Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rutgers Football - Again in the News

Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin of the Star Ledger recently reported that a special university commission found that the athletic department at Rutgers University was allowed to operate without oversight by board of governors or the president of Rutgers.

You might remember that Rutgers recently eliminated 6 varsity sports (including sports which had yielded many an Olympian from Rutgers, including rowing) in its effort to create a football dynasty. The Star Ledger reports that the annual football program budget, which was $7.5 million in 2003, is now over $15 million and accounts for more than half of the total athletic department budget.

School officials, probably sheepishly, acknowledged that the football program (like 80% of all collegiate football programs according to the NCAA) still loses money. In addition - in an effort to keep coach Greg Schiano from leaving Rutgers, the University also rushed into constructing a $102 million dollar stadium, which is undergoing its own investigation by the comptroller for the State of New Jersey.

The Star Ledger outlines several expenses that the football team incurs, including the remarkable line item of having the football team sleep at a Hyatt Hotel before all home games. That's right, folks - home games.

Here is the irony. I remember being housed before the Olympic Games - in the Olympic Village in Barcelona. The Village had no air conditioning and was built over a highway. Swimmers (who had competed early) shouting at 2 in the morning.

No Hyatts for us.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Little Old Lady with Baseball Bat

You can not make this stuff up. This week's gold star has to go to 86 year old Sonia Paine.

Jonathan Saltzman, in yesterday's Boston Globe, wrote about the recent death of 92 year old Nick George Montos, the oldest prison inmate in Massachusetts, who at various times in his life, ended up on the FBI's Most Wanted List (mostly for armed robbery).

Montos had the misfortune of trying to rob Sonia Paine's Brookline Massachusetts antiques store in 1995 - at the age of 79. When he took out his gun, Sonia put on her glasses, assuming that he wanted to have it appraised. She was initially perplexed when he insisted on tying her up. Paine, who was 73 at the time, wriggled herself free - threw down the silent alarm, and then grabbed a baseball bat (which presumably she had handy for this sort of occasion).

Poor Nick George Montos, who was kneeling in front of the safe. He never saw it coming.

Paine, a grandmother of 6, was quoted as saying: "I wish he'd come in again. I'd beat the hell out of him."

See - life just doesn't stop after the age of 70...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Buffeted by Buffet

I felt a surge of hope this week with the election of Barack Obama, and not simply because a nation fractured for decades over issues of race could actually elect an African American as president, but because Barack has inspired and excited the likes of legendary investor Warren Buffet, Larry Summers (former secretary of the Treasury and briefly, president of Harvard), Eric Schmidt (co-founder of Google); and Anne Mulcahy (Xerox) - to roll up their sleeves and help solve the current issues facing the country.

I am not certain that the A Team would have been willing to go to work for John McCain.

On other notes - a shout out to my friends who jumped into my latest film project last week (about inner city kids), including Arthur Blank (co-founder, Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons); Wyc Grousbeck (owner - Boston Celtics); David Fialkow (co-founder General Catalyst); Kay Koplovitz (co-founder USA Networks); Ralph Schlosstein (co-founder, BlackRock); Tom Scott (co-founder, Nantucket Nectars, founder - Plum TV); Beth Westvold (Managing Director - BlackRock); and Ray Hamel (co-founder, Pure Encapsulations).

Thanks also to the Business Pundit for their kudos.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sarah Palin - Redux

Just when I thought that John McCain had scored a masterful flourish of political wizardry by appointing Sarah Palin to be his running mate, Sarah Palin had an unfortunate run-in with Katie Couric on CBS, which was hysterically captured by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.

Because of Palin's gaffes on CBS, watching the one and only vice-presidential debate last week became both sport and entertainment, also the subject of another Saturday Night Live skit.

And three thoughts came to me during the debate. First - why didn't the moderator, Gwen Ifill, make Sarah Palin answer any of the questions? Second - Palin could have, despite her lack of experience and knowledge on policy issues, actually won the debate. Although I was not expecting such a strong showing from Joe Biden (who was expected to ramble and pontificate), he nearly moved me to tears when he responded to Palin's allegation that he could not identify with regular people or their issues. He almost cried when he mentioned losing his wife and his son - clearly an unrehearsed moment.

