By Ivan G. Goldman
The boxing world hunkered down this week while three bombshell stories from the worlds of big-time baseball and football flashed across the media spectrum. All three events were very much related to nagging issues the sweet science has trouble dealing with.
Unless you’ve hiding in a mine shaft you already know the Baseball Writers Association of America announced that not a single player on the 2013 ballot—including Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens—got enough votes for entry. It’s the first time since 1996 that no one was voted in. Bonds and Clemens were the best hitter and pitcher of their era but were also up to their necks in performance-enhancing drugs scandals. They played when the sport mostly pretended PEDs didn’t exist. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, also considered PEDs miscreants, had already been ignored by Hall voters.
The day after the Hall of Fame made its announcement, Major League Baseball, with the cooperation of the players union, announced plans to bolster its drug-testing policy, calling for in-season testing for human growth hormone and improved methods to track abnormal levels of testosterone. Apparently this is no publicity stunt and the new policy is a meaningful way to catch cheaters.
Finally a team of scientists who analyzed the brain tissue of renowned NFL linebacker Junior Seau after his suicide last year concluded that Seau, 43, suffered a debilitating brain disease likely caused by two decades worth of hits to the head. Seau, who tragically committed suicide in May, shot himself in the chest so his brain could be studied.
Boxing has a Balkanized and generally weak anti-PEDs program that varies from commission to commission, if you want to call it a program. The NFL has been testing for PEDs since 1987, but its measures haven’t kept up with new ways to cheat. Its offensive and defensive linemen haven’t looked human for years.
In boxing, among fighters caught with illicit substances in their systems this year were Lamont Peterson, Andre Berto, Antonio Tarver and Erik Morales — all current or former major belt holders.
Meanwhile, Juan Manuel Marquez closed out 2012 with a spectacular 6th round kayo of superstar Manny Pacquiao in their first and possibly last go-around. A key member of Marquez’s team was Angel Heredia, who was hiding out under an alias. Steroid pusher Heredia, snared by the feds as they investigated the notorious Balco operation, testified against his former colleagues and several prominent athletes in order to escape prosecution.
It was ex-Balco capo Victor Conte who exposed his identity.
Marquez and Heredia have vehemently denied any wrongdoing and threaten to sue anyone who says different. I certainly have no reason to disbelieve them. In a world full of personal trainers, the fact that Marquez turned to this particular guy clearly shouldn’t detract from his stellar performance at age 39. Neither should it besmirch the reputation of Heredia, a crime-fighting humanitarian who ratted out his pals because he cares so much about dong the right thing. Both Marquez and Pacquiao had agreed to be bound by Nevada’s notoriously weak testing rules.
It’s also worth noting that Nonito Donaire, everyone’s pick for 2012 Fighter of the Year, has famously (and heroically) entered Dr. Margaret Goodman’s tough VADA program. VADA can test his blood at any time without warning. Donaire is paying for it out of his own pocket.
Goodman, president and board chairman of VADA, was an early champion in the battle against PEDs. Her prominent role against PEDs almost certainly is what got her bounced as a columnist for The Ring magazine, a property of Golden Boy Promotions. Not that Golden Boys is any more culpable than other promoters. But rival Bob Arum is hoping to win anti-PEDs points because he promotes Donaire and says he will encourage his other fighters to follow Donaire’s lead.
The tragic news on Seau, who left four children behind, relates to a situation in contact sports that’s both complex and compelling. It needs to be dealt with. We know that repeated hits to the head aren’t good for the head and what’s inside it, and we don’t need any new studies to prove it. The boxing world has known about punchy fighters for decades. What we do need is a positive way to deal with it that meets the test of science.
Ivan G. Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel Isaac: A Modern Fable came out in April 2012 from Permanent Press. Information HERE