"The reason any athlete can blame anything on dietary supplements is that they're unregulated also. A dietary supplement basically says if it's something in the food supply that's not an illegal drug, like marijuana or cocaine, then you could use it in a dietary supplement. There's really not much more of a regulation on that so when an athlete like Sean Sherk is taking that, who's to say that it's not the supplement because we don't really know," stated Christopher Bell, director of the highly acclaimed steroid documentary "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*" as he discussed the steroid culture and the usage in sports. You don't want to miss this exclusive as Bell talks about the movie and the role that steroids plays in sports like mixed martial arts and professional wrestling. Check it out!
PC: How are you doing?
CB: I'm doing great. How are you?
PC: I'm good. Thanks for asking. Everyone has an opinion on the use of performance enhancing drugs, but what was your motivation behind making a film like Bigger, Stronger, Faster*?
CB: My motivation comes from the fact that I grew up as a powerlifter. I bench pressed 500 pounds before I ever even thought about taking steroids. I was always competing against guys that were doing steroids and then both of my brothers were taking steroids at the time I was doing the film. With all of the speculation about steroids in sports, I wondered what really the core of this issue is. Is it because it's cheating or because the drugs are dangerous? I mean, what's really the big deal about steroids? I was basically just trying to find some answers.
PC: What is your personal opinion on the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in competitive sports?
CB: I look at it this way; I made the film to let people decide what they thought at the end of the day. I wanted to make a film that was right down the middle so people could make their own decision and conclusion about how they feel about performance enhancing drugs. If I had to talk about myself, I think that if there are rules in a sport, then you should definitely play by the rules. I think there isn't a line to what cheating is anymore. We're not really sure of what the rules even really are. The rules say, "hey, you can't use steroids or human growth hormone," but there isn't good enough testing to detect a lot of these drugs so people are using it anyway. Then it's like, "if they're going to use it, then I'm going to use it." It's such a complex issue. It's hard to give an answer on how I really feel about it because it's so complex and I think that's what is so compelling about the film.
PC: Were the athletes that you spoke with during the making of this film receptive to the questioning or did you get some detractors?
CB: Most athletes were basically prepared, like, "I have to be on the flipside of it now because I'm getting asked all of the questions now," but you have to be prepared to answer all of the questions that come your way. Everybody was prepared, nobody ran out on me, but a lot of people definitely skirted the truth. They didn't really tell me the truth, but that's the thing. We took a subject matter that was very taboo and put it out on the table. A lot of people just didn't want to talk to me to begin with, whether they did steroids or didn't do steroids. I've asked a lot of people in professional wrestling. I used to work for the WWE and a lot of professional wrestlers in the WWE, they wouldn't even allow them to talk to me. In Major League Baseball, there were people that didn't want to talk to us and in the NFL, there were people that didn't want to talk to us. We went after those people and they didn't want to talk about it so we went and made the film without them. I think it's a very important film and I don't think you need to necessarily talk to people that are going to lie to you anyway. If it's not the truth, it doesn't help.
PC: It appears that football, baseball, boxing and mixed martial arts are the sports that are targeted for the use of these drugs the most. Don't you think they could eliminate the problem faster by going to the biggest and strongest athletes in the world, professional bodybuilders?
CB: It's interesting. No one has really taken a look at the global picture of steroids. We have a big hoopla with Congress and television; you see it everyday on ESPN, people arguing about steroids and steroid testing. If you actually explore steroid testing in America, you find out that it's actually very weak. The tests are a joke. I was just talking with Victor Conte (founder of BALCO) last week and we were discussing the test and how a lot of these tests that are available or could be available, the organizations aren't going for them or paying for them. There is also the aspect of the NFL and the MLB are two of the top sports in America and you combine that with the Olympics and there is a lot of money there. You're looking at billions and billions of dollars and it's such a small fraction that less than 1% of that is used on drug testing. We want these athletes to be clean because you look at the Olympics and if these athletes aren't clean, then the sponsors don't want to get involved with anything related to drugs. If they really are that interested, I think that these organizations should step up and put more money into drug testing and get serious about it. My own personal opinion is that they weren't that serious about testing or they would step it up. That's where I talk about blurring the line to what's cheating? If these organizations are allowing it, then why wouldn't an athlete do it. I'm not condoning it, but why wouldn't they?
PC: Yeah, I mean, if you can get an edge, you get it the best way you know how.
CB: Yeah, we talk about Human Growth Hormone, but there is no test for it so how do we know every athlete is not on Human Growth Hormone? We don't because we don't have a test for it so wake up!
PC: Do you think a lot of people are misled on the effects of steroids? People see all of the tragic events that have happened in the WWE and they directly associate it with steroids, but these guys take a ton of painkillers and other prescribed drugs as well.
