Feature Articles

February 2005

Steroids and the Mob

By J. R. de Szigethy

     At long last the American people are being forced to confront a serious Societal problem that many have pretended did not exist; the pervasive use of anabolic steroids by our nation�s athletes. This is a situation that has been decades in the making and one that has been exploited for profit - with deadly consequences - by members of the American Mafia.


     One of the first civilizations of humankind to arise was that of ancient Greece. This culture worshipped the human body as an ideal which is reflected in it�s sculpture and literature, much of which survives to this very day. In the Eighth Century B. C. the �Greek ideal� reached it�s zenith with the establishment of the �Olympics,� contests that pitted men against each other in a variety of athletic events. Held every four years, the games quickly evolved into a national obsession, with the various Greek city-states devoting increasing resources to the training of their young athletes. The Olympics also played a role in the political arena; the concept of an individual�s worth as a citizen being determined upon his ability to out-perform another in a contest of athletic skills eventually gave rise to the ideals of Democracy, which soon became a cherished aspect of Greek Society.

     The Greek Olympics ran for 1200 years before being banned by the Roman Emperor Theodosius in the 4th Century A. D. Fifteen centuries later the ancient Greek Olympic games were resurrected. In 1896 the first of the modern games were celebrated in Athens. The �Greek ideal� quickly became the �Olympic ideal,� the spread of which worldwide would have enormous consequences on life, politics, and culture in the 20th Century.

     In 1936 the Olympic games were held in Berlin during the ascension of the �Third Reich� of Nazi Germany. The Nazi regime was built around an ideology of racism, which purported that the �Aryan� race was superior intellectually and physically to other races. It was the hope of Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler that the German athletes would prove this racist theory by sweeping most of the medals during the games. However, one athlete, an African-American named Jesse Owens, proved the Nazi theory wrong by winning four Gold medals in track and field events.

     It was in Nazi Germany in the 1930s that anabolic steroids were first discovered. Steroids are chemicals that produce change in the human body, such as testosterone, the chemical that literally turns a boy into a man, producing acne, lowering of the voice, the development of muscles, and the sprouting of body hair.

     When artificial steroids are introduced into a male body, such effects are dramatically increased, along with side effects such as liver tumors, cancers, high blood pressure, with resultant heart attacks and strokes, and prostate cancer. Men who abuse steroids can experience dramatic increases in their libido, and then, later, atrophy of testicles, enlarged breasts, reduced sperm count, and hair loss. Women who take steroids are masculinized and often lose the ability to produce children. Steroids also can trigger fits of anger and violence that are popularly referred to as �roid rage.�

     Because the effects of these new drugs were so severe and because long-term consequences had not yet been determined, the Nazis experimented with them on prisoners in concentration camps during World War II. However, their massive application in the sporting world was still a few years away.


     After the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, the world descended into a �Cold War� between those nations under Communist subjugation versus those of the Capitalist West. The Cold War would last 40 years, during which on at least one occasion the world found itself on the brink of nuclear war. As with Hitler and the Nazis, the Communists sought the propaganda value of success at the Olympics as �proof� that their system of government was superior to those of the West. Thus, Communist governments began to devote enormous resources to the training of their athletes to compete in the Olympic games. One such tool resorted to was the use of steroids.

     By the 1960s most of the athletes in Communist countries were training with steroids, the most notorious being the athletes in East Germany. In particular, the East German women�s teams were aggressively abusing steroids, which would make these athletes the subject of much satire and ridicule.

     Although the rules of the International Olympic Committee forbids the use of steroids, the Communists routinely ignored these rules. Some American athletes thus felt it necessary to partake of steroids themselves in order to stay competitive with the Communist athletes. Thus, a nation descended into a period of decades during which America�s young men and women trained on drugs - steroids - with devastating consequences to their long-term health, as well as the damage to Society these drugs would bring. One consequence of the Cold War was the emergence of a market for these drugs, a market the American Mafia was all too eager to capitalize on.


     During the 1970s two sports, professional football and bodybuilding, would become enormously popular. One consequence of this phenomenon was a dramatic increase in the market for anabolic steroids. In 1967 the first �Super Bowl� was held between the champions of the National Football League. Super Bowl One featured the Green Bay Packers versus the Kansas City Chiefs. The lack of public interest in this game was evidenced by the fact that there were over 30,000 empty seats in the stadium. The half-time entertainment was provided by the marching bands of the Universities of Arizona and Michigan.

     Within just 10 years, the Super Bowl had become a national obsession, with the game televised to millions of viewers, many of whom placed bets on the outcome that would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Suddenly professional football was big business, and players� salaries skyrocketed. Players became bigger, stronger, and faster and steroids played a key role in this process.

     During this time, steroids were still not illegal and could be obtained by a physician. However, most of those athletes who used the drugs obtained them illegally through the black market, most of which was controlled by the American Mafia.

