John Steigerwald

Column John Steigerwald

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

In sports, it’s gulity until proven innocent

In U.S. sports world, it’s guilty until proven innocent

January 19, 2013

Right, again.

I’d say I’m batting about .990 (unofficially) with my “guilty until proven innocent” approach to athletes and performance-enhancing drugs. I’ll just continue to assume guilty any time I hear or read anything suspicious about an athlete and possible PED use.

I declared Lance Armstrong guilty – in my mind – 10 years ago.

The indignant, angry, teary denials don’t work on me, and I can’t understand why they continue to work on so many in the media.

You have an obligation as a journalist to not be too quick to jump to conclusions, but how many times do you have to catch people in a lie before you assume that they’re lying?

Put me on a jury, and I think I’m capable of adhering to the beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt standard. But I’m not on a jury.

If a guy’s name shows up on the patient list of a doctor who’s been convicted or even suspected of dealing in PEDs – guilty until proven innocent.

I spent some time in internet hell a while back when I wrote that I assumed Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals was or had been a juicer. I didn’t accuse him.

I said that I was assuming his guilt because a chiropractor in the Washington D.C. area, who admitted to selling steroids, had been bragging about having a few members of the Capitals as customers. Ovechkin’s dramatic drop in production since that information was made public, and rumors and speculation that I had heard, told me he was juicing.

In a court of law, it’s flimsy evidence, for sure. But in the world of sports in the 21st century and outside the courtroom, it’s enough for me to assume guilt.

I wish I could repeat some of the off-the-record comments made to me in the weeks after I wrote that column, but I can’t. If Ovechkin has never touched a PED, is it unfair for him to be suspected? Of course it is.

But it’s also understandable based on the history of world-class lying done by world-class athletes in the last 20 years.

You can give 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun the benefit of the doubt, because of a botched urine test, if you’d like. But I assumed his guilt the minute I heard he had been suspended. I still do.

When members of Armstrong’s own team are saying they saw him use PEDs, and when one of the foremost experts on steroids, Dr. Charles Yesalis, is quoted saying that he doesn’t believe it’s humanly possible to win the Tour de France without PEDs – Armstrong won seven of them – sorry, guilty.

When a Steelers team doctor, Richard Rydze, is fired after he is suspected of illegally distributing anabolic steroids, and is indicted by the feds five years later, I’m going to assume that he was distributing them to players. I did the minute I heard he was fired. I’m not going to wait for him to admit it to Oprah on national television.

How can any journalist be naïve enough to assume otherwise? Rydze was indicted last October. How many stories were done to investigate whether he had sold steroids to Steelers players?

Dr. Yesalis estimates that 85 percent of NFL players use some kind of PED. Am I supposed to assume that a guy, who I saw on the Steelers’ charter every Saturday for years and was in the business of selling steroids, didn’t take advantage of his access to potential customers?

I couldn’t convict him in court based on my evidence, but in my mind, he’s guilty. Sorry.

I’m going to maintain my guilty-until-proven-innocent approach when it comes to world-class athletes and performance-enhancing drugs, and I apologize in advance to the innocent ones.

But don’t blame me. Blame Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire, Marion Jones and all the other juicers, past, present and future, who have looked or will look with tear-filled eyes into a camera to tell you how disappointed and sad they are that you would assume that they would cheat.

* Is Tom Brady playing his last game of the 2012 season for the New England Patriots? Only if the Patriots lose to the Ravens in the AFC Championship game.

Brady, as great as he is, has lost the last game he’s played in the postseason every year since the Patriots won the Super Bowl in January, 2005.

Last year, he lost in the Super Bowl but, if not for a sure touchdown pass dropped in the end zone by the Ravens’ Lee Evans, Brady would have lost in the AFC Championship game.

In his last two postseason games (2009 and 2011) against the Ravens, Brady has put up passer ratings of 49.1 and 57.5 with two touchdown passes and five interceptions. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, in his last four playoff games, has thrown nine touchdown passes and one interception.

I like the Ravens. Especially with the 9 ½ points.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.



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