WHEN IT comes to athletes and their affection for pharmacology, it's no longer safe to assume anything.
Want proof? What if I were to tell you that Chuck Nevitt, the NBA's 12th-man extraordinaire of the '80s who stood 7'5" and made Ric Ocasek look rocked, was on the juice? You would laugh, right? And then you'd have to stop laughing. "I tried it after college for a bit," says Nevitt, who now works in the Raleigh-Durham area as a computer solutions specialist. "I didn't see the change or gain everyone talked about, so I stopped."
Of course, Nevitt took steroids before they were banned by the NBA, but the point is, if he took them then anyone might have. An athlete needn't have set records, or played a certain sport, or even boasted preposterous muscles (or apparently muscles at all). And that in turn means that when it comes to the seemingly never-ending Great 'Roid Reveal—Don't miss Season Seven, featuring Alex Rodriguez and his wacky cousin!—it's possible that we're still just getting started.
Which is too bad, because it's become awfully tiresome. At first athletes duped us because we were willing to be duped, so exhilarated were we to live in a historic era. 73 home runs! 9.78 for the Olympic 100-meter dash! There was even a fleeting thrill to the ensuing detective stories. But now, as the admissions continue to surface like so many festering splinters, I think I speak for all of us not named Special Agent Jeff Novitzky when I say, Can't we just move on?
But how? Well, last month Rays manager Joe Maddon suggested "amnesty" for the players on the notorious list of 104—you know, the ones who came up positive in baseball's anonymous survey testing of 2003—saying, "The boil's been lanced, let it heal and then move forward." It's a good idea, if an unfortunate image, but why not take it further? How about expanding it to all the major U.S. professional sports and making it a one-time-only offer? After all, amnesty works at libraries, where you can return those musty Dr. Seuss books, and police stations, where you can drop off assault weapons with no questions asked (which, come to think of it, isn't a bad idea for pro athletes either).
We could call it APE (Amnesty for the Performance Enhanced) and hold an enormous press conference. The guilty athletes could line up at the side of the stage, like at graduation, only without the sense of optimism or hope. Each jock would approach the podium and read from a handy one-mea-culpa-serves-all: "I, [insert name], willingly took [steroids/HGH/experimental Russian opiates disguised as Skittles] that I got from [my trainer/some guy in Queens/eBay] because I thought it would make me [more successful/wealthier/better than Sammy Sosa], and now look at me. I developed [chronic elbow injuries/terrible bacne/barely visible testicles] and am ashamed of myself. Kids, believe me, you don't want to be me. I don't even want to be me right now."
And that would be it. They would get on with their lives so that we, as sports fans, could get on with ours. There would be no book deals for the guilty, no flak-managed press conferences, no making up stories about reporters hiding in their carry-on luggage. Rather, each guilty jock would have to stand up, spill the beans and take it like a man; hey, they should be used to it now after all those needles.
Pro athletes may ask: What's in it for me? (And surely this is a question they are quite good at asking by now.) Well, reduced public condemnation for one. Because all the confessions would occur in one day, no one would be singled out.
Second, there would be no punishment. Yep, the confessors walk. However, if former users choose to stay silent and it is later revealed that they cheated, not only would they look like insincere, boneheaded asses, but they'd also receive a lifetime ban from the sport. Which means not only goodbye, reputation, but also goodbye, paycheck or future coaching gig.
Are there obstacles? Sure, about a million of them. For starters, the plan doesn't address future users and does nothing to reward athletes who didn't cheat (and please tell us there are some out there). And no doubt Donald Fehr would absolutely hate the idea. Though, come to think of it, that's about the strongest endorsement I can imagine.
Still, drastic times call for drastic measures, and it can't hurt to dream, right? After all, wouldn't it be nice if as fans we could go back to enjoying the games without having to look in the rearview mirror, wondering what spectacular crash we'll see next?
And just think of this added benefit: We'd never, ever have to hear from Jose Canseco again.
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We could call it APE (Amnesty for the Performance Enhanced) and hold a huge press conference with the guilty athletes lined up on stage.
ILLUSTRATION BY KEITH WITMER