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Steroids R Us

We're not here to talk about the past, but have you noticed that the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat aren't what unite the wide world of sports anymore?

Former chief justice Earl Warren might find reading the paper tough these days, and not only because he'd be 114 years old if he were still alive. It was Warren who famously said that he turned to the sports pages first because they record people's accomplishments, while the front page is chock-full of man's failures. Tell that to Alex Sanchez, the formerly anonymous Tampa Bay Devil Ray who became above-the-fold sports news on Sunday. A few hours before the Red Sox and the Yankees raised the curtain on the 2005 season (page 56), Sanchez was suspended for 10 games for failing a drug test. Major League Baseball didn't name the offending substance; but, really, in these times, what else could it have been?

The Sanchez bust, of course, was only a matter of time. By Sunday afternoon it had been more than 24 hours since the last steroid-related news flash, an interminable drought in an era when Jose Canseco is a best-selling author. The tales of victories and of obstacles overcome that so inspired Warren may be somewhere in today's sports sections, highlight shows, websites and drive-time shoutfests. But these days when we talk about sports we sooner or later talk about steroids: All the juice that's fit to print.

Take last week--please. It started with the still-hot debate over Mark McGwire's Hall of Fame worthiness and ended with 38 minor leaguers being suspended a day after Sanchez was. But baseball was merely the set of bookends. On March 30 CBS's 60 Minutes Wednesday reported that three Carolina Panthers had filled prescriptions for a testosterone cream in 2003, their Super Bowl season, without ever being caught by the NFL's supposedly stringent screening. That TV report got the attention of the House Committee on Government Reform, the group that grilled MLB players and officials last month; it sent NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue a letter requesting documents relating to the league's drug policy. Congress said the request was also going to the NBA, the NHL, the NCAA, USA Track & Field and MLS.

In overseas news Triathlon Australia announced last Friday that an Aussie Ironman competitor had tested positive for nandrolone. The scandal has stirred even the NHL, the league the news forgot: Dave Morissette, a former Montreal goon, has staked his claim as the Canadian Canseco with Memoires d'un Dur à Cuire (Memoirs of an Enforcer), which says steroids were rampant when he played in the 1990s. Last week also brought word that Lance Armstrong was being sued by a former personal assistant who alleges he found steroids in the bathroom of the six-time Tour de France winner's apartment in Spain last year.

Drug charges are now a card one plays, or threatens to play, in monetary negotiations. Armstrong and the ex-employee, Mike Anderson, have been wrangling over Anderson's severance package since they parted ways last fall. (Anderson wanted $500,000 and help in opening a bike shop, which he says Armstrong promised.) Armstrong's lawyer Timothy Herman told SI that during discussions, Anderson made a reference to "something he found in Spain"--which Herman took as a threat to go public with a story about drugs. Herman called the accusations "a total falsehood," and Armstrong sued back, seeking at least $125,000 in damages.

The fun never stops; it is always steroid season. The NFL may well be in the headlines soon for suspending the three Panthers fingered by CBS: punter Todd Sauerbrun and offensive linemen Jeff Mitchell and Todd Steussie (now with the Bucs). Adolpho Birch, the lawyer who oversees the NFL's drug policy, told SI's Peter King last Friday that a player caught with the juice "absolutely" would be subject to discipline even if he didn't fail a test.

Fans, too, will make their own judgments, as some already have done with the Detroit Tigers' Ivan Rodriguez. The catcher formerly known as Pudge has dropped from 215 pounds last season to his current 193. Rodriguez says he ate right and ran more this off-season--and that his slim-down is unrelated to being fingered as a steroid user in Canseco's book. Maybe, but maybe not. Rodriguez, after all, is an athlete, and thus is at the very least hanging out with the wrong crowd.

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Earnhardt and Rondeau were trying to solve the biggest mystery in motor sports. --LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE, PAGE 22