Commentary

Processing the doping allegations against Ryan Howard

(PHOTO: AP)

(PHOTO: AP)

As Ian Riccaboni reported earlier today, an Al Jazeera investigative documentary called “The Dark Side” implicates Ryan Howard in a doping ring that includes baseball and football players, including Peyton Manning.

In the report, pharmacist Charlie Sly says Howard was among clients supplied with the androstenone Delta-2. Since it’s not structurally related to testosterone, Delta-2 is said to go undetected in Major League Baseball certified testing.

Sly tells British hurdler Liam Collins, going undercover for Al Jazeera, that he didn’t want to “overwhelm” Howard with supplements, Sly said, noting that he would fill a bag and send it back to Howard. The slugger would then check in with developments, Sly said.

Sly has since recanted the statements he made to Collins in the report. In the same report, baseball player Taylor Teagarden appears and tells Collins of his Delta-2 usage (Teagarden declined comment to Al Jazeera after the undercover interview).

There are no dates attached to Sly’s claims on Howard, but he notes that Howard got more “explosiveness” with his hitting thanks to the Delta-2. Sly also said Howard had a few big home run totals; whether that’s directly related to allegations of Delta-2 use are unknown in the report.

And unknown is where we are right now. This is an investigation by journalists – respected ones, at that (Al Jazeera is arguably more objective than any major American digital news outlet, and invests more in original investigation than almost anyone around the world) – who got serious allegations on video, then attempted to corroborate those allegations. Howard, through his attorney, has denied the allegations, saying they will take Al Jazeera to court over the claims. Again, Sly has recanted his statements.

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This will, for many, taint Howard’s career output. Delta-2 is said to quicken muscle growth and lead to a small increase in strength, and quickly. What that means with Howard is totally unknown, and will be unless investigations (either independently or through Major League Baseball) uncover something more definitive and explosive. So until then, there’s nothing to look at here, except only our own interpretations of what these allegations mean.

You could say it’s unfortunate that we have to consider our supposed sports heroes in such a questionable light. But that’s just it: they’re “supposed” heroes, as in, we raise them to sometimes absurd levels of worship. When things like this happen, even when we know nothing but pure he-said, she-said allegation (which is what we have at this early stage), we may immediately rush to either deride or cry wolf.

Already fans are writing Howard off, joking that the drugs he’s alleged of taking haven’t worked. Whatever. The truth for us and Howard lies somewhere between hero worship and the instant derision we want to spread. Whatever happened, or didn’t happen, Howard is a man paid to do something for a living. Yes he’s paid exponentially more than just about everyone in the world, and that money comes with abundant stress. We’ve known for a little while now the kind of stress Howard has felt, especially concerning his family. We really can’t imagine what he goes through. Just as he, or any of us, can’t imagine what anyone else goes through daily.

This isn’t some demand to march in honor of Howard the Human. It’s simply a way to say: Hey, let’s watch this unfold. Chances are very little may happen for a while. But the players, pharmacists and others involved here are people. A few of them are allegedly willing to experiment with others’ bodies as playgrounds for financial gain. Others are reportedly trying to be better at what they do, whatever the cost, because … well, we don’t know why. We may never know why. We may never even know the truth.

If you want to shame someone’s name because of allegations, that’s your prerogative. Others in more professional settings have to walk with greater trepidation. But if you want to be reasoned, and if you want to believe that these aren’t merely actors on a carnival stage, but people with desires and needs and stresses and failures, then you’d be better off sitting back and not participating. Cheer if you’d like. Boo if you’d like. But he who spreads his gospel on things unknown is he who knows nothing at all.

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