Victor Conte has not returned to the dark side, has not risked his freedom and his family to get back into the game, and certainly did not do this to Marlon Byrd.
The most notorious steroids dealer of the steroids generation, Conte has gone straight, and stayed straight, and I believe that. Maybe few others will, because it's a tough sell, given what Conte's science and BALCO clients once did to our games.
The Byrd revelation – he tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball – follows by less than a week the news that welterweight boxer Andre Berto tested for the steroid nandrolone.
Both athletes have ties to Conte, who has ties to a past that includes time served for conspiring to distribute illegal steroids, and the easy path is to assume old Victor is back in the lab, back on the corner and back in the bloodstreams of our faux champions.
So, maybe I'm a sap, but I think Conte has gone legit with his life, his name and his company, Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning. I think he was a bad and deceitful mug who made some horrifically poor decisions, but I also think he regrets them. We've had some long talks on the subject of his past, the things he did, and the time he did for them.
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If anything over the past few years, Conte has gone in the opposite direction, as the annoying guy who never shuts up about the cheaters (some of whom he undoubtedly helped create). He has become the cynic's cynic, railing against the gaps in drug testing and the offenders of them.
I don't believe it's an act, either. He's not, as a friend of mine suggested, preying on our willingness to forgive, angling for one last big score. Is he a little too smooth? A little too smart? A little too connected? Absolutely. Does he still seek an edge in a pill or powder? Damn right.
Is it illegal? Or contrary to the rules or spirit of the game? I think he's changed.
He will, however, forever be judged by his record. Byrd knew that, and knew that he himself would be viewed as – at best – straddling the line between Conte and an honest game. He once said, "I'm not afraid of Victor Conte," and now a year later, interestingly enough, it is Conte whose reputation, such as it is, will be tested by Byrd.
It was revealed Monday that Byrd used a drug that steroids users take to restart the body's production of testosterone. The drug also treats the occurrence of female breasts on men, another side effect of steroids, though not always caused by steroids.
Byrd gets caught, and Conte's name is resurrected, and what we are left to think is "Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Marion Jones, and all the rest." For Conte, there's no fighting that. He did what he did, paid for it, and now he lugs it around. Some – maybe the majority – won't want to hear Conte's claims of moral rehabilitation. A man cheats once, he is a cheater. Besides, it's easier to hate the shady scientist than the star outfielder who hit home runs.
"It is what it is," a weary Conte said Monday. "A lot of people will assume a lot of things. I feel bad for Marlon. I know what he's going to have to go through. It's your whole family and your friends. A lot of people get hurt by things like this. It just saddens me.
"Of course people want to point the finger at me. And of course there will be people who never forgive me. I can live with that. It's just part of the consequences of what I did and what I have to live with the rest of my life. I was leading people in the wrong direction. I understand I have to live with this because I made mistakes nine years ago. I regret that."
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You can choose to believe him or not. Conte will understand if you choose the latter. You'll certainly be in the majority.
He did some pretty terrible things, little of which can be made right. So, too, did his clients, grown men and women capable of making their own decisions. Just like Marlon Byrd.
And to that, Conte said, he wanted to be perfectly clear.
"I didn't have anything to do with this," he said.
I believe him.
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