The users have won.
What else is there to conclude from the Albany Times-Union report Tuesday that a New York state grand jury investigation linked Los Angeles Angels center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., boxing champion Evander Holyfield and the Pittsburgh Steelers organization to the purchase of performance-enhancing drugs?
However vigilant professional sports tries to be with eradicating steroids, human growth hormone and other artificial testosterone boosters from their player pools, they can't succeed.
Not until doctors can come up with an accurate battery of tests for the hundreds of available performance enhancers.
Not if the Internet provides a fertile environment for shadowy pharmacists to peddle their wares, spitting at the law.
And with all the money at stake, maybe not ever.
Matthews was considered a journeyman until parlaying a career year with the Texas Rangers last season into a five-year, $50 million free-agent contract with the Angels this offseason. The deal was widely panned, the reasoning that Matthews breaking out during the season in which he turned 32 was some kind of a fluke.
Wouldn't it be nice to have such a tidy explanation?
Instead, we are back where we were when Ken Caminiti blew the lid open on steroids to Sports Illustrated, and when Jose Canseco – a customer with the same Mobile, Ala., pharmacy that supplied Matthews and Holyfield, according to the Times-Union &ndash wrote his tell-all book, and when Barry Bonds' grand-jury testimony was leaked, and when Rafael Palmeiro skulked away from the game shamed by his positive steroid test.
Performance-enhancing drugs aren't going away.
When Major League Baseball tries to say its steroid testing is working, it seems to forget that there still is no test to determine hGH use.
Its testing is working, yes.
Its testing just isn't good enough.
Nor is the NFL's nor the NBA's nor any other professional sport's. The doctors, much as they try, have not been able to keep up. Athletes are in the same place they were during the go-go '90s: If careful enough, they can get away with just about anything.
Jason Grimsley did hGH freely before the IRS busted him with a package on his doorstep. He was allegedly a client of the Orlando, Fla.-based Signature Pharmacy, which did an estimated $36 million in business last year, according to the Times-Union.
More busts, the newspaper reported, are expected around the country. Professional sports' commissioners will scramble to explain themselves, Congressmen will howl with righteous indignation and fans will be left to wonder what, exactly, to make of this mess.
Baseball fans have long embraced their game with the knowledge that players have used, do use and will continue to use. Many don't care. The game's greatness usurps all of the damage the players perpetuate through their own selfishness.
For others, however, this comes down to a moral issue: As a fan, can I accept this?
This question is slowly dissolving into an ultimatum: Accept it or don't. Because the more time wears on, the more obvious it becomes that performance-enhancing drugs are the party crasher that refuses to leave.
Sure, you can hold out for the players' unions in every league to subject their constituencies to blood tests that can be stored and re-tested later when doctors find effective tests. That won't happen. If baseball's most hallowed record, Henry Aaron's 755 home runs, is about to be broken by a man in Bonds who allegedly admitted to using two types of designer steroids and that doesn't force the union into action, nothing will.
So we're stuck with a nasty reality. Either we admit every player &ndash even our favorites &ndash might be using performance-enhancing drugs, or we simply deny that reality and live in a cocoon where sports are good and righteous and fair.
Loving sports should come naturally and last unconditionally.
Now, it just isn't that easy.
- Evander Holyfield