San Francisco Chronicle writers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams are at the center of the sporting world right now. Their new book, Game of Shadows, gives the most insightful look at Victor Conte and the Balco Lab that helped numerous athletes including Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, and others to cheat in sports. Mark Fainaru-Wada reflects on the book with me and answers questions about the research of the book and the current lawsuit Barry Bonds has against the book.
Listen to the Mark Fainaru-Wada interview:
Chris Yandek: First off how are you?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: “I am good. Thanks.”
CY: Do you think that Game of Shadows will once and for all clear up the majority of the public’s mind that without a doubt Barry Bonds cheated using performance enhancing drugs?
MFW: “I think for a lot of people this it is a definitive accounting. There is a section of the population that is mainly San Francisco Giants fans who don’t want to believe this is true or that we are out to get Bonds. The book is well documented. It is based on material from a Federal Grand Jury investigation. There are six on the record accounts of Bonds’s use of or connection to performance enhancing drugs. We think that it is a pretty solid bit of reporting that is definitive in accounting not only Bonds, but of the entire Balco investigation.”
CY: Barry Bonds’s attorney Michael Rains tried to block the book from being released, but a judge denied that appeal. Have you been served with any legal papers at this moment and why do you think they haven’t sued for slander if they say the information is false?
MFW: “We don’t have any papers. There is a lawsuit as you said. It was a strange suit that we were somewhat surprised by. They sued not for what’s in the book, but how we got what is in the book. They didn’t sue for libel. We think that is because the reporting is solid and accurate. We are welcome to scrutiny. If people want to try and take a look at that then they should. The reporting is based on that material and on the record accounts. The judge told them that not only am I not going to issue a restraining order, but if you proceed with this that you have some First Amendment issues to hurdle over.”
CY: Michael Rains has said that you and Lance Williams illegally obtained this testimony. He also thinks that you guys believe that you are above the law. Give me your thoughts on that.
MFW: “We have not broken the law. We have done nothing illegal or unethical. We have followed the way of American Journalism over the last 200 years, which is to inform the public and provide them with important information. Also let them assess that information when it’s hidden from the public domain. I think I have heard a couple of people state pretty eloquently that it’s somewhat ironic that we would be called cheaters by Bonds’s lawyer when here is a guy making 18 million dollars a year when the salary was pumped up by him using performance enhancing drugs.”
CY: Barry Bond’s girlfriend and mistress Kimberly Bell is one of the sources in this book that says Barry talked to her about the performance enhancing drugs. Besides her, the Balco papers, evidence from Greg Anderson, and the grand jury testimony, what other sources helped you make conclusions that Barry Bonds cheated?
MFW: “Well, there are numerous sources. It is a misperception that Kimberly Bell is the central source for the book. There is a wealth of documented material that pertains to this. Bonds’s grand jury testimony in itself is pretty interesting because besides his denial of knowing of various drugs, the prosecutors are grilling him about papers that they have. They are looking at calendars and documents that lay out the kind of material he was using and for how long he was using it. That certainly added some guidance for us. There are sources familiar with Bonds who provided us with some information as well.”
CY: The relationship between Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds is very interesting. It states in your book the following, “Sheffield said he saw Bonds rubbing on The Cream, and he saw Anderson give Bonds the Clear. Bonds has told him, ‘Don’t ask any questions,’ so he didn’t.” What are your thoughts on that and where did that information come from?
MFW: “That is part of Sheffield’s grand jury testimony. Sheffield tells a story that’s different from others. He basically followed Bonds’s demanding persona and did as he was sort of instructed. Part of that seems to bare itself out. Bonds is sort of a very controlling figure. Once people are around him they are going to do things his way. There are some issues with that as it relates to Sheffield. There is a $10,000 payment from Sheffield to Greg Anderson. Well, what’s that for? Probably not supplements. You aren’t paying $10,000 for supplements. There are parts of Sheffield’s story that is certainly believable as it relates to Bonds.”
CY: Jeff Novitzky was a Special Agent for the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations unit. He would spend evenings searching through the Balco Lab trash and found documents that showed that Barry Bonds’s blood had been sent to a laboratory for steroid testing. A second document showed that Balco had tried to conceal that sample that was actually from Bonds. What do you think of Jeff Novitzky’s investigation efforts and would you consider him the person that helped take down the Balco Lab and all the athletes with it more than anyone else?
MFW: “I think he is the most singular figure that brings this down, unravels it, and exposes it at least to get it to where the federal prosecutors were interested. There are some issues on how the prosecutors deal with it. Novitzky is a real investigator that does some hardcore investigative work. He digs down in the trash, goes through medical waste, gets a warrant for Victor Conte’s emails, and financial records. He is certainly one of the few heroes in the book. It’s his work that leads to the investigation.”