Palin, almost robotic, never stopped to look at Biden. Had she said "Joe - I can not imagine the pain of losing a child - I am so sorry," pudits might have overlooked her lack of knowledge on the issues, and instead, applauded her for truly being a real person, a real hockey mom. Instead, she ignored his statement, his pain - clearly forfeiting an opportunity to demonstrate compassion.

The other thought, when Palin reached for her infant, almost as if the baby was a prop, was this: what kind of mother would keep a baby out until 11pm at night?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sarah Palin - a product of Title IX

The appointment of Sarah Palin to be the Vice President on the Republican ticket was a brilliant, searing, in-your-face strategic move by John McCain. Palin has energized the party, partly because she shoots caribou (and then eats them in burgers); wears bright red shoes, and talks like a hockey mom.

Well, sometimes.

Claiming that you might have foreign policy credentials because you can see Russia from your backyard - well, most hockey moms I know (and I am one) - would probably have come up with a more convincing piece of spin. Plus, most of the hockey moms I know both spit and swear - and none of this from Palin. Yet.

Palin recently told ABC's Charlie Gibson that she was a product of Title IX when asked if she could hold office and raise a family, particularly as Palin's youngest child has Downs Syndrome. I found this answer interesting - as I am not sure that Title IX has anything to do with the balance between work and children, particularly a child with special needs. Title IX, to Palin's point, however, has been critically important in terms of creating opportunities for women on the playing field (and in other areas of education), which translate into very real gains in the workplace.

The real issue is this - John McCain trumped the Democratic Party. Barack Obama could have headed off this frontal assault by appointing Hillary (or, at a minimum, publically promised her a cabinet position) - and failed to do so. In fact, a bold move by Obama might have been, if he couldn't stomach the concept of Hillary as a vice president, named his entire potential cabinet (including Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton, and others) - which could have blunted any sort of counterpoint move by John McCain.

I think we Democrats are in checkmate, at the moment.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Closing of the Games

With the closing ceremonies to be broadcast tonight, withdrawal symptoms will set in for about a week or so. Workouts will be slightly more vigorous, at least, well maybe, for a month.

China has hosted a spectacular Olympics - the Opening Ceremonies were among the most artistic and spellbinding since Barcelona in 1992. (And I am not being biased because I was there to see those Games, but because the archer from Spain ran past all the athletes and then raised his bow and arrow and hit the cauldron, square on, igniting the Olympic flame.)

The athletes and the host country with its zillion volunteers sweated, jumped, ran, and did their very best. This can not be said for some members of the media corps. At the swimming venue, where the not-from-our-planet Michael Phelps (and his mother) were omnipresent. Phelps was, in a word, awesome. Rowdy Gains did an excellent job of commentating, but his co-host was less impressive with comments about which female swimmers were dating who and which swimmer's nude photos appeared on the internet. It was surprising that the official commentators transformed NBC's usual strong coverage into the PEOPLE Magazine version of the Olympic Games.

There was also media commentary on a male swimmer or two - such as who Michael Phelps might be dating, which was a strange and desperate attempt for 15 minutes of fame by swimmer Amanda Beard, clearly trying to become a reality show celebrity. She appeared on E or Access Hollywood as a correspondent (with questions to Phelps such as "where are you going to party tonight"). When asked by the Access Hollywood host "are you dating Michael Phelps," Beard replied, "I'll never tell." She later was pressed to explain this and, in a very diplomatic fashion said: "dating Michael Phelps? Eewwww."

The press also lambasted the track and field program, which, in fact, had a very strong medal haul this year, compared to prior Olympics - just not in the signature sprinting events, like the 4 x 100 relay where both the men's and women's teams were disqualified for dropping the stick. Even though the relay will most likely never change, getting rid of the baton and having a system like the swimmers (one hits the line and the other goes) would be much more exciting. Dropped batons are no fun for the athlete or the spectator.

