The series of articles by Bil Gilbert on drugs in sport, which begins in this issue (page 64), is the first comprehensive and authoritative study of a vastly complicated problem. It is a problem that many of the rulers of sport pretend does not exist, in the misguided hope that it will go away. We do not believe it will vanish of its own accord, and the concluding article in the series offers practical solutions.
There is no question at all about the astonishingly wide use of drugs by athletes. "A lot of them express inner reservations about what they're doing," Gilbert says. "They keep thinking that they may be doing something sneaky. In fact, legally, with a doctor's prescription, they're not. But they still feel they may be cheating in some way.
"You can sit in front of a California high school, and the kids won't think anything of telling you about all the stuff they take. But the athletes aren't like that. You can talk to them about 'medicinal aids' and you'll hear all about amphetamines, barbiturates, Novocain, all kinds of pills. But ask them, 'What other drugs do you take?' and they'll look at you with big innocent eyes. A funny example came from a football player. I asked him if he took any pills. 'Well, no,' he said. 'I don't take any. But make sure you don't quote me on that.' "
Bil speculates that the doctor and the chemist may soon be as important to an athlete as the coach. "I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who's in the industry," he says, "and he explained how all the money has thus far gone into therapeutic drugs. Yet he has no doubt that soon they'll be working on additives and that a drug can be found that will, say, help someone run a mile 10 seconds faster than he normally could.
June 22, 1969
"Where will it end? Well, I don't think regulation will come until after some tragedy. My bet is football. Someone will die in a spring practice and have enough amphetamines in him that it will be listed as the main cause of death. Then you'll see all hell break loose."
The Gilbert series is one of several that will appear in the next few months. In a sense this is fair warning—most of our readers have found our series in the past highly enjoyable, but a few have told us in letters that they don't like series and wish we wouldn't run them. We neither like nor dislike them, as such—what we do like is the story they can tell, which cannot be effectively compressed into one article.
Not all of our forthcoming series, of course, are on such serious topics as the current one or Jack Olsen's justly famed examination of the problems of the black athlete or his recent delineation of the grizzly bear murder case. For example, in July we will offer Ken Harrelson's autobiography—and we assure you The Hawk's story is too crammed with fun and games to be held to one part. Later on John Underwood will present an exhaustive (but far from exhausting) report on how U.S. college coaches have reacted to the attacks of campus rebels on the athletic Establishment.
Jack Olsen will be back in the fall with Lew Alcindor's own story, and George Plimpton, the paper lion, will reveal how he found life in the line. So far, nobody has ever complained of a plenitude of Plimpton—and we believe Zero's latest adventures will be even more fascinating than those previously recorded.