Notes from the grandstand

Larry Beil
Yahoo! Sports

Well, it sure looked impressive. Sen. John McCain getting tough on steroids, grilling the head of the baseball players association, Donald Fehr.

Fehr, in turn, squirming evasively, trying to defend the union's position – which apparently is to resist meaningful drug testing.

McCain made veiled threats that Congress may get involved if baseball doesn't clean up its own mess. The government's hammer when it comes to MLB is the league's antitrust exemption, which it could threaten in a worst-case scenario.

But don't look for that to happen. In fact, don't look for much to happen at all. Yes, the players union is under pressure from all sides to come up with serious steroid reforms and likely will be forced to do something. But let's not be misled about what's really going on here.

This is an election year and politicians want to put on a show. What a coincidence that in the same week that Sen. McCain mentions he might be open to running for vice president, he pops up on newscasts all over the country as the leader in our war on steroids.

Don't get me wrong here. I'd like to see all sports get rid of dangerous performance-enhancing substances. And we must make it clear to the kids who dream of becoming professional athletes that these drugs are not an option.

But steroid use by athletes isn't in my top-20 list of national concerns. If you want to talk about drug abuse, far more people are addicted to prescription drugs than take human growth hormone to quicken their bat speed.

But by the way the Feds have gone after BALCO, you'd think Victor Conte was the second coming of Al Capone.


Steroids have been turned into Weapons of Mass Deception by the Bush administration. Barry Bonds and the rest of the BALCO Boys are high-visibility targets – and easy ones at that. Sure, baseball needs to clean up its mess. But there is no national steroid crisis in our country. Just politicians looking for some attention.

The NHL fields a haymaker
The National Hockey League has received all kinds of attention this week – the wrong kind. Todd Bertuzzi's attack left Colorado's Steve Moore hospitalized indefinitely with a broken neck. Casual observers and cable news lawyers are screaming that Bertuzzi should be charged with assault and thrown in jail.

That's the last thing the NHL wants. This is a desperate league with huge financial woes, declining television revenues and a possible lockout next season. The NHL's dirty little secret is that it wants to keep fighting in the game – it's part of the sport.

As crazy as that might sound, just ask a die-hard fan. Go to a game and watch what happens when a fight breaks out. Everybody stands up, craning their necks to see the fists fly. The players understand it.

The problem in this case is that Bertuzzi went way over the line and could have killed Moore. The NHL has suspended Bertuzzi for the rest of this season, including the playoffs. Bertuzzi should remain sidelined until Moore is healthy enough to return to the ice.

The Goliath Cinderella
If it's possible to be a Cinderella and the No. 1 team in the nation, then Saint Joseph's fits the description – even after getting spanked by Xavier in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Jameer Nelson and Delonte West are the most talented backcourt in the country, and Phil Martelli, the Peter Boyle look-alike, is one of the best and funniest coaches in the game. I'm hoping the Hawks regroup and have a deep run in the NCAA tournament, but after what the Musketeers did to them, nobody should be surprised by an early exit.

Move over T.O.
Terrell Owens may be the laughingstock of the NFL with his paperwork snafus and grievances, but nobody has worn out his welcome faster than David Boston in San Diego. Boston has the physique of a bodybuilder and the speed of a track star. But he's apparently so much of a loner that the San Diego Chargers, after just one year, can't wait to dump him and his seven-year, $47-million contract.

The game within the game
Channel-surfing at 1 a.m. and I somehow get locked in on Extreme Table Tennis. I didn't know pingpong could be extreme. But there was some guy returning slam after slam, retreating about 30 feet and beyond a barrier that separates the players from the fans. And then the guy wins the point with a killer topspin return.

It would be like Andre Agassi climbing over the wall at the U.S. Open and hitting a winner from the third row. The announcer says I'm watching the age-old battle between speed and spin.

For the record, speed kills, even in ping-pong.

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