And of course, there was the 2am coverage of rowing, which is the least covered event at the Olympic Games (possibly followed by canoe/kayak; handball; and table-tennis. OK - and maybe rhythmic gymnastics.) The Chinese women's quadruple sculls won the gold - and their technique was effective and strong. Good for Igor Grinko, the Russian at the helm of China's rowing program. US single sculler, Michele Guerette came within inches of a gold medal in the women's single, making us all proud. The US women's eight won the gold and the men's eight won a bronze medal - and Yazzie Faruq's commentating for NBC was terrific (and enthusiastic). She outclassed the field.

Sadly, it was clear that despite talented athletes (the Winklevoss twins making the final in the men's pair, the determined men's single, as well as the other many boats competing for the US at the Olympics), the US is seriously in need of a systematic development system, properly funded, for all its boats (and not simply the eights, which are now the least competitive event at the Olympics with barely more than a handful of entries). Australia, Canada, and New Zealand (the tiniest of populations) are fielding competitive rowing boats and developing athletes - so this skill and ability is not restricted to the communist countries.

Finally -unlike rowing, there was lots of coverage for beach volleyball players Misty May and Kerri Walsh, both of whom are strong aggressive athletes. However, the post-gold medal match display of hugs in the sand reminded me of the jello wrestling pits of the 1980s. I need go no further with this, except to say: what is up with the rule that the women can't wear anything other than those unbecoming bikini style outfits? And where was the media commentary on this? (And of the fact that the men in the sport can not remove their shirts.) I am sure it is a Budweiser-mandated rule - but if Misty May and Kerri Walsh are to be truly iconic, they could put on real workout shorts that keep out the sand, and, a la Billie Jean King, say: "go ahead, fire me."

Then they would be true role models.

Well - it is only two years from now, when the Bode Millers will rise again from the ashes.

Can't wait.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Igor Grinko's Chinese Women Crank - Beijing Olympics

The Chinese women, in the women's quadruple sculls, blew away the field in their opening heat. They looked sharp and classically trained by Igor Grinko - - with the same technique that he tried to teach us back in 1992. Technique that is perfect for quad rowing - cutting off the finish and jumping off the foot stretchers.

It suddenly occurred to me that rowing is the perfect sport for a communist country (as is synchronized diving) because there can be no ego, every movement has to be identical with the person in front of you, there can be no individual star or extraneous movement. You have to completely blend in and if you are headstrong and try to do your own thing, you will only slow down the boat.

Countries are still questioning whether the Chinese are using performance enhancements - but if you look at their actual technique, the Chinese are rowing really well. That, plus the development of athletes that China began several years ago, has and will continue to yield strong results. Moreover, the extraordinary support from the Chinese government, which put the time and energy and coaching into their athletes, will pay rich dividends this summer.

Watching the US athletes compete, it struck me that many of these athletes are left to their own devices with little or no consistent coaching - and it is such a shame that the US does not have a similar system of support for its athletes (at least not its rowing athletes). With one of the largest gene pools of athletic talent in the US, more consistent support, money, coaching and facilities for up and coming athletes would result in more consistent results.

We in the US put most of our eggs in the men's and women's eights basket. However, only 7 women's eights are lining up in Bejing and only 8 men's eights lined up - - that is not much of a competition. Frankly, and this might be heresy - but removing the eights from the Olympic program because it is so sparsely attended - and instead adding more events for smaller boats (a lightweight single; a women's four, a men's and women's coxed four; more lightweight events) would be more exciting and more competitive. Plus - more countries can afford to send smaller boats to race.

Watching the rowing events at the Olympics this year is particularly exciting with the addition of the overhead cable cameras in the last 250 meters of the race. The Chinese broadcast is magnificent. In fact, you can actually see who is exerting intensity of effort (and who is not).

A shout out to the perennial Ted Nash, a member of the 1960 Olympic Team and coach to many Olympic and National Team boats. Ted coached the Winklevoss twins who advanced to the semi-finals yesterday, winning their repecharge heat. Ted is a coach who has always been available to almost any athlete that has picked up the phone to ask for his help. Kudos as well to Michelle Guerette, the US single sculler, for winning her quarter final - she looks really smooth and strong. And a great effort as well by the US men's single, Ken Jurkowski, who qualified for the semi-finals.

