The BALCO steroid case began with an “enforcement action” at an obscure nutrition laboratory near San Francisco International Airport. Fifteen months later, says the San Francisco Chronicle, the federal probe has pushed the topic of sports doping into the consciousness of casual sports fans. The scandal is forcing the public to confront a dirty secret of American sports: elite athletes, including some of sports’ biggest stars, routinely have used steroids, growth hormones, and other banned substances in their quest to excel.
Experts said BALCO has been the catalyst for initiatives that would have been impossible a year ago: the purge of suspected steroid users from the U.S. Olympic team on the eve of the Athens Games and the threat of congressional intervention that led Major League Baseball and the powerful players union to promise to toughen their sport’s lax drug testing program. Anti-doping advocates say BALCO has given them traction in their fight to control steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, both in track and field and in baseball. “We have turned a corner,” says Dr. Steven Ungerleider, an Oregon-based sports psychologist and doping expert. “BALCO has been pretty ugly, but the silver lining is, if we hadn’t had the BALCO scandal, we’d still be in denial, covering up and playing the same charade that has gone on for years.”