Guilty By Association; Innocent By Facts

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It’s a strange world we live in when the person who was rummaging through the garbage on his own time and by his own volition is on the side of “right” and the people who were technically doing “wrong” end up in jail and automatically vilified for the rest of their lives as a toxic name not to be associated with under any circumstances.

But that’s where we are.

The BALCO investigation began when an IRS investigator Jeff Novitzky received a tip that the lab was providing illegal drugs to its athletes and, under his own initiative, poked around the trash of BALCO and found evidence to begin building a case to stop what was essentially a victimless crime that few wanted solved.

Novitzky was the vigilante on an inexplicable crusade.

You can read the sequence of events here.

Because he was seen as a “dealer” who tried to circumvent the law and rules of the sports in which his clients competed, Victor Conte has become that vilified and toxic name.

Of course it’s not that simple.

Once the government got the ball rolling on that case it had to get a conviction to justify what one of their employees—Novitzky—was doing; it was in the media, people knew about it, purists were complaining about the shattered records and ludicrous muscular development and everyone jumped in to get their piece of the action.

But it was all after the fact. The complaints from people inside and outside of sports during the BALCO era were completely ignored for personal and institutional gain.

It’s not unlike the Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds trials that ended with no significant penalties assessed to the two aside from the destruction of their reputations, ruining of their career accomplishments and draining of their finances.

Marlon Byrd failed a test for performance enhancing drugs and was suspended for 50 games. Byrd worked with Conte. Therefore, the simplistic logic goes, it was Conte who gave Byrd the drug.

Byrd claims that the drug he took was unrelated to baseball; that it was a private matter for a medical condition and wasn’t used to enhance his performance. Byrd’s performance validates this claim. He was released by the Red Sox following a disastrous tenure. His production has taken a dive since last season and also resulted in the Cubs dumping him on the Red Sox.

Conte has been the one person whose answers to the questions of his complicity in the case have been consistent and believable. That he was doing something that’s considered against the law and rules of competition is based on a floating set of principles that aren’t inherent, but are created and stem from the judgment of others as to right and wrong. Conte was providing a service to his athletes by helping them improve their performance. Legalities notwithstanding, it wasn’t his problem that the scheduling of X drug made it a violation to use while Y drug was okay; that the heads of baseball and other sports looked the other way as a convenience to themselves.

It’s a capricious set of “rules” that were being “broken”.

Attacked because he tries to cut through the fog of athletics and the sanctimonious pretentions by the heads of the sports whose rules he supposedly violated, a misplaced connection between Conte and Byrd was presented as proof of guilt.

Conte’s main crime now appears to be telling the truth about PEDs and how prevalent they still are; that he accurately says if enforcement and eradication were really the goals, more would be done to improve the tests and procedures.

Factually, it doesn’t appear that Byrd got caught using something Conte had given him.

But that doesn’t matter.

It’s a splashy and attention-getting headline to say, “Marlon Byrd Busted With PEDS; Once Worked With Victor Conte”.

Facts are irrelevant when they would preclude the headline and the story detailing their conspiracy especially when there was no conspiracy at all.

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Bizarro Czar

Management, Players, Spring Training

From the people who blacked out the Yankees-Red Sox game in New York when I wanted to have a look at Manny Banuelos; those who reduced me to watching an internet feed, we get…faux NFL leadership.

It’s no secret that despite current labor strife, the NFL has its house in order. Commissioner Roger Goodell is in charge; his word is law; and if he wants something done in terms of player discipline or subtle pressure to maintain a positive public face, he has ways of getting it done.

The same cannot, never could and never will be said for the heads of baseball.

The two sports are so vastly different in terms of contracts, guarantees and strength of unions that the commissioner’s office can politely request certain behavioral templates from their players off the field and they’ll either be accepted or they won’t.

This of course differs from union pressures such as those now being placed on Albert Pujols to go for every single penny he can possibly get in his next contract for the good of the group. That he doesn’t want to leave St. Louis and knows the Cardinals won’t be able to pay him as lucratively as the more financially solvent and well-heeled clubs isn’t the union’s problem; they want that money to trickle down to the Eric Bruntlett-type players and that’s that.

On the other hand, the heads of baseball vs players/agents is adversarial regardless of how friendly a face they put on the relationship.

Now Marlon Byrd is feeling pressure from Commissioner Bud Selig because of Byrd’s decision to take supplement advice from Victor Conte—ESPN Story.

Yes, the same Victor Conte who was behind the BALCO nightmare.

There are varied opinions as to the expertise of Conte. In some circles, he’s considered a visionary in the world of supplements to boost athletic performance. Former client and NFL star Bill Romanowski said as much in his book, Romo.

Others have suggested that Conte is a parrot and huckster who learned a few catchphrases and can sell anything to anyone.

None of that is important as it relates to Byrd or anyone else who wants to consult with Conte.

Many of Conte’s supplements were banned from their various sports; this is of no consequence to those who are crafting them.

Outsiders to the subculture of performance enhancing drugs have never understood that.

It’s not the job of the provider (or dealer if you wish) to follow the rules of the specific sport in enhancing performance; their job is to make their clients better and keep them from getting caught; they’re not governable under individual league mandates.

Is it a big deal for Byrd to be working with Conte and should he bow to the pressures exerted from MLB and end the relationship?

It depends on the player. If Byrd is the type who can take the accusations and haranguing and not have it distract him from his job (and he doesn’t test positive), then he should just ignore Selig. If it’s going to affect his play, then he should take the easier road and find a different adviser.

The main issue is that Conte is a despised figure in baseball because he’s the name that’s associated with the PED scandal. The truth is, he’s a scapegoat for MLB itself turning a blind eye to that which they knew was going on and chose to ignore because no one cared; because everyone was making money; because ballparks were filling up with every homer crushed by Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds; with every age-defying performance from Roger Clemens. Once people started voicing their opposition to PED use and suppliers and players were getting busted, then something was done about it.

Baseball didn’t suddenly find morality. Bad public relations from historic records being broken by players who were “lying” and “cheating” was embarrassing, so action was taken.

It’s random and selective; Conte wasn’t the only one giving advice and PEDs to players; he’s simply the name everyone knows.

If I were Byrd, I’d tell MLB to take a hike.

Aside from being asked to stop working with Conte, what precisely is MLB going to do about it?

Nothing.

Byrd just better not fail a test.

If he does, that’s on him and he deserves punishment for being stupid.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN.


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