RAY LEWIS, RAVENS COACHES WEIGH IN ON ‘WORLD’S STRONGEST MAN,’ DRUGS AND AMERICA’S YOUTH
By AL THOMPSON
NEW ORLEANS: The week leading up to the Super Bowl is an orgy of media coverage that can include virtually any subject including TMZ gossip, trips by players to strip clubs, great acts of charity and courage, injuries, strategy, sexual orientation issues, politics, racism, injury lawsuits and of course the ever popular performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).
While the San Francisco 49ers did their best to cover most of those subjects during their trip to New Orleans, Baltimore Ravens All Pro linebacker Ray Lewis found himself embroiled in a controversy over a story in Sports Illustrated that he took an illegal substance to help what is widely considered a miracle recovery from a serious triceps injury.
While the allegations lost credibility as the week unfolded, Lewis never stopped talking about everything from his brand of spirituality to how he was feeling as his last game as professional football player approached, to questions about his past that included his involvement in a double homicide at the Super Bowl in Atlanta 12 years ago to his future as a mentor to the youth of America..
At his last press conference at the Ravens Hotel in Downtown New Orleans on Thursday, Lewis was asked if his future did indeed include a national role as a mentor to the youth of America.
“Absolutely,” Lewis said.
Lewis was asked about how important it was for young people to battle obesity with exercise.
“I say to my kids, make sure you don’t spend too much time playing video games,” Lewis said. “They are great fun doing it, but when I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of video games. I had to work on who I was. It came with working out and being outside. I make my kids go outside all the time. And I say to all the kids…’go outside…have fun outside, the video games will be there when you come back inside.'”
Lewis was then asked to comment on what children watch on television that can have a long term negative effect on their future.
The question also brought up the subject that had every camera in the world trained on him throughout the week.
Lewis was asked about ESPN, the popular network that has aired “World’s Strongest Man” (WSM) for decades. It has been widely assumed that since there is no drug testing for steroids or any other performance enhancing drugs for the made-for-TV weightlifting competition, that most of the competitors, if not all, are using PEDs.
Recent accounts from competitors attest that those drugs include massive doses of various steroids, EPO and Human Growth Hormone (HGH).
Two American WSM competitors -Johnny Perry (2003) and Jesse Marunde (2007) died during the prime of their careers. There are public records that four more competitors in the qualifying system of strongman have died over the last 11 years. Perry and Marunde had public records of drug use.
There are no records that IMG World – the company that owns WSM and a long-time partner of ESPN, plus the Arnold Classic, the other “Grand Slam” strongman competition held annually in Columbus Ohio have ever instituted any kind of investigation to look at the high fatality rate, nor have any of these organizations shown any public interest in instituting a creditable drug testing program.
Several requests to ESPN including to Bill Hofheimer, a director of Media Relations for ESPN, concerning the lack of drug testing and the high fatality rate on WSM and its lack of action were not answered. Hofheimer confirmed by phone he did receive the request.
Several email requests to IMG World with the same requests about why a world class sports entity continues to produce a competition show it is fully aware has rampant illegal drug use by its competitors were also not answered.
A story published in the New Yorker Magazine in July 2012 left no doubt that illegal drug use at WSM and the Arnold was not only real and rampant, it was encouraged.
So Lewis was asked point blank, in the interest of the future of the youth of America, should ESPN stop airing “World’s Strongest Man?” A show that is aired, according to the media kit IMG World shows to potential sponsors, to 99 million American Households.
“Yes,” said Lewis immediately, who paused then to collect his thoughts. “I don’t watch (WSM) much myself, but I think that everything I have done in the game has catapulted me to be able to deal with kids, to try and lead them down the right road and the right direction.
“There are a lot of things (kids) should not be exposed to on TV nowadays,” Lewis continued. “(TV) is so big, so huge on the things kids are exposed to these days. When we were coming up, we didn’t have a lot of these things that kids are being exposed to now. It’s unbelievable. Being a parent and raising them right is a very hard thing because of all the things they are exposed to.”
Ravens Strength and Conditioning coach Bob Rogucki said it is time for WSM to be tested or gone.
“I am a firm believer that if you are involved in competitions, involved in that (WSM) you should be tested,” Rogucki said. “It needs to be drug free.”
Rogucki said he has watched “World’s Strongest Man” and said there were elements of the sport he liked but came to the same realization more and more fans and professionals are coming to: these are not great athletes, just young men who got involved with drugs with the goal of getting on television, on ESPN, regardless of the health risks.
“I’ve watched it and it is somewhat intriguing to see the events,” Rogucki said. “But when you are watching it through the eyes of these guys (NFL players) who are drug free, you see there is no way in heck they are drug free. With all the hours I’ve spent in the weight room, I should be 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, but I’m not.”
Rogucki was told of the dramatic weight and strength gains made by many WSM and Arnold Classic competitors, some who have gained over 150 pounds of body weight in a matter of 5-6 years. That several competitors came with no or low level athletic resumes to almost suddenly gain the ability to lift staggering amounts of weight and win major competitions like the Arnold and WSM.
“Physically that’s impossible,” Rogucki said after being shown “before” and “after” statistics on two active competitors. “In my opinion, that’s impossible.”
Former Eagles Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo, now an assistant coach with the Ravens, said he has never watched “World’s Strongest Man,” knows nothing about show. But as a long-time football coach and father who has two sons who play football, one Greg, who just finished his career playing for the University of Iowa, he knows that drugs are never the answer.
“I have a son who played at the University of Iowa, and another that’s is a freshman in high school who I am training right now,” Castillo said. “I’ve never seen any of those shows, I just know that the way I train my sons…you will improve if you work hard. It does not matter if it is football or basketball…it’s not just about strength, if you are a DB, it’s about back peddling, if you’re a quarterback, it’s about throwing the football. You do not need to be taking these extra things (drugs) to be able to that. My (younger) son is a quarterback. We throw four or five times a week so he masters his accuracy…he may not have the greatest arm, but he can throw it on time, he can throw it to the right spot so he can compete with the kids that are stronger than him. You don’t have to use those (drugs).”
When Republican Party Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney appeared on ESPN at halftime of Monday Night Football on the eve of the Presidential election, Romney said his biggest concern in sports for the future revolves around the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
“We’ve seen some of the greats in the world come down off their pedestal because of performance-enhancing drugs,” said Romney, who successfully ran the 2002 Winter Olympics. “We have to continue to battle that. We have to make sure our technology keeps up with the people that are trying to skirt around the law.”
Romney for sure was not aware that he was appearing on the network that annually airs the Holy Grail competition for Steroid Nation,”World’s Strongest Man” which has aired hundreds of times over the years on the ESPN family of networks and is owned by IMG World, one of the biggest and most powerful sports entities on the planet.
It is hard to believe that in 2013, a television network as popular and successful as ESPN, a media outlet as trusted as ESPN as well as its equally successful partner, IMG World would feel the need to air a show that clearly glorifies and promotes the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.
You have to wonder when ESPN, IMG and the Arnold will get the message.