Daring to Ask the PED Question
Bill Simmons [ARCHIVE]
February 1, 2013
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I made a deal with myself a long time ago: My column needed to capture the things I discuss with my friends. Last week, I realized that wasn't totally happening anymore. Something of a disconnect had emerged between my private conversations and the things I wrote for Grantland/ESPN. In essence, I had turned into two people. There's Sports Fan Me, and there's ESPN Me.
Sports Fan Me is candid, jaded, suspicious of everyone. Sports Fan Me repeatedly gets involved in arguments and e-mail chains centered on the question, "Do you think he's cheating?" Sports Fan Me has Googled athletes' heads and jawlines, studied their sizes, then mailed before/after pictures to friends with the subject heading, "CHECK THIS OUT." Sports Fan Me has learned to trust his inner shit detector, to swiftly question any accomplishment that seems extraordinary or superhuman. Sports Fan Me hates that he feels this way, but he does, and there's just no way around it.
ESPN Me sticks his head in the sand and doesn't say anything.
ESPN Me occasionally pushes narratives that he doesn't totally believe in.
ESPN Me didn't have the balls to run two e-mails that you're about to read. They nearly landed in each of my last four mailbags. Each time, I pulled both e-mails (and my responses) from those columns at the last minute.
E-mail no. 1 (from David B. in Concord, North Carolina): "Why isn't anyone questioning Ray Lewis's miraculous recovery from a torn triceps muscle? At age 37, not only did he recover in 10 weeks from an injury that usually takes 6 months minimum for recovery, but, upon returning, he played at a higher level than before he was injured. Are sports 'journalists' incapable of learning from their own mistakes (we JUST HAD both the Baseball HOF vote and Lance admitting to steroid use), or is the sport just bigger than the truth?"
E-mail no. 2 (from Ben Miller in Fort Worth, Texas): "Instead of Beyonce, should we change the Super Bowl halftime show to just Adrian Peterson pissing in a cup at midfield? You just talked about how dumb we all look in hindsight when these super human baseball stars were shattering age-old records. Peterson nearly broke a 28 year old record in one of the most physically-demanding positions in sports less than 12 months after tearing his ACL & MCL!!! Respect the hell out of the guy and love his extreme work ethic, but think about McGwire's 70. Now think about it happening less than 12 months after tearing a pec. We probably call BS even back then at that point. You may want to take a cold shower and then mention it in a column just in case."
Sports Fan Me spent most of November and December debating the Lewis/Peterson topics with friends and coworkers, so Sports Fan Me wanted to run those e-mails. ESPN Me overruled him, believing it was unfair to speculate without any real proof … even though ongoing speculation has become as big a part of sports fandom as purchasing tickets or buying a replica jersey. That's the disconnect.
Before those Miami New Times/Sports Illustrated bombshells dropped this week and we started joking about deer-antler spray, I would have wagered anything that God didn't miraculously heal Ray Lewis's torn tricep. I never actually wrote this. Alluded to it, danced around it, joked about it … just never actually came out and wrote it. I stayed away from Peterson jokes for a different reason: His historic comeback (and historically great season) seemed conceivable. All Day might be a freak of nature, and if you take Dr. James Andrews at his word, the inside of Peterson's knee resembled a newborn baby's knee even after six NFL seasons. Watching Peterson regain his old form wasn't any more eye-opening than, say, Peyton Manning regaining his old form at age 36 after four neck surgeries.
Then again, I like Adrian Peterson. I thought watching him carry footballs was just about the most exciting thing that happened last year. I liked living in something of a sports-movie fantasy world in which our hero gets maimed, defies the odds, and returns better than ever (and sooner than we ever imagined). I wanted to believe in the notion that someone could be noticeably better at playing running back than anyone else. I loved the thought of telling my grandkids someday, "Yes, I was there for Adrian Peterson."
Will I look back at Peterson's remarkable season someday and say, "God, how did we NOT know? How stupid were we?" I say no.
But I don't know for sure. And that's the problem. There is no such thing as "the benefit of the doubt" anymore. Not in sports. Too many people took advantage. All the benefits are gone.
A few weeks ago, we finished a Baseball Hall of Fame voting process in which nobody was selected. Not a single guy. Keep in mind, the following stars were eligible: one of the greatest outfielders ever, one of the greatest starting pitchers ever, two of the most imposing sluggers ever, one of the greatest offensive first basemen ever, the single greatest offensive catcher ever, a member of the 500–home run club, and someone who reached base more than anyone in history except for 17 players. None of them made it to Cooperstown. Five were shunned because we were getting back at them — they cheated, they burned us, they let us down. Two were bypassed because of circumstantial evidence — we were pretty sure they cheated, and since they never defended themselves that passionately, they were out. The last guy missed out because of our anger toward the other seven guys, and because a few-dozen holier-than-thou baseball writers keep stubbornly protecting a fantasy world that no longer exists.
Really, those snubs were driven by our residual guilt about what we didn't do during baseball's steroid boom. We ignored their swollen noggins and rippling biceps. We weren't fazed by seemingly inexplicable surges in production, or even something as fundamentally perplexing as a 37-year-old doubles hitter suddenly hitting 50-plus homers. We didn't just look the other way; we threw heavy burlap bags over our heads and taped our eyeballs shut. And because we never stepped up, those enterprising dickheads bastardized baseball and ruined one of its most sacred qualities: the wholly unique way that eight generations of players relate to one another through statistics and records. Here, look.
MLB'S HOME RUN LEADERS BY SEASON

That list is dead. It means nothing. McGwire's generation made it fundamentally impossible to put power numbers into context for the rest of eternity, basically. And they did more damage than that. This past Christmas Eve, my son and daughter made Santa cookies, wrote him a letter, even left four carrots for his reindeer. As we were putting them to bed, I remember thinking, Man, I wish they could always stay like this. And by "this," I really meant, I wish they could always just blindly believe in things being true despite mounting evidence against them. For...
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