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Roger Simon

Notes on Athletes, Drugs, George Bush

October 02, 1988

Two Great Thoughts on Two Great Competitions:

I think most of us were pretty pleased when Ben Johnson won his gold medal in the 100-meter race at the Olympics.

We like to see Americans win, of course, but Johnson is a Canadian and that's next best.

And Johnson is a terrific-looking athlete. He has muscles that you almost never see on a runner.

Now we know why.

Johnson has been stripped of his gold medal for using steroids, in this case a steroid that causes liver cancer.

He knew that if he won, he would be tested for steroids. And six other athletes and two other gold medalists had already been caught at this Olympics. And four of the seven Canadian weight lifters did not go to Seoul because they tested positive for steroids before the Olympics began.

So you'd have to figure Johnson knew the judges were on the lookout for drugs.

My first question was, therefore: How dumb do you have to be to use steroids, when (a) you know it can be deadly and (b) you know they test you if you win?

As dumb as a box of rocks? As dumb as mud?

But my second thought was: Maybe it's not dumbness.

Ben Johnson would have made around $10 million in endorsement contracts and all the rest if he had kept his gold medal.

And how much would you risk for $10 million?

Would you risk getting caught? Would you risk getting cancer? Especially when you know that many, many Olympic athletes use illegal drugs?

Johnson has been banned from international competition for two years, but Canada has banned him for life.

To many, that sounds extremely harsh.

But maybe it's the only way to balance off the vast rewards that illegal drug use can bring you. Maybe it's the only way to balance off the $10 million.

In America, we give our drug-abusing athletes, especially the professionals, first warnings and second warnings and 10th warnings. We give them 30-day suspensions and 90-day suspensions.

We do not ban them for life. To get banned for life in American sport, you would have to knife the commissioner of baseball.

But what if we toughened up? What if we announced right now that after Jan. 1, any athlete, amateur or professional, would be banned for life if found using illegal drugs?

Would drug use among athletes go down?

I can't guarantee it.

But it sure would be worth a try.

By now you probably all have decided who won and who lost the first presidential debate. Personally, I thought Peter Jennings won, but write-in campaigns are impractical.

One part of the debate, however, still strikes me as downright bizarre.

It came when George Bush accused Mike Dukakis of using a "Boston adjective."

Here is the exact quote from the transcript:

"How does it look in a program he called phony, or some one of these marvelous Boston adjectives up there about Angola. Now we have a chance. Several Bostonians don't like it, but the rest of the country will understand."

We will?

Assuming Bush's response was in English, I still have a question: I know what Boston clam chowder is. It's the white kind. Or maybe the red.

And I know what Boston scrod is. No, it is not the past tense of anything. It's a fish. Or something close.

And I know what a Boston driver is: an accident waiting to happen.

But I do not know what a Boston adjective is.

The adjective in question was phony . And that's a pretty popular adjective all over this country.

It was popularized, in fact, by the American classic "Catcher in the Rye," which came out in 1951 and was written by J. D. Salinger, a New Yorker, not a Bostonian.

Besides, why insult an entire city in the middle of a presidential race?

Bush had been doing well in Boston. The Boston police union had just endorsed Bush.

And you can imagine their delight after Bush decided to attack their city for its adjectives.

Have you ever wondered, by the way, where Bush was born?

No, it wasn't Texas. No, not Connecticut. And not Maine.

George Bush was born in Milton, Mass.

Right next to Boston.

So I guess he knows all about phony.

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