     The sport and practice of bodybuilding also became something of a national obsession beginning in the 1970s. In 1973 and 1974 the winner of the �Mr. America� bodybuilding contest was an American by the name of Bob Birdsong, who was also named Mr. Universe in 1975. An Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger would attain this title five times during that decade, and be named �Mr. Olympia� seven times. In 1977 Schwarzenegger starred in the bodybuilding documentary �Pumping Iron,� which depicted the training methods of athletes such as himself, Bob Birdsong, and others, who prepared for their events at �Gold�s Gym,� then the Mecca for bodybuilders at it�s location near the beach in Los Angeles. This film brought the appeal of the practice of bodybuilding to young men and women throughout America. Schwarzenegger would eventually become the highest-paid performer in history through the success of his films, beginning with the �Conan the Barbarian� movies and action films such as the �Terminator� series. And, Schwarzenegger owed much of his success due to anabolic steroids, which he has never denied taking, and is quick to point out that this practice was not illegal at that time.


     During this time in the 1970s the Mafia in America began to recognize the enormous profits that were to be made in both the trafficking of drugs - including steroids - as well as the production and distribution of pornography. The two families that literally got in on the �ground floor� of this emerging racket were members of New York City�s Gambino and Colombo families. In 1972 members of the Colombo family invested a few thousand dollars into the movie �Deep Throat.� The film eventually raked in over $600 million dollars, becoming the most profitable film of all time. On the West coast that same year the Mitchell brothers produced �Behind the Green Door,� which starred in a speaking role Oakland Raiders All-Pro Ben Davidson, who would also later appear in �Conan the Barbarian.� The Mitchell Brothers film became the second most profitable film of all time, and sparked the beginnings of a billion-dollar industry that was at the intersection of bodybuilders, steroids, pornography, and the Mob.

     One bodybuilder to appear in one of the first gay porn films was Bob Birdsong, who made such films with other champion bodybuilders. Also appearing was �Dakota,� a one-time owner of Gold�s Gym.


     As America�s appetite for steroids increased, so did the evidence of the dangers of such use slowly begin to emerge. In 1988, Steve Courson, an Offensive Linemen on the Pittsburgh Stealers professional football team that won 4 SuperBowls during the 1970s, was diagnosed with an enlarged heart. Advised that he would not live without a heart transplant, Courson fought back with diet and exercise and recovered his health without surgery. In litigation Courson blamed his use of alcohol and steroids use for his heart condition. Courson went on to write the book �False Glory: Steelers and Steroids,� his personal account of steroids abuse and the affects they had over time on his body.

     In 1992 former Oakland Raiders All-Pro Lyle Alzado died of a rare brain tumor that he blamed on his massive use of steroids. Alzado was 43 years young at his death.

     Then there is the case of one of America�s most successful bodybuilders, who ingested steroids for many years, and who later had to turn to a fertility clinic in order to have a child with his wife. This story is in stark contrast to the many athletes of both sexes who never used steroids, and whose names never appeared in the Media.

     As the decade of the 1980s drew to a close, numerous clinical studies by researchers in the medical professions conclusively established the multiple long-term health consequences of the use of steroids. Faced with the growing evidence against steroids, in 1989 the United States Olympic Committee adopted a drug-control program based on the model of that taken earlier by the International Olympics Committee.


     In 1989, George Herbert Walker Bush became President of the United States. Among the issues Bush had campaigned on was his wish to change Society into a �kinder, gentler America.� One such position on the Bush agenda was to confront the growing menace of steroids abuse. At the prompting of the Bush Administration, Congress passed the Crime Control Act of 1990, legislation which made the possession and distribution of steroids a Federal crime.

     One of the fist notable Federal prosecutions involving steroids trafficking took place in New York in 1994, when Vince McMahon, President of the World Wrestling Federation, was put on trial. McMahon was accused of supplying steroids to the bodybuilders who performed for him in his business and faced 8 years in prison. After a sensation trial that featured some of the top names in the business, McMahon was acquitted.

     New York was also the setting for the trial of Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti, who was finally convicted of murder and racketeering in 1992. Defense attorneys sought to discredit the key witness against Gotti, former Underboss Sammy �The Bull� Gravano, who was addicted to expensive synthetic anabolic steroids. Gravano, a former hairdresser, was believed to have had a complex about his short stature and thus began �bulking up� with the help of steroids, further cementing his nickname �The Bull.�


     In 1997 an event occurred in New York City that shocked America and would open a window into the pervasive use of steroids in American society. On the evening of August 9, 1997, a Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima was brutally sodomized with a broken-off mop handle inside the bathroom of Brooklyn�s 70th Precinct stationhouse. Five cops would face a sensational trial in Brooklyn Federal Court over this incident. One theory developed that suggested that Officer Justin Volpe was driven by �roid rage� to commit this horrific act, although the father of Volpe, himself a former decorated cop, was adamant that his son never took steroids.

