The world was shocked last week by the news that Oscar Pistorius, the South African “blade runner” who last year became the first double-leg amputee to compete in the Olympic Games, had been arrested in the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
The story took another turn a few days later, with a report in London’s Daily Mirror that “boxes and boxes” of steroids were found at Pistorius’ home. Pistorius, in keeping with the tradition of high-school stoners everywhere, claimed the drugs weren’t his and he was “holding them for a friend.” This, of course, led to furious worldwide speculation in the media over whether “roid rage” was the reason for the crime.
There are also reports that Pistorius could lose the medals he won throughout his Paralympic career—not because of the alleged murder, but rather because of the steroids. I love the implication that Pistorius’ disgrace wasn’t complete when he was arrested for murder—getting linked to PEDs is his true athletic downfall.
The response to Pistorius’ crime brought to the fore several different media tendencies that I find particularly disreputable: The sexual exploitation of tragedy, as numerous newspapers illustrated their coverage of Steenkamp‘s murder with bikini pictures; the use of medical experts to talk about cases in which they’ve neither examined the person involved or the pertinent medical records; and most of the sports media’s complete misunderstanding of just about everything about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. There have been countless examples of the last one just in the last few months.
For as long as steroids have been a sports topic, the “Steroids Theory of Everything” has been one of the laziest sportswriter tropes around. Ballplayer’s having a good season? Must be on the juice. Off to a bad start? He must’ve been on the ‘roids, until last week, when he stopped and forgot how to hit. Looking a little more jacked this spring than last? I think I know why. And while there may be no evidence, when that guy’s up for Hall of Fame consideration in 15 years, he doesn’t get my vote.
Now we’re getting that logic taken to an even more absurd extreme: Oscar Pistorius is charged with murdering his girlfriend? Must be ‘roid rage. Hundreds of news stories have raised the question—even though whether or not ‘roid rage is something that can turn someone into a murderer remains very much in dispute.
This kind of speculation allows media members, especially sports columnists, to put on their doctor hats, along with their judge, jury, moral arbiter and drug warrior hats.
There was the story, during Super Bowl week, of Ravens legend Ray Lewis being tied to performance-enhancing drugs, in the form of something called “deer antler spray.” This illustrated two ridiculous things about PEDs in sports: No one appears to care about their use in football, and the original Sports Illustrated story made deer antler spray sound like snake oil, and it made athletes like Lewis look like suckers.
The other big PED story this year concerned the recent raid of the Biogenesis clinic in Florida, which indicated that several prominent baseball players, including the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, had received banned drugs. And again, most sportswriters appear more interesting in grandstanding than they are in understanding what’s actually happened.
Seemingly every sports columnist in New York has suggested in print that the Yankees void the remaining $100 million-plus on A-Rod’s contract, something baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expressly forbids the team from doing. Other columnists, as well as ESPN business reporter and Twitter maven Darren Rovell, suggested that the Yankees “find a doctor to say” that Rodriguez has suffered a career-ending injury, allowing the Yankees to collect most of his salary in insurance money. Such a scheme is also known as “insurance fraud.”
Closer to home, Phillie Carlos Ruiz will be suspended the first 15 games this year because of a positive test for Adderall. For this, many local Chooch fans will cease being so, and I’ve heard media members speculate that the Adderall was what made Ruiz hit a career high of 16 home runs last year. I’ve never taken Adderall, but I didn’t realize it gave you super-strength.
It would be wise for media members, whether covering sports or murder charges, learn a little bit about the medical and legal side of performance-enhancing drugs before writing about them. Because not every home run is caused by steroids. And not every murder is, either.