BALCO Scandal

BALCO Scandal

The BALCO scandal is a scandal involving the use of anabolic steroids by professional athletes. Run from a nondescript building in a strip mall in San Francisco, United States, Victor Conte launched his business with the idea of analyzing mineral deficiencies with blood and urine tests and coupling with replacement by herbal drugs, thereby allowing an athlete to perform at the highest possible levels.Fainaru-Wada, Mark, and Lance Williams. "Game Of Shadows". 2006.] The scandal can be considered one of the biggest steroid scandals the sports world has seen.

History of BALCO

Founded in 1984 by Victor Conte and his first wife Aubry, BALCO began as Millbrae Holistic, a vitamin shop in San Francisco. Initially a business venture to keep food on the table, only one year after opening, Victor Conte closed Millbrae Holistic and started BALCO as a sport supplement company. Investing in an ICP spectrometer, Conte used his knowledge of nutrition, largely self taught, to devise a system of testing athletes for mineral deficiencies in order to maintain a perfect balance of minerals in the body. Through regular urine and blood testing, Conte would monitor and treat mineral shortages in athletes, supposedly elevating their level of physical wellness dramatically. Surviving his divorce from Aubry and several years of financial hardships, BALCO did not achieve professional success until the summer of 1996 with the addition of NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski to its client list. From there Conte began acquiring additional high-profile athletes with his special concoction of undetectable drugs, manufactured by rogue Illinois chemist Patrick Arnold and distributed by personal trainer Greg Anderson.

Steroids distributed

Arnie created a wide range of substances, that when used in a cycle could go relatively undetected by drug testing, even on the Olympic level. Five different types of steroids along with mineral supplements were used to achieve optimum results. Types of steroids include Erythropoietin, Human Growth Hormone, Modafinil, Testosterone cream, and Tetrahydrogestrinone. Erythropoietin or EPO is a hormone naturally produced by the body that improves the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen. Originally used to treat anemia, when artificially introduced to the body EPO allows the red blood cells to carry greater amounts of oxygen, enabling the muscles to work longer and recover more quickly than normal. Human Growth Hormone or HGH is a hormone used to treat children diagnosed as pituitary dwarves. In theory this hormone builds muscle mass although some studies suggest it has no effect on building muscle mass to a degree that would benefit athletes. Modafinil is a mild stimulant designed to be taken right before competition in order to sharpen an athlete’s senses and performance. Legally marketed as a treatment for narcolepsy and sleep disorders, Modafinil is not regarded as a high risk drug by athletic governing bodies, but is still banned from competition. Testosterone Cream or "The Cream" is a salve that when rubbed on the body introduces testosterone, trimming body fat and building muscle. Though less effective than testosterone injections, "The Cream" was widely used because it didn’t cause a significant rise in normal testosterone levels when scrutinized by a drug test. Tetrahydrogestrinone, THG, or "The Clear," is a designer anabolic steroid that affects the user like other anabolic steroids, making them bigger and stronger. However, unlike most anabolic steroids, "The Clear" is not detected on a drug test. THG was the main steroid in use by BALCO, with the others products more of a regimen to heighten its effects according to an individual athletes body. [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/a/2004/02/13/MNGC950DTK1.DTL Drugs involved in BALCO case ] ]

Side effects of steroids

Each of the substances marketed by BALCO had numerous side effects including: increased body hair, blood clots, weight gain, aggressiveness, jaundice, increased cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and acne. Men also routinely experience a shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, impotence, hair loss and enlarged breasts, especially with use of "The Clear." Women using steroids are prone to increased facial hair, a deeper voice, shrinking of the breasts, disrupted menstruation, and male-pattern baldness. In addition to these side effects, long term steroid use can also result in heart disease caused by the increase of cholesterol, liver damage and tendon ruptures resulting from the muscle tissue strengthening faster than the tendons.