CB: I don't want to be the guy to go out and say that there are no side effects because there are side effects to any drug. In fact, there really is no safe drug at all; from multi-vitamins, to steroids, cocaine or anything else. There really is no safe drug. There is, however, moderation and doctors. First off, it's so overblown by media and secondly, steroids have been forced to be an underground drug so people are using them and don't know what they are and they're made in bathtubs and peoples kitchen sinks and I've seen this. I've seen first hand all of this stuff and I'm inside of this world where I'm not a steroid user, but basically everybody around me is. I see it all of the time and I see what's going on and in order to crack down on steroids, not necessarily crack down, but to regulate steroids in a certain way, they need to be monitored by doctors and people that know what they're doing. Right now, it's just flaws and chaos and it's not really helping the matter. So when we look at steroids and why they became illegal, they did not become illegal because of health issues. They became illegal because Ben Johnson beat Carl Lewis and Congress held hearings and they were already a prescription drug, but they made them a Schedule 3 drug after that point and classified them as a drug like Ketamine and other dangerous drugs. We know that's part of the reason that drugs have been so demonized. You look at the whole AIDS crisis in the '80's. Thousands of people were not able to get their hands on Testosterone and other things. They were basically demonized out of our establishment and a lot of people died because of it.
PC: Since you've worked in the WWE, I have to ask you, is it tough for you to blame steroids for the deaths in wrestling?
CB: I'll tell you what, I have a really good friend who has been suspended from the WWE for painkillers, steroids and other drugs. Talking with him and a lot of other guys behind the scenes, I know the WWE has put in a policy that if you test positive for certain drugs, you get the boot, right?
CB: They send you to rehab and if that doesn't work out, you get kicked out of the league. The problem with that is that there are other guys in the league that have gotten caught and they don't sanction them. They don't get in any trouble because it's one of the favored guys, but if you're one of the guys on top and you get in trouble, you get a little slap on the wrist and they say, "don't do that again," but if you're one of the guys that are not doing too well as far as drawing money, they'll kick you out. You see that in a lot of sports like in the NFL, you see a lot of second stream guys taking a fall for steroids. It's very rare in the NFL a top guy gets busted for steroids. Shawn Merriman was like an anomaly. A lot of these guys are blaming it on a dietary supplement, which we know is pretty bogus. It's like I failed a drug test and it's because of this supplement. Like Royce Gracie said, and I just never believe it, you know? Just another thing to add about wrestling is that they have this drug policy that is very disingenuous, I think, to really protecting the wrestlers from drugs like painkillers because I think that's really the drug in professional wrestling that's doing the harm. Painkillers much more than the steroids, but obviously you take a combination of painkillers, steroids, alcohol and other hardcore drugs, you're going to have problems.
PC: You just touched on athletes blaming a dirty test on supplements. Do you think a guy that mixes a lot of supplements, like say Sean Sherk, who takes close to 40 pills a day, can form into a steroid once it's in your body?
CB: The problem with dietary supplements and the reason any athlete can blame anything on dietary supplements is that they're unregulated also. A dietary supplement basically says if it's something in the food supply that's not an illegal drug, like marijuana or cocaine, then you could use it in a dietary supplement. There's really not much more of a regulation on that so when an athlete like Sean Sherk is taking that, who's to say that it's not the supplement because we don't really know. There's actually on the flip side of it where they have found Nandrolone, which is known as Decca, in a very popular MuscleTech product. That's one of the biggest brands out there so I don't know if it's enough to actually fail a drug test, but it's a double edge sword. Who are you going to believe?
PC: When Michael Moore made Fahrenheit 9/11, he received his fair share of praise and criticism. Do you fear the repercussions of making a film like this?
CB: My angle on the film is a lot different than Michael Moore's was. In my opinion, those are excellent films, but they take one side and push that side through the entire film. My film, I just wanted people to talk and speak their own mind. I was talking to my parents, my brothers and my family and it's just letting people talk and say what they want to say. I'm just showing it the way that it is and not really forcing it one way or the other. At the end, the viewer makes the decision. Absolutely there is going to be some repercussions no matter what. I talked to a fitness model named Christian Boeving, who was probably the top fitness model in the past 10 years for the company MuscleTech. Christian was basically his contract ended and they would not redo his contract, and he was their top guy, because he was in this movie. They saw a little clip on CNN and were like, "You know what Christian, that's it!" They're not allowed to tell the truth. It's like they know they're taking all of these supplements and steroids, but they're not allowed to say that. There is a big hypocrisy going on when a company like MuscleTech says they do not support the use of anabolic steroids and then they also sponsor the Mr. Olympia contest, which is not drug tested and we also know that Mr. Olympia is definitely on steroids. It's a big hypocrisy going on that we can't tell the truth in this country. You see an ad with a guy who is juiced out of his mind, but he's selling supplements. Who are you kidding?
PC: It's funny because you see the before pictures and then the 6 weeks after picture and they have this over-the-counter supplement next to them.
