By Gideon Weiss
Upton Sinclair clearly had an impact on the society in which he lived. For that there is no doubt. But what about today? So much has changed, journalism, media, technology... Can we see an equivalent voice in the press today?
One potential successor to Sinclair may not be a one person. Several sports journalists, working with both the sports publication Sports Illustrated and The San-Fransisco Chronicle, exposed rampant steriod use in Major League baseball and its harmful affect on younger athletes A series of articles based on investigations by senior baseball writer Tom Verducci and Chronicle writers Lance Williams and Marc Fainaru Wada were published in Sports Illustrated in a four year span, from 2002 to 2006. The investigations detailed the complex doping schemes of Major Leaguers tothe allure of steroids for young players. And while they used real names and Sinclair created fictional charachters, many of the articles contain narratives that engross the reader and paint a vivid picture of life in a professional baseball clubhouse or the thought process of a steriod user. This last element is extraordinarly important, it lends pathos to the story and allows the reader to feel the guilt, ambition,struggle and arrogance of the players.
Sinclair Like Descriptions
Part of Upton Sinclairs effectiveness was the detail of his findings. Sinclair refused to gloss over the gory elements of the meat production industry, giving readers an idea of how unhealthy and dangerous these factories were.
- "There were the men in the pickle-rooms, for instance, where old Antanas had gotten his death; scarce a one of these that had not some spot of horror on his person. Let a man so much as scrape his finger pushing a truck in the pickle-rooms, and he might have a sore that would put him out of the world; all the joints in his fingers might be eaten by the acid, one by one. " (Sinclair, The Jungle)
It was this shock that was at least one of the impetuses for the creation of the FDA. Verducci, in his on going investigation into preformance enhancing drugs spoke with doctors and players that had used steroids to get a sense of the damage that steroids caused. The result was several articles that went into detail about the positive and negative effects of steroid use. Verducci's expose in a 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated didn't shy away from graphic details regarding steroid use.
- He [Former All Star and admitted PED user Ken Caminiti] told SI that he used steroids so heavily in '96 that by the end of that season, his testicles shrank and retracted; doctors found that his body had virtually stopped producing its own testosterone and that his level of the hormone had fallen to 20% of normal. (Verducci, 2002)
The excerpt featured below actually comes from a Verducci report from 2012.
- And then Naulty's jacked-up body started breaking down. In August his arm suddenly went numb; he was shelled in two appearances before doctors figured out he was suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which his first rib was pressing upon an artery. Doctors went through his neck to cut out the rib. In 1997, Naulty tore his right triceps. The year after that his groin muscle ripped off his pelvis. By then he weighed 240 pounds, 60 more than he did when he was drafted six years before. His body wasn't built to handle such muscle mass. (Verducci, Sports Illustrated 5/29/12)
The graphic imagery helped to deglamorize the use of steriods. And while Sports Illustrated had reported on the dangers and use of preformance enhancing drugs in other sports, it had also helped to enable steroid use in baseball. Before Verducci's article in 2002, the magazine published many articles glorifying the growing power of the home run, ignoring the obvious steriod culture in baseball.
And like Sinclair, Verducci (and Williams and Wada) don't hesitate to name the enemy, or in this case the multiple enemies. Verducci tears into star players like Home Run King Barry Bonds for his steroid use; Williams and Wada published an report detailing Bond's drug regime and behavioral changes, making Bonds the poster child for jucing villains in Major League Baseball. Verducci also calls out MLB commissioner Bud Selig and the Players Union forstanding by and allow the drug culture to perpetuate. . In The Jungle, Sinclair's main charachter is a poor, immigrant factory worker named Jurgis. Several of Jurgis's familiy's superiors, including Connor and Dunhum, create rotten conditions in order to keep the money flowing in. He accuses Selig of caring more about television ratings and revenue than about the health of the players, the integrity of the sport and the behavior modelled to the nation's youth. By not having any drug testing or strict drug policy, Selig put players' health in danger.
So there is one final question. Were Verducci and Co. able to make a change the way Sinclair did? Quite possibly. As a result of the multiple exposes on Barry Bonds and his annointment as the King of Steroid use, public opinion toward Bonds plummeted and he became perhaps the most villified player in the sport. Two years after the initial articles in SI, Major League Baseball implemented PED testing for the players and in recent years has developed one of the strictest PED policies this side of the Olympics. Williams and Wada's investigation into Bonds and the steriod supplier BALCO led to a federal investigation, grand jury indictments and congressional hearings. (The two also faced charges that they leaked grand jury testimony).