I Yam What I Yam

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It’s spring training time for major league baseball. In ballparks all around Florida and the desert Southwest, you can hear the crack of the bat, the groan of rusty pitching arms, and the tinkle, tinkle of urine testing. This season all eyes will be on San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds for his output at the plate, and in the bathroom. Bonds has become the most prominent suspect in baseball’s steroid doping scandal, and, despite the questions about his training practices, this year Bonds could also be within striking distance of Hank Aaron’s career home-run record.

Few Americans realize that we can blame this whole athletic doping problem on Elzie Segar, the cartoonist who, 76 years ago, created Popeye the Sailor Man and prophesied much of 21st-century American culture. Really, think about it. It’s all there. Olive Oyl was plainly anorexic. Most contemporary Americans live on Wimpy’s diet and have his waistline. And we all know that Bluto (cleaned up a bit) has been reincarnated as a Fox News talk-show host.

Then there’s Popeye himself, the first celebrity user of performance-enhancing substances. We all know that wasn’t really spinach in that can. Judging from the way it pumped him up, it had to be some kind of designer steroid, or maybe some good old-fashioned human growth hormone. No doubt about it. Popeye was the original BALCO lab rat.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2005
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