Let’s start with this: Elite athletes will do anything to win.
But here are two more facts: The cheaters never admit cheating until they have been caught (and sometimes not even then). And the public does not want to know that its heroes are cheaters.
This brings us to the recent Al Jazeera TV investigation entitled ‘‘The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers.’’ In the 50-minute exposé, available on YouTube with a simple Google search, Al Jazeera reporters expose the underbelly of performance-enhancing drug dealings in America. The documentary couldn’t out the entire shadow world, but it made clear with its focus on a few pharmacists, doctors and pro athletes that the ‘‘Steroid Era’’ in American sport is neither gone nor dying simply because cheaters of yore have been caught and institutions have declared they are against doping.
Big names come out in the story, linked in various ways to illicit drugs. The NFL’s Peyton Manning and Major League Baseball’s Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman are some of the biggest. Then there is former Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison and three Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews, Mike Neal and Julius Peppers.
Indeed, one of the main sources in the piece, a so-called pharmacist named Charlie Sly, claims that on a trip to Green Bay, client Neal brought ‘‘half the team’’ to him for information.
The rub is, Sly has denied everything he said in the piece, spoken while he didn’t know he was being recorded and filmed. He has tried to reel everything back in, making him either the biggest boaster of the year or the guy most regretful for having spoken out of class.
Denver Broncos quarterback Manning, America’s most wonderful man, has gone on TV and angrily denied anything to do with doping, including the HGH that Sly said was sent continuously to Manning’s wife, Ashley, from the Indianapolis-based Guyer Institute for anti-aging.
All the other players alluded to in the piece have either failed to respond to Al Jazeera for comment or have become furious and/or filed suits against the company, as both Howard and Zimmerman have done.
Who is not going to believe a wholesome ‘‘good guy’’ like Manning, a great athlete and one who has carried on through his long career with discipline and dignity, when it comes to disputing a nearly off-the-radar network like Al Jazeera?
That’s one of the reasons you’ve heard almost nothing about this case since Manning went ballistic. Mr. Integrity comes on, denies all, looks incredibly hurt, and a company like Al Jazeera — which many people subliminally identify as a radical Muslim propaganda machine — doesn’t stand a chance.
Who knows what is true. But watch the video and see if you don’t think the people are telling the truth. It is still so easy to get PEDs, and the drugs still work so well, that one provider says simply, ‘‘The system is so easy to beat.’’
And it is. And will be.
In the recent World Championships of Weightlifting, held in Houston, an event I attended and watched for two days, 24 of the best lifters later tested positive for doping, including world champions. Most of them were from poor countries like Kazakhstan and Moldova. But some were from Russia, where the doping is bribe-oriented and rampant.
The point is, as always, only the poor, stupid, desperate or arrogant get caught.
Which brings us to our front door, Chicago. One athlete speaking on hidden camera in the documentary is none other than Taylor Teagarden, the unimposing, harmlessly named catcher who was a Cub last season.
‘‘I was scared to be on it, to be honest with you,’’ he says of the doping regimen given him by Sly. He was worried about MLB drug-testing. ‘‘But nothing happened.’’
Then he states — a doper who knows — what we all now realize: ‘‘Major League Baseball had no steroid policy up to 2003. So in the 1990s, guys were so f—ing big and hitting so many home runs, the owners did NOT want these guys to get drug-tested. They loved all the home runs.’’
I have a friend who worked at Al Jazeera since its U.S. start in 2013 and left, angrily, last year. He has issues with certain parts of management, but not with the network’s dedication to honest journalism.
Would Al Jazeera air something that was made up, illegal, nonsense? I asked him.
‘‘I don’t think so,’’ he said. ‘‘They do their due diligence. They are thorough. They don’t [mess] around.’’
But I will guarantee you, star athletes still do.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.