Finally - many thanks to Lela and the Business Pundit for this little bit of COVERAGE.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

8.8.08 - Let the Games Begin

In celebration of 8.8.08 (notwithstanding the fact that our favorite event, rowing, is yet again relegated to 2am in the morning), both Forbes.com and Inc.com ran stories about Olympians-turned-Entrepreneurs.

Thanks so much to Forbes.com writer Maureen Farrell for including me in Forbes.com's all-star line up, along with this photo of me (looking uncharacteristically bossy. Not.)

Thanks also to Inc.com's Tamara Schweitzer for including me in Inc.com's Olympic - themed coverage.

In other news, we are knee-deep in production on our newest documentary film - and are set to corral about 40 kids in New York next week, which is making my line producer's hair nearly fall out.

Hope everyone is having a good summer.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Celtic Pride

A shout out to Wyc Grousbeck and the Celtics for bringing home Banner 17.

They have made those of us, born and bred Massachusetts (some would call us townies) - they have made us proud.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ball Girl Makes Amazing Catch at Baseball Game

video
Check out this amazing video from a minor league baseball game. Thanks to Sally Jackson for sending it to me.

Rumor has it that this was a Gatorade Commercial. If so, well done, sirs. Well done.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Igor Grinko - Chinese Olympic Coach - Redux

I blogged the other day about the article in The New York Times written by Juliet Macur about Igor Grinko and the Chinese Olympic Rowing Team.

I received several comments, including one from Igor, himself - and it is incumbent on me to post Igor's response.

Igor's post is below. Please remember that Igor's first language is Russian - so there are a few typos.

"Some friends sent me your article. I think it's stupid what is you writing there together with Mike Teti about East Germany I mean system for selection and training, not drugs. For my 14 years work with US is any athletes can say I offer drugs to him or her. You just lying. When we trained in Switzerland I called just asked if they can offer something for recovery very natural. Shame on you Mary. I quarantee my Chinese rowers all clean and just training better."

For the record, Igor has coached several world championship winning teams - and frankly, I was not among the best athletes he ever coached. Igor was always honest with me about that fact and I always respected him for that. On a personal level, Igor always had a dry sense of humor about us, and about himself.

My blog was primarily focussed on how much money China is spending to support its athletes, which I think the US ought to be doing. It comes as no surprise to me that a well-funded system in China produces crews that are clocking the rest of the world. In fact, the Chinese are light years ahead of the US in terms of athlete development and support. And Igor's comment that they are training better - this very well may be true.

My blog posting did not say that Igor would cheat. Igor is driven to win - and will take every competitive advantage that he can. That being said, I will take him at his word.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Chinese 24 Karat Olympic Machine and Igor Grinko

New York Times writer Juliet Macur documents her visit with the Chinese National Rowing Team and their coach, Igor Grinko, in today's New York Times. Three things about the article struck me as remarkable. First - that the Chinese Government underwrote a $10 million dollar rowing facility and sponsors 1200 rowing athletes. The support of the US government is downright stingy in comparison. Olympic athletes here in the US receive only a few thousand dollars in support. The Chinese, like many European and Asian nations, cover living expenses, food, travel, and training costs. Former US Olympic coach, Hartmut Buschbacher, also coaching in China, was quoted as saying "If you are surprised at how good the Chinese have gotten, then I think you should come here and watch them train and see this place... if you think this is not going to lead to performance, then I'm sorry, you are stupid." I loved this quote - classic Hartmut Buschbacher. To the point. And blunt.

I had the chance to work with Hartmut while he was the Olympic Team coach for the women's sweep program - and I thought he had a great non-nonsense attitude. He also designed personal programs for athletes - instead of generic workout program for all athletes, which I thought was brilliant.

