WASHINGTON — Tommy Chaikin no longer seeks to alter his person by artificial means. In retrospect, he views his experiment with steroids as the height of stupidity. He gained 50 pounds of muscle, became a starting defensive end for South Carolina, and ended up in a state of mental and physical collapse and legal controversy.
He says he knows now what a self-obsessed act of gall it was, to attempt to redefine his essential matter and muscle. "I was an arrogant . . .," he said.
Chaikin, who attended Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md., is doing all right now, planting flowers and shrubs in suburban Maryland. He isn't holding a pistol to his chin, and his blood pressure isn't so high he can feel it in the roof of his mouth. And he isn't going to be indicted for criminal offenses in South Carolina. He has been in a glory-drenched football uniform for the Gamecocks, he has been in Sports Illustrated, and he has been in a grand-jury room, and now he would just as soon be quiet.
He weighs 215 pounds, compared to the hulking 265 he was at one point when he took anabolic steroids, and he lives in Bethesda, where he is starting his own landscaping company. He does not stay in touch with his former teammates or coaches at South Carolina.
The school is still coping with the charges and publicity brought by Chaikin in a first-person story written in Sports Illustrated last October that paid him $4,500. In the piece, he alleged that, at one point, half the team used steroids. The university was further devastated by the death of football coach Joe Morrison from a heart attack on Feb. 5, in the midst of investigations into steroid use in the program partly instigated by Chaikin's expose.
Chaikin's foray into steroids is better characterized as a swan dive. Over three years from 1984 to 1987, he claims to have used steroids from a jumble of needles and bottles with labels in foreign languages he never bothered to read, German or Spanish or no label at all, and sometimes mixed together. He took human growth hormone and monkey hormones, testosterone, Dianabol, Anadrol, Parabolin, Deca-Durabolin.
"Bury me massive or don't bury me at all," he and his fellow users would say.
His critics at South Carolina speculate that he disclosed his problems either for profit, or to take revenge on coaches he felt abused him and ignored his illness. He said he decided to talk partly because he was hoping to interest publishers in a book deal, but also because he wanted to prevent use among other athletes.
"It was to show that college football has become a joke," he said. "A freak show."
But the impact was beyond anything Chaikin expected. He accused coaches of shrugging at or even encouraging steroid use, and said that by his junior year, "about 50 of 100 guys on the team were using steroids." Those allegations came six months after South Carolina had fired Athletic Director Bob Marcum for shortcomings found in the athletic department's drug-testing program, and brought a new round of inquiries and controversy.
The 5th Circuit solicitor in Columbia, S.C., James Anders, threatened to indict Chaikin on criminal charges for his admissions in the article, in which he also told of having distributed steroids and of experiences with LSD and cocaine. A previous investigation into steroid distribution and production had been conducted in the area by the State Law Enforcement Division, but with Chaikin's article it was expanded into a federal inquiry. The U.S. attorney, Dinton Lide, took over the probe, which is continuing. Lide could not be reached for comment.
Chaikin, meanwhile, has received hate mail and threatening phone calls. One caller told him, "We can make you disappear." The 6-foot-1 former defensive end is not a hero in South Carolina. Athletic Director King Dixon said that Chaikin's allegations are unproven, possibly exaggerated, and that they "defamed" the school. According to Dixon, the State Law Enforcement Division found only "somewhat" of a steroid problem at South Carolina two or three years ago. He said that with the firing of Marcum, a new and improved drug-testing program had already been put in place before Chaikin's article.
A federal grand jury is still hearing evidence, but Dixon said he believes the focus is now oriented toward seeking out large distributors in the state and nearby areas. He said the grand jury should conclude next month, with any indictments to come in May or June, but he does not anticipate any involving the school.
"That article was like a 2,000-pound bomb going off," Dixon said. "It was devastating to South Carolina. It's tainted us, it's had a tremendous adverse effect as far as what other people think of us. We're still trying to assess the damage. We've had intense negative publicity. There's been a full-fledged investigation of allegations that are still unfounded. And we've gotten a clean bill of health."