Jeff Pearlman

  • Twitter Icon
  • Twitter Icon
  • Twitter Icon
Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 11.04.09 PM

The Arnold

If you subscribe to Sports Illustrated, you’ll likely see my piece this week on the Arnold Sports Festival, an annual bodybuilding event that takes place in Columbus, Ohio.

The assignment was a writer’s dream: Spend a couple of days walking around this crazy, crazy, crazy expo and piece together 2,000 words about the adventure. I had a blast, as did Simon Bruty, the photographer who brilliantly captured the scene. To be brief: The expo was held in the downtown convention center. There were thousands of people crowded into the building, there to visit the booths set up by 700 vendors (of, mostly, fitness products—pills, bars, creams, equipment, etc.). Most of the folks working were either women with enormous breasts and bare midriffs or gimantic men in tank-tops with muscles atop muscles. The currency, clearly, was size. The bigger you were, the better you were. Period.

I had a blast. More than a blast. It reminded me of the Disney World parade, mixed with a Magic the Gathering convention, mixed with a Monster Truck show. The people were strange and odd and kooky, but also endearing. I met a 6-2 woman, Kathy Amazon, who was ripped and powerful and manly—and she loved it. I met dwarf wrestlers, Chuck Zito, WWE veterans, on and on and on.

The one thing, though, that clouds the experience is steroids and PEDs. Nobody—absolutely nobody—brings them up, but they’re absolutely, positively everywhere. I mean, it was beyond laughable, staring at some of these people, with muscles coming out of muscles. The whole event sort of revolves around the men’s and women’s bodybuilding championships—events that had me laughing with sham shame. The women were, well, gross. Unnaturally huge, unnaturally cut, unnaturally manly. I can’t even begin to list the chemicals that surely flow through their veins. The men were no better. To think the champion, Dexter Jackson, is clean calls for a suspension of belief so dramatic that, well, I’d like to sell you the George Washington Bridge and introduce you to my good friend and roommate, John Rocker. Over my time at the expo, I asked a few bodybuilders—anonymously—whether they thought Jackson and his peers were sans steroids and PED. Universally, the question was answered with laughter. Jackson isn’t merely large—he’s a mountain range of veins and muscles. He’s also 43, turning 44. Wait, here he is:

Again, it would be physically impossible for a clean 43-year-old man to look like this. Hell, it’d be physically impossible for a clean man of any age to look like this. I know it, Jackson surely knows it, certainly Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer, the two men behind the Arnold, know it. But, it appears, no one cares. No one. You have kids and teenagers dreaming of looking like Jackson; of having his build and bulk—and, meanwhile, it’s bullshit. Nonsense. A myth.

I covered baseball for many years. I saw Barry Bonds up close, and thought he was laughable. These guys look like they ate Barry Bonds. Then regurgitated him. Then ate him again.

I don’t think there’s an answer here, and maybe there shouldn’t be. I had the representatives of several body builders ask if I’d consider profiling their clients for SI or the Wall Street Journal or different places that hire me to write. I had to laugh. These guys are big and strong and powerful—but they’re not real athletes. Not even close.

If Dexter Jackson’s goal in life is to turn himself into a rock, hey, god bless.

But I can’t imagine it’ll be fun seeing him at 60.

If he makes it to 60.

  • http://www.L1standing.com Tim Rice

    Very good points Jeff! This is a “sport” that does require a LOT of hard work in terms of diet and training , and a lot of commitment and sacrifice. You ignore your loved ones when prepping for a show, become obsessed with the mirror each morning…and night. Your life ceases to exist to do anything more than get bigger, leaner, and place higher in your next show. 24/7/365. BUT it also requires a LOT of illegal drugs if you want to be recognized. And when I say recognized, I mean to get signed by a sponsor for FREE supplements, NOT money, but supplements!There is little to NO money in this sport, yet I too was once a slave to competing , and the industry, until I saw what was going on around me. My health was deteriating, my relationship with my family was in shambles, and honestly the (6 figure +) JOB that actually pays the bills, was not being done to the ebst of my ability. To get to where Dexter Jackson is you need to have superior genetics and use a lot of drugs. I am sure he trains hard and diets hard , but let’s be honest here… in the end it comes down to genetics and drugs in this sport, regardless of what anyone says. In a sport such as baseball, football,etc. genetics also play a role, but so does hard work and practice. You CAN better yourself naturally. In this sport, you can not.

  • Stacy

    Ewhhhh. That’s not pretty in any way, shape or form. Imagine the strain on their poor hearts by all that drug use. :(

  • http://www.pressingthelimits.com Drew Kuespert

    Very interesting article. I would love to read more on your personal take about strongman competitions, like The Mighty Mitts. It was a pleasure meeting you at The Arnold and Jon Bruney enjoyed being interviewed by you immensely. God Bless! (Oh, and Jews are not boring!) :)

  • http://kathyamazon.com KathyAmazon

    What I actually said was that I LOVE being muscular, strong & confident. I used the term “manly” when sharing with you how some would describe me because of my build. Good thing what the rest of the world thinks of me is really none of my business.

    Now that I cleared that up-
    talking with you was an absolute pleasure.

  • http://www.thevalkyries.com Charles Peeples

    Kathy- Don’t waste your time with these people- they don’t get it and never will. The mesomorphic female was reviled by society long before steroids ever existed. In grade school they were called “tomboys.” Certainly drugs and their gender-bender side-effects have spoiled things and obscured the point that muscle has no gender. But a (naturally) muscular woman is far more to be admired than the artificial (but commercially viable) constructs of the centerfold and glamor worlds, as her physique is, to quote a friend, “an emblem of will.” You might appreciate an “anthem” I produced titled MESOMORPHIC GIRL – you’ll find it on both youtube and jango. Drive on!

Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
Sweetness Walter Peyton Book
The Bad Guys Won Book
The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
Boys Will Be Boys Book

Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life