Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Message from East Berlin

I've shot a couple of barbs Steve Kettmann's way in the past, but it is probably important to remember that he really was way out ahead of almost everyone when it comes to steroids in baseball, writing in 2000 what was then an unprecedented piece about PEDs. Kettmann's article, in-turn, prompted the then-unknown Brian McNamee to pen an op-ed piece that is going to be marked with a little exhibit sticker at some hearing or deposition someday soon. At the time, Kettmann's piece didn't gain all that much traction -- it would take the confessions of Canseco and Caminiti two years later for people to really start talking about it -- but it now stands as an example of a singular, prescient voice raising an important issue at a time when no one wanted to hear about it.

Today in the New York Daily News, Kettmann examines the media's and the public's failure to pay heed to such voices. Kettmann has lived and worked in Germany for the past several years, so rather than rely solely on baseball, he has East German swimmers on his mind:

. . . I can recall being wowed by the guts U.S. swimmer Shirley Babashoff showed when she dared to speak out at the 1976 Summer Olympics about the mannish East German women who turned that competition into a mockery. I had no idea what was up with the East Germans, but I respected Babashoff's nerve. Many, however, wished she had kept her mouth shut. She was dubbed "Surly Shirley" in the press for making cracks about the deep voices of the East German women . . .

. . . One of the questions that needs to be asked, as people try to make sense of the Steroid Era in sports - which probably opened with those infamous '76 Olympics - is how so few sportswriters could avoid falling in to the same trap as the well-meaning sports reporters in Montreal who blamed Babashoff for demanding that they ask tough questions about the East Germans.

Media criticism aside, Kettmann's piece also provides an important reminder -- in the form of his reminiscences of the Manfred Ewald trial -- that while records and integrity of sporting events are worth discussing, the health risks and culture of PEDs -- especially to the extent those who otherwise wouldn't touch the stuff feel coerced into using -- are far more important in the grand scheme of things.


Pete Toms said...

C, thanks for the heads up on the most recent Kettmann piece.

The following is from James Christie @ The Globe & Mail, Oct. 31 last year.

"The human consequences of East German steroid use, long whispered about, were quantified in a recently published two-year study conducted by the Humboldt University in Germany. The study involved 52 Olympic and elite-level former East German athletes, now aged between 40 and 60 and their 69 children. This represents only a fraction of an athlete population that grew up in a state sport system that essentially sacrificed their health for the propaganda value of victory in sport during the 1970s and 1980s.

German researcher Giselher Spitzer told the Play the Game sports conference the incidence of abnormalities is frighteningly higher for those in the study than in the general population. Seven of the athlete offspring have physical deformities. Four are mentally handicapped. More than a quarter of the children have allergies and 23 per cent have asthma.

He said the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth in the female athletes was 32 times higher than in the German population. Thirty-two of the 52 athletes have received therapy for psychiatric issues and a quarter of those studied had suffered some form of cancer."

Shyster said...

Thanks for the Christie stuff, Pete. I'm averse to the whole "think of the children" approach some have taken on the subject, and I suspect that the things athletes take today are different and less dangerous in form and in dosage than that which the East Germans took 30 years ago. Still, the health risks are likely still quite significant. While I don't care if the Barry Bonds' of the world make the choice to take the risk, I do worry about the marginal players who feel like they HAVE to in order to have a livelihood.