William Johnson's Reviews > Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports

Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada
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's review
Jan 11, 2010

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bookshelves: 2010, since-joining-goodreads, diamond-tales, sports-misc
Read from July 31 to August 11, 2010

The year 2010 is a year where we are starting to see our sports stars as scoundrels. Sure, we always SUSPECTED a lot of them were selfish babies (the baseball strike in 1994, the NBA lockout in 99, the constant threats from the NFL of a future lockout in 2011, etc etc etc) but when an athlete came out as a verified scumbag, it was kind of like an exception to the norm. We still worshipped the people that probably could give a damn about us. I suffer from it still. . .but as 2010 skips past it's half way point, well, are there really any sports heroes left?

LeBron James almost embodies the example of the materialistic athlete in 2010. He didn't only alienate his hometown but almost the entire nation. Tiger Woods, while exceptional on the course, has been exposed as a hedonistic fraud of humanism: a man thought untouchable brought down by his own indiscretions. Darrelle Revis of the NFL's Jets has violated a contract he's signed so that he can have the label of 'highest paid player' completely ignoring his team and their goals of a championship. And let's not get started on Brett Favre. 2010 feels like the year when shit is finally hitting the unwitted public! But the collapse happened long ago. . .in 2003, and Game of Shadows is a chronicle of that.

Baseball is dying. Baseball has not adapted to the times yet and it is suffering because of it. Baseball is a legacy sport; a sport of history and memories. And as the older generations enjoy the current game, newer generations look for something flashier. In a way, the existence of PEDs and steroids probably SAVED baseball. I can remember being so excited to see Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa pursue the glorious 61 HRs Roger Maris hit in 1961 (they both broke the record, by the way). Those were GLORIOUS, ROMANTIC times in baseball.

But only three years later, when Barry Bonds was destroying Maris, McGwire, and Sosa all at once with his pursuit of 73 HRs in 2001, the beautiful picture started to crack and fade. Steroids were a story and the herculean task that McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds undertook seemed to be not so amazing when help, considerable help at that, was being used to make those records not breakable but smash-able, destructible, and combustible.

Game of Shadows is the dark and dreary story of BALCO, an alternative 'supplemant' company, that provided illegal performance enhancers and other such drugs to some of the world's most popular athletes. Track runner Marion Jones was a high profile BALCO drug user but so was the questionably titled 'Home Run King', Barry Bonds. BALCO had such an incredible influence on mainstream sports that at one point, as pointed out in Game of Shadows, the President of the United States made it a priority to bring it up and clean it up.

Game of Shadows isn't exactly thrilling, seeing that it's investigative journalism and the writers write factual newspaper articles for a living, but it certainly is informative. And while 2010 does feel kind of crappy in terms of the athletes we 'love', Game of Shadows proves it was never pretty, really. And after reading Game of Shadows, I find myself conflicted and wondering 'who can I trust' and, more importantly, 'who can my daughter look up to in the sports world'? Though released LONG ago, Game of Shadows really is the final straw for me and my worship of athletes. I lost my sports innocence, as it were, when LeBron destroyed the NBA. . .this is just an insult to injury this Game of Shadows.

I'd recommend the book but. . .it's just sad and stinky. Victor Conte, the maniacal head of BALCO, is just grimy. Barry Bonds, as if his reputation isn't bad enough, comes across as the world's greatest super villain (literally super as he seemed to be changed by chemicals and almost otherworldly concoctions and potions). There are no heroes in Game of Shadows, save the writers, I suppose, and, through a twisted moment of fate, are almost punished MORE for not revealing their sources to the Supreme Court then the athletes who betrayed our faith and support and drugged themselves and American sports. Ugh. I feel dirty.

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Reading Progress

07/31/2010 page 60
16.0% "Good research. . .the subject is just greasy and gross."
08/06/2010 page 170
46.0% "Starting to get addicting. The baseball stuff is more interesting then the track stuff"
08/11/2010 page 230
63.0% "Barry Bonds is a dick. . ."
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