BALCO investigation

Conte, Arnold and Anderson continued selling these substances undetected from 1988 until 2002 when the official federal investigation of BALCO began. Parallel with this investigation, the USADA began its own covert investigation of Conte and his operation. In the summer of 2003 USADA investigators received a syringe with trace amounts of a mysterious substance later found to be THG. The anonymous tipster was Trevor Graham, sprint coach to Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery. This tip broke the case wide open, bringing professional steroid use into the national spotlight. With the sample of THG provided in the syringe, drug testers were able to screen for the once untraceable drugs at sporting events. Athletes including Kelli White, British sprinter Dwaine Chambers, shot putter Kevin Toth, middle distance runner Regina Jacobs, and hammer throwers John McEwen and Melissa Price were incriminated in the investigation. [ [http://www.usatoday.com/sports/balco-timeline.htm BALCO investigation timeline - USATODAY.com ] ]

Jason Giambi

The former American League MVP and current Yankee designated hitter allegedly admitted to steroid use as well as HGH use in front of a grand jury in December 2003. Jason Giambi first became connected with BALCO after inquiring with Greg Anderson about Barry Bonds' training regimen. The much publicized leak of court documents which were said to contain this admission led to a tarnishing of Giambi's career, yet because he never actually failed a drug test, Giambi has, thus far, avoided punishment from Major League Baseball. Giambi has made a few vague apologies to the media, the most overt of which may have come on May 16, 2007, when he told USA Today, "I was wrong for using that stuff...what we should have done a long time ago was stand up — players, ownership, everybody - and said 'we made a mistake.'" His younger brother Jeremy, a fellow major leaguer and former teammate of Giambi's on the Oakland A's, was also involved in receiving supplements from BALCO, and has admitted to using steroids during his career. [ [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/12/02/MNG80A523H1.DTL
 Giambi admitted taking steroids ] ]

Barry Bonds

By far the highest profile athlete to be associated with the BALCO debacle is Barry Bonds. The former San Francisco Giants outfielder, who holds the major league records for home runs in both a single season and a career, has been the face of steroids in sports despite never being caught explicitly and steadfastly denying any allegations against him. Bonds's many detractors point to his large increase in size late in his career, as well as his improvement primarily in his power numbers, despite his age. Bonds's trainer, Greg Anderson, was sentenced to jail time after refusing to testify against Bonds before a grand jury investigating the slugger for perjury. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, reporters for the "San Francisco Chronicle", profiled Bonds's use of performance enhancing substances in their 2006 book "Game of Shadows". The reporters used Bonds' testimony in front of a grand jury as their most damning evidence, and refused to reveal their source for the court documents. The U.S. government sought charges against them for leaking the testimony, but dropped them when a former attorney for Conte pled guilty to doing so. Despite all this, Bonds, like Giambi, has never been punished by the MLB in any way because he has not, as of yet, failed any drug test. [ [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/07/05/MNG7EJPL9M8.DTL Bonds' trainer going to prison ] ]

Marion Jones

Marion Jones shot to impressive heights of fame for a track and field athlete after winning five medals, three gold, at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Jones attended the University of North Carolina on a basketball scholarship, but eventually shifted her focus solely on track. It was there she met shot-putter and then UNC coach C.J. Hunter, whom she married in 1998 and eventually divorced in 2002. A former world champion, Hunter, also involved with BALCO, was caught using performance enhancing drugs and disgraced. The publicity surrounding this led many to believe Jones herself used such drugs as well, an accusation she vehemently denied over and over again. Jones then began a relationship with American sprinter Tim Montgomery, leading to the birth of a son. Montgomery himself benefited from the banned substances he received from BALCO (in fact he, as well as both Jones and Hunter, can still be seen posing with Conte in photos on his SNAC website), and the one-time 100 meter dash record holder has been stripped of his awards and records since admitting to steroid use, and is now retired. After news of Montgomery's cheating broke, Jones was again faced with increased doubt as to the integrity of her career, yet she continued to deny any wrongdoing. Finally, in October 2007, Jones admitted to lying to federal agents about her use of performance enhancing drugs, though she still maintains she believed the substances she was using were flaxseed oil, not steroids, at the time. Jones has handed over the five Olympic medals she earned in Sydney and officially retired from the sport.

Bill Romanowski

The most notable football player to be involved in the BALCO scandal is two-time All-Pro linebacker Bill Romanowski. The 16-year NFL veteran openly advertised Conte's zinc supplement ZMA, and his involvement with BALCO has only further tainted the career of the four-time Super Bowl champion, who was known throughout his career as a dirty, punishing, almost villainous defender. His name and picture, along with Bonds', Jones', Hunter's, and Montgomery's, can still be found on the website for Conte's new venture, SNAC.