Second and more importantly, despite the allegations of doping (addressed below) - it also struck me that Igor Grinko is thriving in China - a system much like Russia, where Igor's scullers (usually the quad) won multiple gold world championships and Olympic medals. China has an enormous population, so it was only a matter of time before really good athletes, particularly from Inner Mongolia, would emerge. In addition, Igor has all the tools at his fingertips - doctors, labs, physical therapists, new equipment - and, more importantly, everyone will do what he dictates. Furthermore, unlike what happens here in the US, Igor can develop athletes - rather than focus on a shorter term strategy of selection. Sadly, the US has forgone the concept of athlete development for the past 15 years - which means that really good potential athletes are not identified or developed - which is partly responsible for the meager medal showings year after year by the US Team. At this point in time, only the men's and women's eights are supported with consistent and rigorous coaching - but even then, there is very little development. On top of this, there are precious few trials events for the Olympic Games, so unless you happen to be invited to a camp, there is little incentive for unidentified athletes to continue training after college. So it comes as no surprise that Igor can and will develop really fast and powerful crews in the sort of environment that China has in place.

Third - Mike Teti, the US men's Olympic coach, has gone on the record as suggesting that doping is responsible for the rapid improvement of the Chinese teams, who were largely absent from the international scene 10 years ago. Grinko, in the Times, responds "no secrets, no mysteries going on here... they're just doing this like the East Germans did in the 1970s and 1980s." I laughed when I read this quote - because although the East Germans had government support and a rigorous training program, it was common knowledge that the East Germans doped heavily and consistently, not just in the 1970s and 1980s, but beyond. Teti knows this as well, given that he was a member of several Olympic teams before he started his coaching career.

Nonetheless, having visited China and Inner Mongolia - and seeing how large and athletic many Chinese athletes are - - and having been an assistant coach to the Korean Olympic Development Team - - I saw first-hand how these athletes are developed and trained. They all live together in government apartments - and they train full-time without distraction. So it comes as no surprise that they are fielding very competitive and talented teams. In fact, a link on the New York Times's website (click here for the article) shows clips of the Chinese Team. Their rowing technique is very good - clean and smooth, with very little boat check.

That being said, Igor Grinko was our Olympic sculling coach in 1992. So I have a bit of knowledge about how he coaches and how he interacts with athletes. In fact, in 1991 and 1992, Igor was very frustrated with his American athletes - partly because there was no system or support in place for consistent training - and partly because he had very little control over headstrong American scullers. He also did not understand the mental aspect of American athletes, thinking that the larger athletes would always outperform the smaller athletes. In Russia, rowing is a job. Here in America, it is a passion. Moreover, Grinko's workouts were designed for Russian athletes - meaning that, at least as far as we were concerned, they availed themselves of performance enhancements which, more than anything, helped them to recover quickly. We did not. In fact, while we were training in Colorado at altitude early in 1992, Igor insisted that I do back to back workouts (40 minute erg pieces) at a heart rate of 186 (a beat below my anaerobic threshold, when I would start generating huge amounts of lactic acid). Most of the other women's thresholds were around 140 - 160. After several days of this kind of work, which should have in theory worked, I nearly tanked. In fact, the doctor at the US Olympic Training Center took a blood test. "Get the hell out of here" he said. "You have completely depleted your glycogen stores. It will take you months to recover and I don't know if you'll be able to recover in time for the Games." Igor's workouts, at least then, were brutual for women who were not taking drugs to help them recover from workouts. I also recall training at altitude in St. Moritz when the women were crying on the way to workouts. People were at the limit, both physically and mentally, under Igor's workout program.

Although I am sure Igor is smart enough to have his athletes avoid any performance enhancements which are specifically noted on the International Olympic Committee's banned list - I share this anecdote. In 1992, one of our assistant coaches told us, while we were training in Switzerland prior to the Games, that Igor was trying to get his hands on a new drug that the Italian cyclists were using to rid the body of lactic acid more quickly. That substance was not yet on the banned list because it was so new - and furthermore, one of us on the team found out that an Italian cyclist had died after taking the substance because his heart fibrilated.

To be fair, I never asked Igor myself if this was true - and the drug never materialized as one of the assistant coaches had purportedly placed a call with the US Olympic Committee to confirm that enhancements NOT on the banned list were still banned. And frankly, even if Igor had located and procured that drug - very few of us, being a fairly feisty bunch of independent minded people, would have been insipid enough taken some blue pill or blue drink. In some countries, athletes are told that "vitamins" are in a drink or a pill - and they simply swallow. In the US, especially with scullers who are older and cranky, with no money or glory at stake, we don't.

