Listening to Alberto
Alberto Salazar, who through-out his career has spoken with fervor about everything from his training to his faith, gives much of the credit for his recent win in the Comrades Marathon in South Africa (SCORECARD, June 13), his first major victory in 12 years, to a surprising source: the drug Prozac.
Salazar, 35, says he started taking Prozac last August, after consulting with Paul Raether, a friend and sports-medicine physician from Portland, and with Jan Smulovitz, an endocrinologist from Eugene, Ore. According to Salazar, years of intense training, coupled with episodes of heat exhaustion in a few races, had "suppressed [his] body's endocrine system," leaving him unable to run at his accustomed level and also chronically fatigued, listless and susceptible to illness.
"It wasn't that I was depressed or sad," says Salazar. "I just never had any energy or zest. I knew there was something wrong with my whole system."
Raether theorizes that overtraining can cause hormonal changes deep in the brain that are closely related to those seen in certain forms of depression. Such "atypical depressions," says Raether, are being treated with Prozac. "I'm leery of putting myself out on a limb and getting crucified by the medical community," he says, "but I think it's important to get the message out to athletes who are going from doctor to doctor trying to find what's wrong with them and are being told, 'It's all in your head.' Maybe it is in their heads, but it's chemical."
A former national-class distance runner, Raether is working with two other runners on Prozac. (He would not identify them.) Raether stresses that the drug is not a performance-enhancing substance and is not on the banned list for any sport except shooting. He hopes soon to join with an endocrinologist and a psychiatrist to conduct a study of the effects of Prozac on a large number of athletes. Meanwhile, he is watching Salazar's seeming rejuvenation with avid interest.
But before other runners lace up their shoes and dash off to their doctors for Prozac prescriptions, it's important to note that no medical literature exists explicitly indicating that Prozac, which is used primarily to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, has any effect on the endocrine system or on what is referred to as overtraining. "I've never heard of using Prozac in such a situation," says Gary Wadler, an internist at Cornell University Medical College and the coauthor of Drugs and the Athlete. "I would be very concerned about reacting to anecdotal reports without more documented evidence. People may hear of this and say, 'Wow, I'll try that.' It could be like opening a Pandora's box."
In response to studies conducted by veterinarians at the universities of Georgia and Tennessee showing that heat and humidity can endanger horses, Atlanta Olympic organizers say they will consider modifying the equestrian competition for the 1996 Games. Proposed changes include shortening distances, eliminating some jumps and increasing the time allowed to complete the cross-country portion of the demanding three-day event.
Given that, one wonders about the wisdom of adding the sport of mountain biking to the Olympic program in Atlanta. Competitors in that event will pedal over grueling wilderness trails in races as long as 70 kilometers.
Are we sure the bikes can take it?
Dressed in prison-issue denim slacks, white T-shirt, light-blue work shirt and work boots, Mike Tyson looked ready for manual labor when he walked into Judge Patricia J. Gifford's Marion County (Ind.) courtroom on Monday morning for a sentence-reduction hearing. And indeed, the former heavyweight champion proceeded to dig his own grave. Had he admitted that he raped Desiree Washington, the crime of which he was convicted in February 1992, Tyson might have succeeded in his bid for an early end to his prison term. But Tyson wouldn't do it. "I've committed no crime," he said in response to a question from prosecutor Mark Sullivan. "I'm going to stick with that to my grave. I never violated anyone's chastity."
Further, Tyson couldn't show that he had completed any educational program during the 27 months that he has served in the Indiana Youth Center in Plainfield, something else that might have swayed Gifford. He failed the GED, and Gifford, a former schoolteacher, was not pleased when she learned that Tyson had cut some prep classes to receive celebs like Whitney Houston and Spike Lee. She denied his plea and sent him back to jail.
However, Tyson's lawyer James Voyles says that Tyson will take the GED again on June 23. If he passes, he may again request a hearing before Gifford. Even if she denies his request, Tyson must be freed in February 1995, three months earlier than his scheduled release date. Under Indiana law, any inmate who passes the GED gets time off his sentence.
SI reported last week that prosecutors and lawyers for Tyson and Washington were working on a deal that could have sprung Tyson. According to sources, one provision of the deal was that Tyson apologize to Washington. A source says the deal broke down largely because the sides were unable to agree on such an apology.
Gap at Second
Chicago Cub second baseman Ryne Sandberg was the type of player, it seemed, who would go on forever, a between-the-lines gamer who checked his personality (such as it was) at the clubhouse door. In many ways he was a throwback to the major leaguers of the 1930s and '40s—without the tobacco juice and the blue language. He had his detractors, primarily those in the press who tried to wrestle serviceable quotes out of him for the decade that he was one of the game's best players, but they had to admit that Sandberg, the son of a mortician, played baseball with a deadly efficiency.
