In the Feb. 4 edition of Sports Illustrated there is an incredibly important and depressing story by David Epstein and George Dohrmann about a two-man company run out of the back of a gym near Birmingham, Ala., called S.W.A.T.S.-- Sports with Alternatives to Steroids. This company might just as well be called R.I.P.O.F.F.
On Jan. 7, 2012, two nights before the BCS national championship game, a handful of Alabama players in crimson and gray sweats made their way to room 612 in the New Orleans Marriott. There they reportedly met S.W.A.T.S. co-founder Christopher Key. He told the credulous jocks that, "There would be thousands of cellphones in the Superdome the following night and that frequencies from those phones would be swirling through their bodies. ... They're going to affect you guys very negatively. ... We figured out a way to manipulate that so that you aren't affected ... [to] give you strength, give you balance, give you flexibility and help with pain."
Not since Uri Geller was using his "psychic powers" to bend spoons on late-night talk shows has there been such a crock of sheer nonsense uncorked on gullible human beings -- in this case gullible athletes desperate for an edge. Alabama football is hardly the only group ready to pay for fraudulent nonsense. Sports Illustrated reports that LSU football players outfielder Johnny Damon, golfer Vijay Singh and linebacker Shawne Merriman and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis are all victims of S.W.A.T.S. peddling magic elixirs, antler horn extract, underwear bathed in magic chemicals and other voodoo potions.
S.W.A.T.S. is hardly alone in ripping off athletes. The Miami New Times, reported that New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez's name appears on a client list along with those of Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Gio Gonzalez obtained from an anti-aging clinic in Miami that allegedly dispensed performance-enhancing drugs. The story says that Cabrera and others were getting a "cocktail of drugs including IGF-1" an alleged growth-promoting substance.
So who cares if Ray Lewis is wearing magical underwear to heal his torn triceps, or the Alabama defensive line is sporting stickers with pyramids to ward of bad cell phone vibes sold by charlatans who have no background in medicine, science or apparently the world of reality? We all should.
What kind of reliance can we have on the claims of professional and amateur sports to be weeding out performance enhancing drugs if they turn a blind eye to scam artists preying on their athletes? Do they really care about the welfare of players if they let goofballs pour unproven nostrums and bizarre chemicals into them willy-nilly?
And what about kids who see their heroes chasing down screwball therapies and following junk science prescriptions about bad cell-phone vibes and super-treated water? Aside from stealing their money, tolerating this stuff may make a kid play through pain or injury thinking his magical antler potion will prevent any long-term damage.
And shouldn't athletes worth zillions of dollars have their agents check in with legitimate authorities before letting them on the field under the illusion that some gimmick will heal them or let them play at a higher level? Where are the team doctors and trainers that we hear are so concerned with athletic well-being?
The amount of pure nonsense fueling what athletes are putting into their bodies would leave even Barnum astounded. It is time for the bodies that control sports to speak out and protect the safety of athletes -- pro, college and high school -- from the carnival barkers now running rampant in too many locker rooms.
Arthur Caplan is the head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.