Monday, January 18, 2010

Cowboys Stadium in March

We come to the end of our Pacquiao-Mayweather mourning season. Fun as it is to gnash teeth and tremble at the future of prizefighting, the sun has risen anew, men still don gloves to resolve conflicts in manly ways, and a major venue awaits a major event in a couple months. Let’s think about that.

It will help us inter the ordeal of arrogance and incompetence we’ve been subjected to since the morning of Nov. 15. More importantly, it should clear our palates for Shane Mosley versus Andre Berto. So now, some thoughts about Manny Pacquiao and Joshua Clottey on March 13 in Cowboys Stadium – Jerry Jones’ 73-acre architectural marvel, featuring an arch truss planar section that comprises 110,000 pounds of grade-65 Luxembourg steel.

Wait, how many pounds? Check the “Architecture Fact Sheet” at I’ll be in Dallas – Irving, if you want to be pedantic – in March, not because I like Pacquiao more than Floyd Mayweather or because I think Top Rank does better than Golden Boy Promotions or even because I have a soft spot for Ghanaian challengers.

I’ll be there because I want to say I covered a historic figure in a historic edifice.

A historic figure who won’t subject himself to random blood tests for performance-enhancing drugs? Yes. But.

Welcome to our era’s unfortunate cynicism. The best athletes aren’t guilty till proved innocent, exactly, but they are suspect – no matter how many times they’re proved not-guilty.

This is an opinion column, not a report, so take this in the spirit it’s intended – as Adam Carolla might put it. I felt a certain relief when Floyd Mayweather Sr.’s unsubstantiated allegations about Pacquiao got wide coverage. It felt better to have the self-imposed gag order lifted. Any writer who’s covered any other sport in the last decade and tells you he’s never wondered about the world’s best prizefighter – whoever he is or was – is being dishonest.

Stop shaking your head, because here comes something you didn’t already know. Sometime after Manny Pacquiao went directly through David Diaz in 2008, I began using a hypothetical PED-usage test on my Filipino-American friends at the boxing gym. I wanted to see their reactions. They were mixed and revealed nothing we don’t already know about how little we already know.

Did I do this to besmirch the character of a superstar athlete from a Pacific island? Not even a little. I did it for two selfish reasons. First, before I committed time, expense and words to covering Pacquiao’s future exploits, I wanted to ensure that – in the year 2020 – I wouldn’t feel the way so many pundits who provided breathless coverage of Mark McGwire’s 1998 exploits felt this week.

Second, I offered the hypothetical, because on a philosophical level, I don’t know what to think. In the 1990s, I watched a lot of baseball, especially the McGwire-Sosa race, with a suppressed suspicion something like this: If I’m the only one who knows, and nobody else broaches the subject, must it truly compromise this wonderful spectacle?

I also spent time around competitive bodybuilders and power lifters. I watched guys inject themselves with vitamins, drink amino acids, drop stimulants under their tongues before workouts, and participate in “natural” contests. That is, these were guys not using PEDs. And despite their routine departures from what you did in your basement with a Nautilus machine, they weren’t nearly big as McGwire.

The entire debate strikes me as profoundly arbitrary. At their most basic, PEDs expedite healing. That’s why Barry Bonds’ I-worked-harder defense implicated more than it exculpated: Of course you did; everyone else was too sore.

The New York Times reports a Canadian doctor performed “platelet-rich plasma therapy” on Tiger Woods. Blood was drawn, altered in a machine and then injected back in Woods’ body. Apparently this is kosher. But are you allowed to do it to a racehorse? And what’s the difference between recycling blood to help a golfer recover from knee surgery, and doing it to help a cyclist recover from fatigue?

Intent, I guess. Which is why exasperated fans want this debate to go the hell away. They slam their fists on the table and demand Olympic-style testing. But does it check for caffeine?

Yes. Why? No. Why not?

I’ve used all sorts of over-the-counter diet pills, in my day, to suppress appetite. Some euphemism for “speed” is all that works. Metabolife once worked. Then ephedrine got banned. But now you can buy it in the supermarket. If I take it with caffeine, I can replicate the Metabolife formula that was legal in 1999 and illegal in 2004. Should I be able to pass a pre-employment drug test?

Yes. Why? No. Why not?

Can anyone be sure Manny Pacquiao is clean? Can anyone be sure Floyd Mayweather is clean? We don’t even know to whom we should turn for a definition of the word “clean” at this point. We’re simply not there yet – and if “there” is an arbitrarily agreed-to list of testing schedules and banned substances that changes monthly, we can’t be sure we’ll ever be there.

I suspect Joshua Clottey of cleanliness. He bears all the late-fading hallmarks of a PED-less athlete. Or he’s just mentally fragile. Still, I give him a chance against Pacquiao – though I respect Top Rank’s matchmakers too much to give Clottey too much of a chance.

But I’m not going to Dallas to celebrate Clottey’s probable cleanliness. Or even Pacquiao’s legend. I’m going to see the stadium. I want to wander about looking for the media center. I want to see paid-for seats filled before television goes on the air. Most of all, I want to remember my time of covering the fights as something more than a tourist’s brochure of Las Vegas Boulevard South.

I want to see Cowboys Stadium so badly I’d watch Floyd Mayweather fight Nate Campbell there. Honest.


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