Hard Line Drives: Viagra and Baseball

Is there something slightly unseemly about the juxtaposition of a story about Viagra's off-label use by baseball players underneath a "OUR GREAT YANKEE DVD DEAL A BIG HIT!" panel? Is this a perfect example of the separation of "church and state" for advertising/promotions and editorial, or just a wacky coincidence? I'm betting on the latter.

The challenge on the front page that "You'll never guess why Roger and other pro athletes took the little blue pill" is feeble, since the first thing that comes to mind is "Um, I bet it has something to do with steroids or other 'performance enhancers.'" This is especially evident because Roger Clemens has become (unfairly, he will most certainly tell you) a visual shorthand for "steroids" on par with Barry Bonds, and we see Clemens' smirking mug next to four tablets of one of Pfizer's biggest moneymakers.

If you guessed "performance enhancement," you were correct! Viagra works by helping blood vessels dilate, so in addition to helping men hit a home run in the bedroom, it can help on the field as well by getting substances like anabolic steroids into the muscles faster. The News reports that Clemens used the drug when he was a Yankee, stashing the little blue pills in a GNC vitamin bottle. The paper's source is someone "familiar with the clubhouse." The extra zinger for him hiding the true nature of the pills is "perhaps…to avoid the inevitable wisecracks about all the girlfriends he needed to please."

The paper has tons of fun with this story, using a "Viva Viagra!" strip headline on pages 6 and 7 which features more of the pills. One of the funniest details comes from when Don Catlin, the founder of Anti-Doping Research, tried to warn the World Anti-Doping Agency about the illicit use of the drug:

"Catlin said he even wrote a letter several years ago to then-WADA chairman Dick Pound, notifying him that Viagra might be a doping agent.

"The e-mail got bounced back by Pound's offensive-content filter, which thought it was spam."

We also get a gallery of the News' "greatest hits" of coverage of Clemens, and one has to admit it is impressive. They have some great sources: they broke the Clemens/Mindy McCready affair as well as this Viagra controversy. Here's hoping they "keep up" the good work.


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