A-Rod received therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone for several seasons before Biogenesis hit

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There’s a book coming out soon about the Biogenesis scandal. It’s called “Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis and the Quest to End Baseball’s Steroid Era” by Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times and Gus Garcia-Roberts of Newsday. Sports Illustrated is running a very tasty excerpt from it today.

The subject: Alex Rodriguez, not surprisingly. And while part of it is sexy — apparently, the first words out of A-Rod’s mouth to Tony Bosch were “What were you giving Manny Ramiez?” — there’s a more significant and more interesting part of it all too. Specifically: about the many therapeutic use exemptions A-Rod received to legally take testosterone before he hooked up with Biogenesis.

Therapeutic Use Exemptions — or TUEs as they’re often called — allow players to take otherwise banned drugs if they demonstrate a medical need to do so. These days we hear about them most often in connection with stimulants like Adderall, which are used to treat attention deficit disorder. Of course, a far greater percentage of players in Major League Baseball have therapeutic use exemptions for ADD medicine than the population at large has ADD, and for this reasons many look at the TUEs given for them with suspicion. As a means of players to obtain performance enhancing drugs without having to worry about being suspended.

In the book excerpt we learn that A-Rod received multiple TUEs during his time with the Yankees. But they weren’t for ADD medication. They were for testosterone, which is a really damn rare exemption to get. But A-Rod got it:

Before the 2007 season, Rodriguez asked for permission to use testosterone, which has been banned by baseball since 2003. The IPA in ’07 was Bryan W. Smith, a High Point, N.C., physician. (Baseball did not yet have the advisory medical panel.) On Feb. 16, 2007, two days before Rodriguez reported to spring training, Smith granted the exemption, allowing Rodriguez to use testosterone all season.

A-Rod won the MVP that year and, at the end of the year, famously opted out of his Yankees deal and signed his ten-year contract extension. Even after securing what he had to know was his last professional contract, A-Rod continued to apply for and receive TUEs. In 2008 he received a TUE for Clomid, which is similar to the drug that Manny Ramirez got busted for when he was with the Dodgers. A-Rod took it with Major League Baseball’s approval, however.

I’d be pretty interested to learn more about those TUEs A-Rod got. Why he got them when, apparently, a lot of people didn’t. Whether MLB believes it had been too permissive with them back then and whether A-Rod’s decision to quit relying on those and, instead, go an illegal route with Tony Bosch, angered them in some way. I’d also be curious to know if there is a psychological dependency at work with testosterone and other such drugs and whether Major League Baseball approving A-Rod’s use of the stuff contributed to whatever it was that drove A-Rod to continue to take PEDs, long after he ceased to have much if anything to prove on a baseball diamond.

Sports teams do not “heal” cities or nations

Associated Press
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story today in which he talks to Cleon Jones, Ken Harrelson, Art Shamsky and others from the 1969 Mets about their Amazin’ World Series title run. The story is tied to the upcoming commemorations of the 50th anniversary of that phenomenally unexpected and improbable season.

And that’s fine as far as it goes, but as so often is the case with nostalgic remembrances, it goes too far:

They will gather together in New York later in June, rehashing stories from 50 years ago, reminiscing about the year they turned the baseball world upside down, becoming perhaps the most beloved team in history.

The 1969 Mets.

The team that helped revitalize a city in ruins and heal a nation in turmoil, showing the world you can turn the inconceivable to the improbable to the possible to the incredible, in a way only sports can possibly do.

Now would be a good time to remember that the city the Mets allegedly revitalized found itself on the brink of bankruptcy in the early-to-mid-70s and experienced urban decay and spiking crime rates for the next 20+ years. It would also be a good time to remember that the nation the Mets allegedly healed witnessed the Kent State shootings a few months later, among other bits of strife for the next, oh, 50 years and counting.

Yes, I am being flip and superficial here, but I do so simply to illustrate how flip and superficial “[Sports Team] healed [City/Nation]” narratives invariably are.

We see these sorts of things whenever a team from a down-on-its-luck place has a title run. Detroit. Cleveland. New Orleans. The idea is generally a broad-brush paint job in which the source of strife — poverty, crime, economic strife, natural disaster, terrorism, etc. —  is detailed with the local sports team’s subsequent title run cast as a spiritual balm. The words “heal” and “uplift” are pretty common in these stories. Back in 2002 I wrote about a classic of the genre, a documentary about the 1968 Detroit Tigers, who allegedly healed Detroit following he 1967 riots. Anyone familiar with Detroit from 1968-on may understand that the claims of healing asserted therein were . . . somewhat overstated.

Whatever the details, most of these narratives have the same sorts of flaws. At best they overstate the significance of sports in society, presuming that happiness among ticket-buying sports fans — who are usually better off than your average city resident who may be the one in need of healing — means broad-based happiness among the populace. More commonly they simply ignore the actual city or society beyond anything but its most superficial markers. The pattern:

  • Montage of the strife in whatever its form (bonus if it’s from the 1960s and you can re-use some existing “turbulent 60s” b-roll;
  • A chronicling of the sports team’s run; and
  • A declaration that everything was better after that.

It’s not even a matter of correlation and causation being confused. There’s very rarely ever any evidence presented that the sports made the underlying problems any better. All one usually gets from these things is a sense that, at least to the sports commentator/documentarian telling the story and to the people who closely followed the sports team, things were good. Unless, of course, I missed the part about how LeBron James solved Cleveland’s declining population problems and how the 2010 New Orleans Saints solved the ongoing mental, economic and medical trauma of those displaced by Katrina.

Which is not to say that sports mean nothing in this context. Sports success can certainly make a lot of people happy, even people hit hard by adversity, temporarily speaking. People only tangentially-connected to the strife in question may, also, decide that a sporting event “healed” a city. For example, if something bad happened in your city but didn’t affect you directly, you may believe that the trophy-hoisting put a nice bookend on the trauma that was more directly felt by others. And, of course, individuals directly connected with the sporting events in question, like Cleon Jones in the Mets piece, can experience a more lasting change in their lives as a result of this sort of success that they might see as general uplift.

That’s not the same thing as healing, though. Because while you or I can close that chapter on it all when the game is over, survivors of traumatic events and victims of systematic oppression or chronic strife cannot and do not do so that easily. There were people still hurting in Detroit after 1968, in New York (and the nation) after 1969, in New Orleans after the Saints won the Super Bowl, and in Cleveland after the Cavs won their title. The very best that can be said of sports triumph amid civic adversity is that it’s a pleasant, albeit temporary distraction. But not everyone had the luxury of enjoying that temporary distraction and a distraction is not the same thing as a cure.

Why do sports writers and commentators do this? I suppose it’s a function of people believing that the world in which they operate is, well, the world. The entertainment writer sees everything as a Hollywood story, the political writer sees everything as a Washington story and the sports writer sees everything as a sports story. It’s an understandable loss of perspective and we all fall prey to it sometimes.

It’d be better, though, if we spent more time appreciating that our perspective on the world is not the only one. I won’t speak for the entertainment or political people, and I won’t speak for the way in which any other person may prioritize the world as they observe it. But in my world — sports — I think it’d be better if we did not ascribe outsized significance to the beat we cover. Doing so asks far more of sports than sports is capable of delivering and erases the ongoing pain and suffering of people for whom sports is no sort of cure.