No athlete, no event safe from the taint of doping allegations Print
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Sunday, 21 October 2007 16:45
MLB Headline News

 BOSTON (AP) -Paul Byrd is an inquisitive, worldly guy who is more professor than pitcher. He's well-liked by everyone in every clubhouse he's been in, the one player you'd feel good about your kids looking up to.
Yet there he was, Game 7 of the AL championship series - the biggest in the Cleveland Indians' season - and we were playing another round in that dirty game of ``Did he? Or didn't he?''
Only Byrd knows for sure if he had a legitimate reason to use human growth hormone, or if he's just another on the long list of athletes looking for an edge. The point is, we're talking about performance-enhancing drugs. Again.
Another of sports' premier events is being overshadowed by talk of syringes and blood tests and doctors' notes. Again.
And we're left to wonder if there is anybody - in any sport - we can really trust. Again.
``I speak to kids, I speak to churches,'' Byrd said. ``I do not want honest, caring people to think that I cheated. Because I didn't.''
The problem is, we've been here before. Too many times.
If there was anybody we were confident was clean, it was the bookish-looking Byrd. He's a devout Christian, a voracious reader who is never far from a book or his laptop. He's the rare guy every player in the clubhouse likes and, at 36, the one many are trying to be.
His physique doesn't look chemically enhanced, either. Far from it. He's generously listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, and it's a good bet his hat size hasn't changed since high school. He's got a fastball in name only, rarely cracking 90 mph on the radar gun.
On a 25-man roster, he was the 26th guy you'd suspect of using performance-enhancing drugs.
``I have had temptations to cheat,'' Byrd said. ``I never succumbed to any of these temptations.''
But we've lost track of all the athletes who swore they were clean and promised we could count on their integrity, only to see them unmasked later. Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Marion Jones, on and on it goes. Byrd can explain himself from now until spring training starts, but people will always see him on the mound and wonder if he's clean.
And make no mistake, Byrd has more explaining to do. The answers he gave Sunday only raised more questions.
He insisted he had never used HGH without a doctor's prescription, and said he has a tumor on his pituitary gland. But with a chance to set the record straight, he time and again declined to give specifics about his condition or how he came to use HGH or whether he still was using it.
Byrd said he was ``very happy'' to be working with Major League Baseball, that it was proof he had nothing to hide. Only that seemed to be news to MLB, and Indians general manager Mark Shapiro didn't learn about any of this until Friday night.
``I'm supportive,'' Shapiro said, ``and accepting of the fact that I don't know everything going on.''
This was the last thing the Indians should have been dealing with Sunday. The talk before Game 7 should have been about whether they could get to Daisuke Matsuzaka again or whether Travis Hafner would finally find his swing.
Instead, any Indians player who ventured outside the clubhouse was immediately besieged with questions about Byrd.
Byrd spent his pregame making his case to a media horde, taking precious time from readying himself for the possibility of a rare relief appearance.
``My medical history should not be the focus of today. This is Game 7. We are trying to get to the World Series,'' he said. ``I don't want this to affect my team when we take the field and play tonight.''
That's the thing about this endless stream of doping allegations, though, it taints everybody. And, makes us question what we used to take on faith.
Worse, it makes us paint everybody with the same dirty brush. How long before we tire of the whole lot of them and just assume everybody is cheating?
It's already starting to happen. The four-week suspensions for steroids in the NFL come and go with such regularity, we barely take notice. Short of a big name like Jones, doping allegations against track and field athletes slip below the radar.
``That's one of my concerns, doping fatigue,'' said Dr. Gary Wadler, an associate professor of medicine at New York University and a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
``That's a big concern, that the public doesn't get so fed up that they think, `Who cares anymore?' That would be a travesty because then it would set the stage of increasing abuse of the drugs. These are dangerous drugs, and they violate the spirit of sport.''
And we may never look at a ``good guy'' like Byrd quite the same way again.
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Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at narmourap.org
 

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