So after reading the New York Times article, here is what I think. The Chinese athletes are earning their results, particularly because of the money and support of the Chinese government. If the US had a strongly supported development system in place, instead of a catch-as-catch can selection process - we, too, would be more competitive.

However, that being said, I would not be surprised at all if Igor could put his hands on something that was not yet on the banned list. Something to optimize his athletes. Something small and and something blue.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

St. Ursula's Academy and Daisy's Heroes


Daisy and I travelled to St. Ursula's Academy in Toledo, Ohio this week to visit the two-time champions of the Head of the Cuyahoga (and winners of the Chris Ernst/A Hero for Daisy trophy) as well as the rest of the fabulous St. Ursula's community.

After a screening of A Hero for Daisy, Daisy read her prepared speech, which she practiced several times without prompting, to about 700 girls - telling them that she was very glad to miss two days of school. She also told the girls that they made her believe that she could do anything.

That afternoon, we attended the christening of St. Ursula's brand new Resolute eight, a fine fast racing shell, which the team had voted to name "DAISY'S HEROES."

I was so moved by the naming... and decided that I needed to bring my 15 year old bottle of champagne which I had been given at the Olympic Games. The bottle had the Olympic Rings - and for 15 years had been stored at the back of my refrigerator.

I had been waiting for a perfect time to open that bottle. And as far as I was concerned, there was no better time to uncork that baby - than over a boat named for Daisy's newest heroes.

The St. Ursula's community was so remarkable. The girls were funny and smart and vivacious and grounded. They make Toledo proud.

Thank you to Cindy Dana, to St. Ursula's, and to the City of Toledo - for making us feel so welcome. This was an event that Daisy and I will remember forever. Click here for fabulous coverage by The Toledo Blade.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

BlackRock - Redux

Larry Fink, the Chairman of BlackRock, was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal the other day. BlackRock, along with Highfield's Capital, is backing PennyMac, a new fund formed to acquire non-performing mortage loans from banks and other financial institutions. Larry and the other founders of BlackRock transformed what began as a tiny fixed income shop, beginning with 8 people in 1988, into a trillion dollar global asset management firm - a firm which was grounded around the concept of risk-management. (A concept that was not utilized by many Wall Street firms, as evidenced by the shellacking of Bear Stearns.)

Speaking of BlackRock, my friend, Chris Poe sent this photo of me with Ralph Schlosstein, one of BlackRock's founders, which was taken immediately prior to the screening of "we are BlackRock" in New York City at Gotham Hall.

You will note that the reason I am having a less than stellar hair day is because I was sweating profusely prior to the screening of this latest film, all the while, trying to look calm and collected.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Girls' Ice Hockey - Should they play at the Boston Garden?

Today's Boston Globe reported that the Massachusetts Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association had scheduled the state hockey finals for high school boys to be played at the Boston Garden, home of the Bruins. The girls, however, are relegated to another site, which is not the Garden.

The finals for both boys and girls high school basketball state finals are at the Garden (also home of our beloved Celtics) - and so, inquiring minds might ask, why are the girls playing high school hockey not at the Garden?

The girls will play at the Harvard facility - a top notch rink. However, it is the signal and message which is unfortunate: you do not deserve to play where the hallowed traditions of the Bruins lie... you do not deserve to be where the boys play.

Arguments have been made that ice hockey for girls is an emerging sport (many more high schools offer ice hockey to boys than girls) - but that is the same tired argument that was used decades ago for women playing sports at all. That girls need to "earn" their stripes. However, girls pay tuition, practice, and put in the kind of effort that the boys do.

It is remarkable that in 2008, that this conversation and observation is even being made.

On another note - here at 50 Eggs, we were commissioned to produce a film project for BlackRock, the wildly successful asset management firm. The 42 minute film chronicled the history and entrepreneurial path of 8 founders who came together and grew the business into a global brand of over 5000 strong.

