Book Review - Steroid Nation by Shaun Assael
It's impossible to be a fan of sports these days and not be aware of the role that steroids play in the lives of athletes. If you listen to the athletes themselves, only a few rogue players get sucked up in the juice. But any rational human knows that the truth is something completely different. In the book Steroid Nation: Juiced Home Run Totals, Anti-aging Miracles, and a Hercules in Every High School: The Secret History of America's True Drug Addiction, Shaun Assael looks at steroid use in America from 1981 to today. You can't help but draw the conclusion that there is a vast conspiracy of silence that allows this to go on in professional and amateur sports.
Band of Believers - 1981 - 1992: The Guru of Venice; "Zee Codes, Zey Are Missing", Mules, Threesomes, and Mom; The Running Man; Inside Job; Blow Out; The Biggest Believers
Tapping the Vein - 1992 - 2000: Mormon Money; The Perfect Pitch; Solace and Sex; 'Cause I'm TNT, I'm Dynamite!; The King Is Dead
Long Live The King - 2000 - Present: The Right Stuff; A Bully Pulpit; The Scientist Strikes Back; The Two Arnolds; State of the Union; This Is War; A Vicious Cycle; Growing Pains
Acknowledgments; Bibliography; Source Notes; Index
Assael goes back to the days of the Underground Steroid Handbook and Dan Duchaine. Duchaine became known as "The Guru" due to his extensive knowledge and experimentation with performance enhancing drugs. Working out of the Gold's Gym in Venice, he quickly became the go-to guy when bodybuilders wanted to get bigger and athletes needed to get stronger. While these drug sales were far from legal, the government wasn't as motivated to prosecute as they are in today's environment. But that doesn't mean that all the players were staying out of jail. Duchaine did a couple of jail stints, and his life started to slide downhill at a rapid pace as he became addicted to some of his chemical concoctions. His destructive behavior also affected his relationships with women, as ones that stayed around more than a week or two usually ended up physically wrecked in the long run.
Duchaine isn't the only story in Steroid Nation, however. There are other dealers who have become front-page names, like Victor Conte from BALCO. Dealers abound both locally and internationally as the technology becomes more available and the profit potential skyrockets. The government agents, such as Don Catlin and Terry Madden, are forever fighting a battle where the criminals are usually a step or two ahead of law enforcement and the science of detection. And then there are the athletes and celebrities... Lyle Alzado, Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Sylvester Stallone, and many others. The gap between the public image and the actual behavior is incredibly vast. Nearly all deny there are any chemical shenanigans going on, even after positive tests. And even the assertions of being clean due to no positive test results rings hollow, as the chemicals used and masking agents employed change far faster than the testing labs can be updated. And if a new substance is out there that can't be detected (think "Clear" and "Cream" from BALCO), then it may just be a matter of luck that the testing labs will ever find out.
Assael writes a good story with extensive documentation. Steroid Nation is a bit slow in the beginning, as the direction of the story seems to be a bit muddled. But once I got about 50 pages in, I was completely hooked. I know that steroids are a real problem in sports. But after reading this book, I'm of the opinion that far more people are using than testing results would indicate. And while the heads of sporting leagues (and even the fans) want to believe that there's not a problem, they also don't want to go back to the days when their stars looked normal, not "larger than life".
Steroid Nation will open your eyes to the true nature and extent of the problem, as well as the hypocrisy of those who would want you to believe that they are eradicating steroids and winning the war.