'Roid Warrior

Bob Clapp believes those who hate anabolic steroids are a bunch of scrawny puritanical dimwits

Bob Clapp says his testicles are perfectly plump, thank you, and his wife of 44 years back in the kitchen is willing to attest that he is far from impotent.

I won't make him verify testicular health because above and below those testes ripple the most chiseled, menacing muscles I have ever seen on anyone over 50.

Bob Clapp is 66. The social security checks just started rolling in, and he's enjoying the senior-citizen discounts.

Retiree Bob Clapp at a recent body-building contest.
Retiree Bob Clapp at a recent body-building contest.

He doesn't need the Medicare. Doctors tell him he has the health of a 30-year-old.

I do ask if I may lop off his head, cryogenically freeze his body à la Ted Williams and put my head on his body when mine wears out in a couple years.

No knockout punch comes. Lucky for me, he doesn't have 'roid rage.

Indeed, in every mental and physical way, including a gorgeous mop of his own hair, Bob Clapp is the poster gramps for anabolic steroids.

Clapp has used and advocated anabolic steroid use for 40 years.

Part of that advocacy meant trafficking the stuff from Europe. In the early 1990s, Clapp was arrested for selling anabolic steroids as part of a massive steroid bust by local law enforcement. Clapp was released in 1997 after spending 22 months in federal prison.

Now Clapp, a retired high school English teacher and coach in the Scottsdale school district, is back in his advocacy role.

Government has no right to tell adults what they can or can't do with their own bodies, he argues, particularly when there is no scientific proof that what they do with their bodies is dangerous.

He calls his libertarian philosophy "bodily sovereignty."

And all this hand-wringing about steroids in baseball, he says, is nothing more than the hysteria of "puritanical Luddites."

If you want to ban steroids, he argues, you should ban all modern performance enhancers. If you want Barry Bonds on a level playing field with Babe Ruth, you should also put him on a level playing field with Rogers Hornsby or, let's be really fair, Abner Doubleday.

Hell, if you really want fair play, you should outlaw modern vitamins, modern weight rooms, modern fitness regimens, modern balls, modern ballparks and the modern habit of baseball players to abstain from booze, smokes and sex with prostitutes between innings.

"This argument about a level playing field or the purity of the game' is absurd," Clapp growls from behind his writing desk at his home in north Phoenix. "If you're going to start rolling technology back, where do you stop?"

You stop at anabolic steroids, we Luddites argue, because they're dangerous, and using them is an insidious form of cheating that forces non-cheaters to cheat so they can continue to play the game. Inevitably, it forces kids to blood-dope to keep up and fuels that oxymoronic modern American cultural phenomenon, Situational Ethics.

At its heart, though, the issue is not about ethics. It is about health.

And here, Bob Clapp, far beyond flaunting his own body, has a legitimate argument that the rage against the health impacts of 'roids on male athletes really may be unjustified hysteria.

"There is absolutely no proof that anabolic steroids have negative long-term health effects to adult males," he says.

He's right.

Charles E. Yesalis, professor of health and human development at Penn State University, is arguably the nation's foremost expert on, and critic of, anabolic steroids. He has written three books on the subject, including a new book he co-authored, Performance Enhancing Substances in Sports and Exercise.

"Amazingly," Yesalis told me, "there has been no credible study of the long-term health effects of anabolic steroid use."

Although they appear to cause problems for women, he says, any evidence of long-term damage for men is "purely anecdotal right now."

There are, however, several proven short-term effects, he says. He holds credence in studies showing short-term rise in aggressiveness and a profound decrease in the "good cholesterols" that keep humans from having heart attacks. Also, the liver seems to be hurt by pill forms of anabolic steroids.

However, all those short-term side effects seem to disappear once a man stops using anabolic steroids.

And most athletes only use steroids in short cycles and often suspend use once they step away from competition. Anabolic steroid users also can take a cocktail of growth hormones for a short time, bulk up, and quit and retain as much as 75 percent of the benefits.

Legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol are proven to be far more dangerous than anabolic steroids, Yesalis says.

"You know, if my son came home and said, Dad, I'm either going to start smoking or I'm going to get on steroids,' I'd have to say I would hope he would choose steroids," he says.

As far as we know, if used in recommended doses for limited periods of time, anabolic steroids are safe. And they better be, Yesalis says, "because we've been using the same drug in medicine for 65 years with no problems."

"This may seem strange to you," he says, "but I can argue both sides of this issue with sincerity. It would be incorrect to say there is a final word on anabolic steroids."

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