Even robots and throwbacks gotta have fun, though, and for Sandberg the fun had disappeared, along with his smooth, hit-it-to-all-fields batting stroke and a contending team. So at a Monday press conference the man who would have been the second Mr. Cub, had he been half as exuberant as Ernie Banks, announced his retirement at age 34. "I don't feel I'm currently performing with the focus or to the standards I expect from myself," said Sandberg. "My motivating feelings were to go out and battle and give it all I've got. I don't have it anymore."
Things went so badly so quickly for Sandberg, who had only one hit in his last 28 at bats and was hitting .238 when he quit, that some observers may forget he averaged .309 last season, the second-best mark of his 13-year career. But it was a soft .309—he had only 45 RBIs and nine home runs—and for the first time in his career it could be said that he did not get the job done as a number 3 hitter. Perhaps he never recovered from the fracture he suffered in his left hand when he was hit by a pitch in spring training of '93.
Then, too, Sandberg was not happy in the clubhouse. He was upset that over the last few seasons, Chicago had let go of, among others, Andre Dawson, Greg Maddux and one of his closest friends, Rick Sutcliffe. He did not have many pals left on the club, and he saw no prospect for Chicago's improving between now and the end of the 1996 season, when his contract was to expire. By quitting, Sandberg walked away from about $15 million—half of his $5.9 million salary for this year and the $11.8 million due him for the next two seasons. He and the Cubs were working out a personal-services contract that will pay Sandberg about $2 million and, quite possibly, keep him from repeating past criticisms he made about the franchise's lack of stability.
Sandberg's sudden departure should not keep him out of the Hall of Fame. He is one of the best second basemen ever—Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan and Eddie Collins are the only ones with a clear claim to being better. And defensively he was indisputably No. 1: His .990 fielding percentage ranks as the best in history at his position. Four times he went through a season without a throwing error, and he won nine straight Gold Gloves.
One night a number of years ago, when Sandberg was on top of his game, Kansas City Royal third baseman George Brett was asked if he wanted to go out after a game. "Nah," said Brett, who turned down precious few invitations to revel. "The Cubs are on TV, and I always watch Ryne Sandberg play."
Voice from the Past
Hearing Walter Byers criticize the NCAA for exploiting student-athletes and hiding behind a byzantine and outdated rule book, as he did at a recent banquet in Kansas City, is, to some, like hearing the chairman of MTV decry sex and violence in music videos. After all, it was under the iron hand of Byers, the NCAA's executive director from 1951 to '87, that the association grew into a multimillion-dollar institution whose tentacles reach into almost every aspect of American amateur sport. But Byers, 72, has issued such criticism before, even while sitting in the director's chair. In a 1984 interview with SI, Byers called for the establishment of an "open division" in college sports, in which schools with big-time athletic programs would pay their players and end what he called the charade of amateurism. However, he never advanced his pay-for-play proposal before his retirement. By then the Presidents Commission, organized in large part to ensure that one man would never again have the power Byers wielded, was on its way to becoming the guiding force of the NCAA.
At the banquet Byers called the Presidents Commission a reform movement with "far more form and very little movement." He described the "neoplantation mentality" on college campuses that rewards the "overseers and the supervisors." And this was Byers at his most pointed: "The coach owns the athlete's feet, the college owns the athlete's body, and the athlete's mind is supposed to comprehend a rule book that I challenge [the NCAA's chief of enforcement] Dave Berst, who's sitting down in this audience, to explain in rational terms to you inside of eight hours."
Byers was slightly disingenuous in his criticisms. The NCAA's look-into-every-nook-and-cranny mentality began under his administration. Then, too, many of the punishable offenses that plague college sports are the result of dishonesty by the student-athletes themselves—Florida State players didn't misinterpret a rule book when they accepted illegal gifts and cash payments. And it was the brilliant stewardship of Byers that turned the NCAA basketball tournament into college sports' biggest cash cow.
But even a decade ago Byers realized that things had gotten out of control. This not-so-gentle message from the man who used to be the most powerful voice in amateur athletics should not go unnoted.
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Erin Go Bra
Female fans of Irish soccer can give their team a real lift by sporting a special-edition emerald-green World Cup Wonderbra. The patriotic lingerie, now being advertised on Dublin billboards and reportedly selling at a brisk pace, adds a new dimension to the phrase wearin' o' the green. The team will no doubt thank you for your show of support.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Inspired by the tonsorial examples of New York Knick forward Anthony Mason, the British Knights sneaker company is offering a free pair of shoes to the first 50 New York City bicycle messengers who shave their heads into a "headfomercial" featuring the company's BK logo.
They Said It
The Arizona Cardinal coach, on the salary options he gave wide receiver Gary Clark: "It's either a 30% cut or a 100% cut."