After completing the project, it became apparent to me that BlackRock is a different sort of place with real people who are fiercely dedicated to serving their customers (whether the customer is a large pension fund or a municipal worker - a fireman or carpenter). What was striking was the crew also came to this same conclusion. There were several people who worked on the film (our line producer, our photographer, our sound guy) who all asked: where can I get a BlackRock fund?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Going After the Rocket

Former Senator George Mitchell's report, all 409 pages, found here, is scathing in its indictment of baseball, particularly the Player's Association. Mitchell took nearly 18 months to compile his report, which was done at the behest of Commissioner Bud Selig, to investigate steroid use and performance enhancement in baseball. The report, which was released in December, named names, including pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

The fact that congressional hearings are being held on this issue - and that senators are spending time on whether professional athletes are using performance enhancements - and worrying about whether Roger (and his wife) used human growth hormone - is a bit like the emperor wearing no clothes. We have young men and women in Iraq, our energy security is at risk - and these senators are waxing forth on an issue which is completely trivial in the scope of pressing issues. Once our troops are back home, once the crisis in the Middle East has been cleaned up, once our economy is back on sound footing, once our reputation as a country has been resurrected, once the problem of kids dropping out of high school in precipitous numbers has been addressed, once the obesity and health issues which are crippling the next generation is faced head on, and once the issue of poverty in this country is actually acknowledged- only then should our leaders in Washington look to other such issues, such as steroid use, to solve.

Frankly - unless and until professional baseball and football have testing requirements as stringent and rigorous as Olympic athletes (and cyclists), enforcement and allegations of performance enhancement in professional sport is a joke. It is common fact that baseball never tested for performance enhancements until recently - and its current testing and penalty system is laughable. It is common fact that our heralded football players, who miraculously come back from devastating injuries within weeks, use enhancements. The only way to stop steroids in baseball (or any other professional sport), is to (a) fire coaches and trainers (for life) under whose watch it happens; (b) have a real testing protocol much like the one imposed on Olympic athletes; and (c) impose real penalties on team owners or sanction the entire team for material transgressions. If all of a sudden, a team could not go to the Super Bowl because 10 players were using - things would change in a heartbeat.

While Bud Selig attempted to assuage public concerns about the asterisk which may or may not be placed next to the name of Barry Bonds by hiring George Mitchell to prepare his report - George Mitchell spent 18 months of wasted time on a self-evident report. Of course professional athletes use substances to keep them in the game. Especially those athletes in professional leagues which have little or no real testing protocol.

George Mitchell, who helped broker peace between Ireland and Britain, should have been using his time during the last 18 months for something more important.

Perhaps working on peace in the Middle East.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Marion Jones Sentenced

Track star Marion Jones was recently sentenced to serve 6 months in jail for lying to federal investigators about using banned substances and for 2 months for lying about the involvement of her coach, Steve Riddick, and former training partner and father of her eldest son, Tim Montgomery, also a world class Olympic sprinter, in a multi-million dollar check scheme.

There was never any question that Marion Jones took performance enhancements, particularly as she trained under coach Trevor Graham - who has had many an athlete test positive for banned substances. Marion is one of many world class athletes who regularly take banned substances. What people often forget is this: it is only banned if you go over certain limits as an athlete. If you follow the money, you'll find enhancement. You rarely find athletes taking banned substances in low money sports (rowing as a perfect example - all guts, no glory, no press, and certainly no endorsements or money).

The severity of the sentence, according to US District Court Judge, Kenneth Karas, was in part to make an example of Jones. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Karas stated that a prison sentence might make others ''think twice before lying. It might make them realize that no one is above the obligation to tell the truth.'

Making Marion Jones an example, while the many baseball players who testified under oath in front of Congress (and then were subsequently found to have taken steroids or other banned substances) - is not only extreme, but unfair.

Marion Jones has become a national disgrace, sentence enough for her actions. Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, and the many NFL and MLB players who have taken banned substances are not behind bars - - and to make Marion Jones the sacrificial lamb sends a message that if you are a woman and an athlete, especially one of color, all bets are off.

As for the check fraud scheme - that, frankly, is a more serious offense. And to receive 2 months for that involvement means that she did not participate but knew it was happening. Clearly, Jones has some serious character issues that she will need to deal with going forward, but putting her, a mother with two young sons, behind bars for lying about steroid use, makes no sense.

It should be the trainers and team owners who know about steroid and enhancements who ought to be made examples of.

Put a major league manager behind bars - now that would be real deterrence.