Media coverage of scandal

The media coverage of the BALCO case has been extremely extensive. "The San Francisco Chronicle", and more specifically "Chronicle" journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, have played a prominent role in covering the story; ultimately collaborating in "Game of Shadows", a book chronicling the BALCO scandal.

Fainaru-Wada and Williams broke the story concerning U.S. track coach Trevor Graham and his admission to turning a syringe laced with THG in to investigators. That syringe was the catalyst for the entire investigation of Conte’s lab. These journalists also wrote the story about C.J. Hunter (Marion Jones’ ex-husband) and his interview with an IRS agent, in which Hunter told the agents that Jones was taking performance-enhancing drugs during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Hunter said that at times, he injected the drugs into Jones himself. He also admitted to taking steroids, and said that he had obtained them through Conte.

The duo’s most groundbreaking story, however, was their report on October 16, 2004, of a secret audio conversation that contained Greg Anderson (Barry Bonds’ trainer) stating that Bonds had been using steroids provided by Victor Conte and himself. Anderson also revealed the names of numerous Olympic athletes that had been provided with "The Clear", boasting that neither they nor Bonds would test positively on a drug test because the substance was undetectable.

After reporting on the BALCO case, Fainaru-Wada and Williams took their interviews and observations and published "Game of Shadows", a journalistic book that explored every aspect of BALCO, beginning with Conte’s early struggles as an aspiring musician and ending with the federal bust of the BALCO headquarters. Publicly, most of the attention the book received was due to the incriminating evidence of Barry Bond’s ties to BALCO. They begin by telling of young Victor Conte. He was aspiring musician (and hippie, and alleged drug dealer), but those dreams were quickly dashed. So, undaunted, he decided to open his own health clinic. That idea crashed as well, but the third time was a charm for Conte. He decided that he wanted to become a nutritionist and help star athletes to reach their physical potential. Despite not having a background in chemistry, Conte quickly gained respect among athletes and nutrition buffs.

Fainaru-Wada and Williams then delve into the many different schemes by which the drugs were distributed to these high profile athletes. Trips to Mexico, suspicious address names, and steroids disguised as flaxseed oil were a few among many ways in which the drugs got to the athletes. From there, the book goes on to name the many athletes who received the drugs, and the writers go into great detail describing their thoughts on Barry Bonds. They believed that Bonds was a superior athlete, but was jealous of all the attention that Mark McGwire received in his record-breaking season of 1998. Bonds was jealous, they hypothesized, because McGwire was a suspected "juicer" and the Giants’ slugger wanted to prove that he could compete on a level equal to or exceeding that of McGwire.

Impact of BALCO scandal

The BALCO scandal has had a very large impact on sports as a whole, and most noticeably, baseball. Prior to the scandal, every major sport except baseball had a policy against steroids. In baseball, the actual penalties were minimal, but there was an unwritten and unspoken code which players expected each other to follow, but that wasn’t always the case. As a result of the BALCO bust, Major League Baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, instituted a written, league-wide policy. The first time a player tests positive for steroids, he is subject to a 50 game (about 1/3 of a regular season) suspension. For the second offense, the penalty is a 100 (about 2/3 of a regular season) game suspension. Finally, if a third offense occurs, the player is given a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball. This policy compares favorably with the NFL’s policy. A first offense in the NFL gets a minimum 4 game suspension (1/4 of a regular season). A second offense gets a minimum of 8 games, and a third gets a suspension of at least one calendar year. All of these penalties are without pay. Despite this new steroid policy the MLB has faced ridicule because its steroid testing policies are still far more lax than those in almost any other sport, such as the Olympics or Track and Field.

BALCO today

Technically speaking, BALCO is extinct, but Victor Conte is a free man and still running a business called "Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning" or "SNAC." After serving a four month prison sentence prior to pleading guilty in 2005, he no longer sells illegal steroids, but various supplements and vitamins. Patrick Arnold and Greg Anderson each served a three month jail sentence after pleading guilty, with Anderson serving an additional three month house arrest sentence. Recently Anderson was incarcerated again after being found in contempt of court for refusing to testify about Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield’s use of banned steroids. [ [http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2564340 ESPN - Greg Anderson held in contempt, returned to jail - MLB ] ] BALCO is not completely dead however: on the SNAC website, Conte has BALCO apparel for sale.

References


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