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LOS ANGELES, Jan 21, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- President George W. Bush used his State of the Union address as a bully pulpit to denounce steroids in professional sports.
Bush said: "The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous and it sends the wrong message: that there are shortcuts to accomplishment and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid of steroids now."
The Bush dynasty acted more laxly in their previous encounters with the steroid problem.
Artificial male hormones streaked into notoriety at the 1988 Olympics when 100-meter dash champion Ben Johnson, who was so soaked in steroids his eyes had turned yellow, was dramatically stripped of his gold medal after failing a drug test.
Former President George H. W. Bush signed a bill making steroids a controlled substance in 1990. Shortly afterward, though, he sent a mixed message to America's youth by appointing as chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness the movie muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger, the world's most celebrated self-admitted ex-user of steroids. (Although such drugs were legal when he was using them.) The Hollywood he-man is now the Republican governor of California and a political ally of the current President Bush.
The younger Bush was co-managing general partner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1994, a time when most other major sports were toughening their drug testing in the wake of the Johnson scandal. Yet, Major League Baseball owners refused to institute any tests at all. In the subsequent anything-goes 1990s, ballplayers swelled in musculature, along with home run totals, fan excitement, and revenue.
Finally, in 2002, former Most Valuable Players Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti admitted they had used steroids, shaming baseball into a fairly weak form of mandatory testing.
Last November, the commissioner's office announced that more than 5 percent of ballplayers had flunked its first ever steroid test, a much higher failure rate than even that seen in steroid-plagued sports like track. Also, the tests could not detect the new steroid THG, over which a grand jury subpoenaed star sluggers Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi.
In 1992, Bush's Rangers acquired in a blockbuster trade the ever more massive Canseco, even though he was then probably the most infamous steroid abuser in baseball.
Although Canseco had won the 1988 American League MVP award by being the first player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases, his career as a Ranger is most remembered for one week in May 1993. First, a long fly ball bounced off the outfielder's head for a home run. Three days later, Canseco volunteered to try pitching and blew out his elbow, ending his season.
Last year, after angrily ending a career cut short by injuries, Canseco was jailed when he failed a drug test for steroids, violating his probation stemming from a nightclub brawl he had gotten into alongside his brother Ozzie.
"Canseco was the Typhoid Mary of steroids," one baseball agent told United Press International, alleging that after Canseco joined a team, some of his new teammates would suddenly beef up suspiciously. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported that Canseco had told book companies to whom he was peddling his idea for a tell-all memoir that he had helped obtain steroids for as-of-yet unnamed players.
When Bush's Rangers traded for Canseco in 1992, he had been the subject of steroid rumors for many years. For example, right after Ben Johnson's disgrace in 1988, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post sportswriter Thomas Boswell accused Canseco of juicing.
Canseco's second World Series appearance in 1989 inspired novelist Anne Lamott to complain in "Operating Instructions," her best-selling diary of her baby Sam's first year of life: "I was explaining to Sam that Jose Canseco shouldn't get to play because of the obvious steroid use, that there is something really wrong with the guy ... It was obvious from Sam's expression that he didn't think much of Canseco."
The evidence was not subtle. When Canseco started in the minor leagues, he was tall and slender, but eventually bulked up to 240 pounds. Tellingly, he possessed the steroid user's equivalent of the portrait of Dorian Gray: his identical twin Ozzie, who stayed skinny and in the minors for years.
Bush signed off on all Rangers trades, such as the Canseco acquisition, but he was not actively involved. Bush's underling, general manager Tom Grieve, told PBS, "George was the front man ... He was the spokesperson. He dealt with the media, he dealt with the fans, and it was obvious to us right from the start that that's what he was made for."
But, now he's the president of the United States and he's talking a tougher line against steroids.
Copyright 2004 by United Press International.