discovered that its duties include informing all Americans, and especially children, that dangerous and illegal behavior is dangerous and illegal. So the committee has subpoenaed some baseball and players association officials and some current and retired players, including Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Committee staffers say it has not subpoenaed Barry Bonds because his presence might make the hearing a media circus. Heaven forfend.

Canseco also gets a just discussion:

The one witness eager to testify is Canseco, who is flogging a book in which he accuses many players of using steroids. Jeff Merron of ESPN.com read the book — has Canseco done that? — and found:

Canseco says that during spring training 2001, when playing for the Angels against the Mariners and their second baseman Bret Boone, "I hit a double, and when I got out there to second base I got a good look at Boone. I couldn't believe my eyes. He was enormous. 'Oh my God,' I said to him. 'What have you been doing?' 'Shhh,' he said. 'Don't tell anybody.' " But in five Angels-Mariners games that spring, Canseco never reached second base.

He recounts game six of the 2000 World Series — which ended with game five. He recalls baseball in 1982 being "closed" to Latinos — although there were 62 major leaguers from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and more from other Latin countries.



A real circus: Congress subpoenas current, ex-baseball stars

Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire and four other baseball players were subpoenaed Wednesday to testify before a congressional committee investigating the sport’s steroids policy.

Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Frank Thomas also were subpoenaed to appear at the March 17 hearing of the House Government Reform Committee along with players’ association head Donald Fehr, baseball executive vice presidents Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson and San Diego general manager Kevin Towers.

Canseco, Fehr and Manfred had agreed to testify. Manfred will speak on behalf of baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

“The remaining witnesses, however, made it clear — either by flatly rejecting the invitation to testify or by ignoring our repeated attempts to contact them — they had no intention of appearing before the committee,” committee chairman Rep. Tom Davis and Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat, said in a statement.

For my view on all this see this.



More Letters in NY Post Respond to Op-ed on Steroids and Baseball.

The New York Post has several more letters responding to the op-ed that Sonya Jones and I had earlier in the week.

Well, people feel pretty strongly about this issue. Again one of the letters brings up in a very general way the point that I have heard over the week: if some players use steroids, everyone else will also be forced to use them and that you may only have a few who are really willing to use them. It doesn't really seem to me that there is a free-riding problem here because the league and the union internalize the costs and benefits. If the net benefits to the fan from this higher quality play exceeds the costs imposed on the players, the league has an incentive to let players use the drugs. If not, they won't. The responses to the other letters seem straightforward. I am not sure why we don't recognize that people make informed decisions about risk every day or that in all sorts of ways people take risks to improve performance in life. Football injuries are just one example. Do we really need to have the government regulate everything?



Letters in NY Post Respond to Op-ed on Steroids and Baseball

The New York Post has several letters responding to the op-ed that Sonya Jones and I had earlier in the week. One of the letters brings up in a very general way the point that I have heard over the week: if some players use steroids, everyone else will also be forced to use them and that you may only have a few who are really willing to use them. It doesn't really seem to me that there is a free-riding problem here because the league and the union internalize the costs and benefits. If the net benefits to the fan from this higher quality play exceeds the costs imposed on the players, the league has an incentive to let players use the drugs. If not, they won't.