CY: The day the Balco Lab was raided in September of 2003, Victor Conte sat with Jeff Novitzky and re accounted all the athletes he had worked with and what drugs he helped them with that day. He also took them to the storage locker where all his clients’ files were that included calendars, testing, and payment records. He also pointed out boxes of The Cream, The Clear, and THG. Why do you think Victor Conte was so helpful to the investigation against himself and didn’t fight it?
MFW: “As you can imagine, it’s probably fairly scary when a bunch of federal agents come banging down your door and talking about what repercussions there might be for not helping them. Conte has since denied various aspects of these interviews, but he never pursued it in court. Conte is a complicated guy. He is a very intelligent human being, but on the other hand is a guy who seems to drive on the limelight. He wants people to know that he played a significant role in creating these superstars.”
CY: Why do you think with all this evidence that Barry Bonds or Marion Jones haven’t been prosecuted or banned from anything, but others like Kelly White who took a deal of a two year ban and Bill Romanowski who wrote a book openly talking about Victor Conte and Balco went down, but not Barry Bonds or Marion Jones?
MFW: “They are two very separate issues with Bonds and Jones. They are not separate when it relates to federal investigators. As far as Jones and Bonds connection to Balco, the thing we have always said is that it remains an open investigation. Even as recently as last year Novitzky was talking to people about Bonds. I think you just have to wait and see how that plays out. I don’t think they are necessarily done. As far as their respective sports doing anything to them, baseball as you know has not been terribly pro active on this. I think the commissioner is gonna make some sort of in roads to doing an investigation. Some sort of independent investigation will be announced. I don’t know if the investigation will be into the steroid era or Bonds or what. I think they will do something. Just don’t know how effective it will be. The issue behind Jones is a more interesting one as it relates to the Olympic Anti Doping Agency. I think ultimately what happened is that they got a lot of documents that related to a lot of athletes and fortunately for them Jones was more insulated and that they were going to have a harder time making a case against her. The last thing they wanted to do was try and bring a case, lose it, and then under cut their credibility. They have been waiting for the federal case to play out. They will take some action after that if they can.”
CY: Was Victor Conte a source who saw Bonds inject steroids or knowingly take something he knew to be steroids besides his trainer Greg Anderson who got him the performance enhancing drugs?
MFW: “What Conte tells investigators when they raided Balco according to the statement, is that Bonds is among several athletes who received The Cream and The Clear, two substances that are at the heart of the investigation. Conte describes Bonds’s use of those substances.”
CY: A person familiar with Greg Anderson made a secret recording of a conversation with the trainer that acknowledged that Bonds was using undetectable performance enchanting drugs. Are you amazed that even with this on tape from his trainer that nothing happened to Barry Bonds even though it was from his trainer?
MFW: “My colleague Lance Williams finds out the most interesting pieces of evidence. If you are going to look for a smoking gun it’s as close as you are going to get other then a needle. I am surprised that no action has been taken, but the government moves slowly on all of these things and whatever action they might take. As far as people not believing, I think there is a segment of the population that are Giants and Bonds fans. They aren’t called fans for nothing. I think that is part of what’s going on.”
CY: How did you end up getting all the legal documents including the grand jury testimony from Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi who admitted using steroids, and the many other athletes?
MFW: “One of the things that helped benefit our reporting and help expose the case was that the government prosecuted the case in a very strange way. They treated it like a traditional case where they were going after the users to move up the food chain and get the dealers. The problem with that is that they gave the names of every athlete relating to the case. These guys are not the traditional guys getting crack on the street corner. These guys are multi million dollar athletes. If you want to clean up sports you should be exposing the users. Because of some of the way the government chose to prosecute the case there were people in and around it who believed it was important for the truth to be told. That’s ultimately how we were able to get material.”
CY: Finally, what do you think the long term impact will be of this book and where do you think this will end as far as Bonds’s lawsuit against you guys goes?
MFW: “I think it’s anybody’s guess. Besides having the opportunity to inform readers about how deeply this goes into sports that there would be a continuing dialogue about the use of these substances and an awareness perhaps that didn’t exist. Perhaps it will help baseball take testing more seriously or have them improve their procedures. You are never going to clean up sports entirely, but you can make some more deeper inroads than they already have. The judge warned Bonds’s attorneys that they would have some serious First Amendment issues to get over. I know our lawyers from the San Francisco Chronicle were discussing filing a counter suit. There is a statue law in California that allows you to cover costs when someone files frivolous lawsuits which is exactly what this is.”
You can purchase a copy and find more information about Game of Shadows at www.gameofshadows.com.