     To this day the NYPD does not test for steroids use by its employees. However, during the investigation into the assault on Louima it was discovered that many cops in the 70th Precicint were using steroids being supplied to them by a cop named Ralph Dols. Just 17 days after Louima was assaulted and nearly killed, Officer Dols was shot dead on the streets of Brighton Beach, a stronghold of the Russian Mob.

     Investigators then developed two theories as to who was responsible for Officer Dol�s murder. One theory involved the Colombo Family. In 1995 Officer Dols became �connected� to the Colombo Family when he married Ms. Kim Kennaugh. Kennaugh�s brother, a member of the Colombo Family was convicted in 1981 for the murder of a New York restaurant owner. Kennaugh�s first husband, Enrico Carini, was also a Colombo member until his murder in 1987. Kennaugh then had an affair with �Joe Waverly� Cacace, the Underboss of the Colombo Family. Cops theorized that someone in the Colombo Family had Officer Dols killed.

     The second theory has two members of the Russian Mob murdering Dols. Once one thousand Internal Affairs cops began scrutinizing every single cop in the 70th Precinct during the investigation of the Abner Louima assault, cops within that Precinct abruptly stopped buying steroids from Dols. Officer Dols was thus left literally �holding the bag,� a bag full of steroids he could no longer sell and the profits from which he owed to his suppliers in the Russian Mob. Had cops been arrested for steroids possession and fingered Dols in a co-operation agreement, Dols himself could face arrest and prosecution. This in turn would put his suppliers in the Russian Mob at risk should Dols �flip� against them. Members of the Colombo Family were not at risk over the arrest of Dols, but members of the Russian Mob were, and thus they were the ones with a motive to kill him. Officer Dols� murder has yet to be solved.


     In 2004 what became known as the �Balco scandal� stunned followers of professional baseball in America. �BALCO� is the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, a business that supplied nutritional supplements to professional athletes. During the latter part of the 1990s, chemists found ways around the anti-steroids laws by creating chemicals and substances that had the same effect on the human body as steroids but were not steroids themselves. One such supplement was Androstenedione, a substance that was banned by professional basketball and football but not by baseball. Thus, slugger Mark McGwire was able to use this substance - legally - during his bid in 1998 to break Roger Maris� homerun record.

     These substances - shamelessly offered for sale at various websites devoted to bodybuilding, were among those being offered to BALCO to its customers. However, agents of the DEA began an investigation into BALCO and indicted owner Victor Conte on charges of providing illegal steroids that wound up in the bodies of several major league baseball players.

     As the scandal has grown, several major league baseball players have been subpoenaed to testify before the Grand Jury that indicted Conte, including sluggers Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. The scandal has been furthered by the sensational autobiography of former hitter Jose Canseco, who has �named names� of prominent baseball stars he claims joined him in steroids use. Sportswriters have had a field day in exposing the dirty little secret they knew had existed for years and some have accused both Major League Baseball and the players� Union of covering up what they see as the pervasive existence of steroids in professional baseball.


     With the collapse of Communism at the end of the 1980s, organized crime changed worldwide and throughout America. The Russian Mob moved in on the pornography industry, with much of the product sold in America today produced in Russia, Germany, Hungary, and other former Communist countries. The American Mafia has lost much of it�s market share of this commodity as well as steroids, the Russian Mob having moved into this racket as well.

     Former Gambino Family Underboss Sammy �The Bull� Gravano was found in possession of illegal steroids when he was arrested in Arizona in 2000 for running a drug trafficking operation he set up utilizing his own young son and daughter. The drugs sold by Gravano�s operation were eventually traced by the DEA to Israeli drug dealers.

     Many of the bodybuilders that made pornography in the 1970s, including Bob Birdsong and Dakota, have since renounced steroids and the porn industry and settled down to raise families. The gay porn industry today still attracts leading bodybuilders as performers, Christian Duffy being one prominent example. Occasionally a story makes the Media regarding the nexus between steroids and pornography, such as the case a few years back of a popular football coach on the East Coast who was outed by the Media as a gay porn star. The coach�s wife noted in her divorce papers that her husband was addicted to steroids.

     Steroids raised their ugly head at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, when Ben Johnson, a Canadian who won the 100 meter dash against American legend Carl Lewis, was disqualified after being detected using steroids.

     The 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece were marred when two of Greece�s most promising athletes, 2000 Gold Medalist Kostas Kenteris and Silver Medalist Katerina Thanou, were removed from the team after failing to take a drug test.

to be continued

Related Features by this author:

�17 Days in August: A Tale of Cops, Steroids, and the Mob!�


�Affective and Psychotic Symptoms Associated with Anabolic Steroid Use,� by Dr. Harrison G. Pope, Jr. and Dr. David L. Katz, American Journal of Psychiatry, April, 1988.

Various publications, U. S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration.

�The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games,� by Allen Guttmann.

�Anabolic Steroids in Sports and Exercise,� by Charles E. Yesalis.

James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at:

© 2005

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