Cook: Another story to enhance our suspicions
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This is America, right?
Isn't a person supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty?
How sad is it that we've reached the point where that no longer is true when it comes to sports figures involved with steroids?
How sad that we've become so jaded?
It's one thing if it's Barry Bonds and BALCO. Of course, he's guilty, we told ourselves. It felt good to believe that. We don't like Bonds. That's how we justify it. We didn't like Bonds when he played for the Pirates. We didn't like him when he passed Babe Ruth on the home run list last season. We won't like him when he passes Henry Aaron this season.
But it's a little different if a Steelers doctor is involved, even if only peripherally to this point, in a criminal investigation into an Internet steroids distribution network, "one of the largest narcotics and steroids distributors in the nation," according to the upstate New York prosecutor heading the probe.
Tell the truth.
When you heard Dr. Richard Rydze of the Steelers' staff and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center had been questioned by authorities after he allegedly purchased about $150,000 in testosterone and human growth hormone last year from an Orlando, Fla., pharmacy at the center of the investigation, what was your first thought?
So that's who's giving the stuff to the Steelers players.
It didn't feel nearly so good to believe it this time, but you whispered it anyway.
That's how cynical all of us have become when it comes to steroids in sports.
Welcome to the new America!
That isn't to say Rydze, on the Steelers' medical staff for 21 years, did or didn't do something wrong. He has not been charged with anything. Rydze told Sports Illustrated he purchased the drugs strictly for treatment of his elderly patients. That might be true, but it does raise a number of puzzling questions. Does Rydze have enough elderly patients to justify such a huge purchase of products -- somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 vials -- that have a relatively brief shelf life? Why, as a UPMC employee, would he buy the drugs himself and not go through the hospital purchasing department? What about the billing of patients? How was that handled? Could this become an IRS issue?
"The Rooneys are aware that I do this," Rydze told Sports Illustrated.
Steelers President Art Rooney II, in a statement Wednesday, stressed that Rydze is not the target of the investigation.
"There is no evidence that Dr. Rydze prescribed or provided any hormone treatments to any of our players," Rooney II said. "Dr. Rydze has assured me that this has never happened and never will happen."
That sounds nice, but it's fair to mention that the NFL, though it bans HGH, doesn't test for it because it doesn't think there is a legitimate test. A lot of us believe, as a result, that HGH use is prevalent in every NFL locker room.
Just last year, a South Carolina doctor pleaded guilty to illegally prescribing anabolic steroids and HGH to several Carolina Panthers during their Super Bowl season of 2003. None of the players tested positive or violated the NFL's substance-abuse plan.
So who knows?
Rooney II can scream to the world that the Steelers don't use HGH if he wants, but there's no way to prove that. Just like there's no way to prove that they do, short of an admission.
Much as Rydze, a former athlete who won a silver medal in platform diving at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, and the Rooneys would love for this story to go away -- really, who in sports wants to be linked to performance-enhancing drugs these days? -- that's not likely to happen. The two-year investigation has led to the arrest of eight people in three states, and prosecutors say as many as 24 people could face felony charges before they are done. Although the distributors of steroids and HGH are the targets, the prosecutors say, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield and former baseball slugger Jose Canseco have been linked to the case. The names of other sports figures are expected to emerge.
This looks a lot like BALCO East.
Actually, it could end up being bigger than BALCO because of the widespread power of the Internet.
No matter what, the Steelers will get past this.
They've faced much stronger links to steroids in the past.
The team survived former Steelers guard Steve Courson's tell-all book in 1991. He claimed that 75 percent of the team's offensive linemen used steroids during their Super Bowl glory years of the 1970s and frequently sat around as a group and discussed their usage. The team also survived former NFL player and head coach Jim Haslett's very public assertion in 2005 that the Steelers were trendsetters in the '70s when it came to steroids. "They were so much stronger ... They're the ones who kind of started it," Haslett told the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette.
No question the Steelers will get past this.
They are a powerful franchise with a lot of clout.
It's a little harder to say the same about Rydze, though.
Even if he's guilty of nothing.
First Published March 3, 2007 12:00 am