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  • Writer's pictureAl Thompson


Updated: Nov 20, 2019

Network aired World’s Strongest Man starting on December 30, 2012, and for several weeks after, despite overwhelming information about rampant steroid use on the show

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on the eve of the 2012 election, made one of the greatest predictions in sports history that no one remembers.

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 for sports in the future revolved 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 as we approach 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.

Make no mistake, there is no gray area, steroid use is rampant among competitors on “World’s Strongest Man” and has been, and still is, condoned, even encouraged, by those who run the show and the sport itself.

It is disturbing that elected officials and even government employees have been involved in promoting this event – long after rampant drug use was made public.

I have promoted pro-level strongman shows, and over the years I have spoken to many competitors who – now that they are retired - say drug use is so rampant and unchecked that many competitors are now taking various steroids at suicide levels, Human Growth Hormone and EPO, in many cases all at the same time.

I have tracked no less than six serious competitors who have died ( we are up to 14 deaths updated as of October 22, 2019 American and Canadian Competitors), in their prime since 2000: two who had recently competed on the show at the time of their death and four others who were trying to qualify for the show.

Attempts to talk to IMG have been ignored. I sent information and identities of four of the dead Americans to IMG and ESPN. I have received no response. By its actions, it is clear IMG is fine with steroid use with its competitors.

Several ESPN on-air talent and producers have privately said they do not want the show on ESPN because of the drugs and hypocrisy it has created as ESPN routinely admonishes athletes who get caught using drugs, calling them “cheaters” then pops on “World’s Strongest Man” earning millions of dollars over the years.

Those same people say they do not make the decisions on what ESPN broadcasts but privately support this effort to get the show off its own network.

ESPN aired the latest competition – taped in Los Angeles September 2012 – starting on December 30, 2012 with many hours of the program for several weeks after.

What is also disturbing is that IMG has a policy to ask foreign governments as well as American State and local governments for tourism funding for what is actually a televised weightlifting contest.

It is policy for IMG World to seek public funding for “World’s Strongest Man” every year.

Taxpayers in West Virginia contributed to the show that was held in 2008 in Charleston and hosted by then-governor Joe Manchin (now a U.S. Senator) who appears on the show several times.

Here is a link to the West Virginia government website announcing the broadcast dates of the “World’s Strongest Man” TV Show in 2008 and 09.

If you read the press release, you will see it refers to Mariusz Pudzianowski of Poland as a welcomed competitor for the West Virginia competition. This past July, Pudzianowski – who won the West Virginia competition - is quoted in an article about strongman published in the New Yorker Magazine in July 2012 and written by Burkhard Bilger.

Here is the article

Bilger: In 2004, when Mariusz Pudzianowski, the dominant strongman at the time, was asked when he’d last taken anabolic steroids, he answered, “What time is it now?”

Not only did IMG and ESPN not discipline Pudzianowski – who has received more face time over the years on ESPN than virtually every pro athlete in the Country – for his comments, but freely allowed him to compete on “World’s Strongest Man” four more times (winning three more championships), and eventually inducted him in the IMG/WSM Hall of Fame.

Requests for funding information sent to various tourism and event agencies throughout West Virginia have come up empty. One official said the information was “missing.” Most of the responses were to send me to another department.

Several requests for information and comments sent to Senator Manchin’s office about the drug use on “World’s Strongest Man” and public funding figures have been ignored.

Requests sent to IMG to find out how much public funding it took in for the production of “World’s Strongest Man” in 2008 (West Virginia), 2011 (North Carolina) and 2012 (Los Angeles) have been ignored.

The North Carolina Department of Tourism did report back to me that they had considered purchasing a media buy for $60,000.00 from IMG in 2011 for “World’s Strongest Man” but declined after I sent that department information about the drug use, integrity issues with the officiating and other inappropriate activities by those running the show for IMG.

The tourism department would not confirm the information I sent was the exact reason for declining the media buy but it is evident it was a factor.

IMG did look for other public funding in other areas in North Carolina including Rockingham whose taxpayers were asked to spend $10,000 for a taping that took place at Rockingham Speedway. I do not have information whether IMG got the funding although a segment was taped there.

Baseball is formally a public trust and NFL fans look at their home team as a public trust.

I believe journalists from ESPN have forfeited their privilege to vote players into the Hall of Fame for Major League Baseball and the NFL.

Those journalists get paychecks that contain revenue from “World’s Strongest Man.” And thus are in a conflict of interest. How can a journalist vote for players from the steroid era if they make money from steroid-driven programming?

The competitors on “World’s Strongest Man.” Are all adults and made the decision to take drugs and put their lives in danger, but ESPN reaches at least 99 million households in the United States alone, 600 million worldwide (according to IMG’s media buy proposal).

Ten to 12 year-old boys watching the show do not know any better. They watch the show and some become fascinated with becoming the World’s Strongest Man, get involved with training only to find out as they climb the ladder that the only way to get on “World’s Strongest Man” is to ingest massive amounts of illegal drugs.

I believe all elected officials including President Obama, who were voted into office for the purpose of providing mentoring and guidance to our youth should re-evaluate having anything to do with ESPN until such time as “World’s Strongest Man” is drug-tested or off the air.

In 2005 Congress stepped in and – because of baseball’s unique status as a public trust – to put pressure on baseball to test for performance enhancing drugs – and it worked.

North Carolina State Representative Craig Horn and Pennsylvania State Representative Paul I. Clymer have added their names to a petition to clean up “World’s Strongest Man”

It can work again, but someone at the Federal level has to take that first stand to get the ball rolling.

Last edited by Al Thompson; 05-21-2014, 07:26 PM.

Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii

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