CB: We actually did that in the film. We did a before and after photo. I did a before and after photo where I basically did it in 1 hour just to show you like in 1 hour, I can shave my body, suck in my stomach, paint abs on myself and it looks great. It's kind of amazing what it looks like. It's like you make yourself look fat in the first one and you make yourself look as good as you can in the second one. I could have extended it way worse. I was trying to make it a little bit realistic, but we could've made it worse than that. All of this stuff is interesting to know. In the film, actually Xyience, which was a big sponsor of the UFC and I think they're actually going out of business or gone out of business, in the film, I actually show clips just to point out the duration of supplements. I say, "Hey, look at this model." It's a model of Xyience Creatine or something like that and it says best if used by date # on the bottom. I turn the can over and there is no date or lot # on the bottom. It's just really lawless.
PC: I'm really looking forward to this film because, like you, I come from a powerlifting background and I know what I was up against in some of those competitions as far as who was clean and who cheated.
CB: Do you really?
PC: Yeah, I won a National Title in 1999.
CB: What was your weight?
PC: I was in the 220 pound weight class.
CB: Yeah, that's where I was at; around 220.
PC: I had a national record for total in 3 lifts, but it's been broken now.
CB: What was your total?
PC: 1,669.5 in 3 lifts.
CB: That is a good total. I have a brother that just did 1,050 squat and an 800 pound bench at 300 pounds or something. It just shows you the difference between when you're doing stuff and when you're not doing stuff.
PC: You're right because I thought I was the strongest guy on earth and I was only benching a little over 400 and deadlifting a little over 600.
CB: Yeah, you're around where I was at. It's probably as strong as you can get naturally. That's really strong benching over 400 pounds at 220 pounds. When I say we draw the line, I mean look at all of the equipment they use nowadays in powerlifting; it's ridiculous. You could put on a shirt and it puts 200 pounds on your bench press. It wasn't like that when I was how old are you?
PC: I'm 27 so it was probably a little better for me.
CB: Yeah, I'm a little older. I'm 35 and the equipment wasn't that good when I was coming up back in the day. The equipment was terrible.
PC: Part of the theme for this movie is America's win at all cost attitude. You even bring the war into it a little bit
CB: Absolutely. I say in the film we're a country on steroids. I think we're a country of excess. We do everything to the max and we like everything bigger, stronger and faster. That's pretty evident by the things that we support. Look at baseball. When the homerun record started getting smashed, people started going back to ballparks. We love to see success and we love to see people win, but it's some weird feeling that we don't want to know what people did to get there. During the film, we also compare America's win at all cost culture. Our president says, "I'm a war president, we're going to win this war no matter what it takes and we're going to stay there as long as we need to stay there." That's no matter how many people are dying, how many families are missing their family members or how high our gas prices are going. We have to be the best at everything that we do and I think that is also evident in the heroes that we hold up in our society. Everybody wants to be a celebrity and they want to get it overnight now. That's why we have shows like American Idol and it's really getting out of control now. Look at our society in general and it's like, where is all of this going? How is this going to affect our future generation?
PC: A lot of guys that used to wrestle or currently wrestle now think that wrestling, like every other sport, needs an off-season
CB: I think wrestling needs a union. It's funny because I've been very good friends with John Cena, even before he became a wrestler. I saw him on Larry King and he said that wrestlers don't need a union and it's kind of easy for John to say because John is one of their top guys and they treat him very well. A lot of other guys don't get treated like that. For a lot of the other guys, they do need a union. I look at how hard John works. John is a machine. That kid works harder than anybody I've ever seen in my life. He's on the road so much and he's just an anomaly genetically. He's a genetic freak and he's maintained to me that he is natural and it's pretty evident to me how hard he works and what he's gotten out of it. They coincide. He works really hard and he's one of their top guys. It's harder for a lot of these other guys that aren't making as much money; they're not as talented or they don't look as good. I definitely think that wrestling needs some kind of union to basically bring the wrestlers together. I think that Vince McMahon wouldn't want that, but it would be better for the wrestlers in general.
PC: Do you think it was okay for a guy like Jose Canseco to come out and be verbal about the whole steroid situation?
CB: I think Jose Canseco speaking up was both good and bad. I think it was great that Jose came out and said, "Hey, look, I took steroids and this is a reason why I was so successful in baseball. I think that there are a lot of other guys taking steroids too," but when he started naming people, I thought that was pretty low. I think you don't tell on other people if you don't have to. I think he knew if he named names, it would make more money. I know that there are a lot of guys in a lot of sports that know what's going on, but they don't go out and say, "Hey, this guy and that guy are using." Especially like in MMA where it's more of a one-on-one sport. It's real easy to point to the other guy and say he's on steroids. It's real easy to say that, but also in the same way, you're paid to go out there and do your best against whoever they put you against and so you go do that. If a guy gets caught because of testing or whatever, let him get caught because of testing and not because someone ratted him out. I think we see a trend in mixed martial arts and I remember back when Vitor Belfort was fighting and he was amazing. All of a sudden, he really bulked up and I'm not saying he took roids or whatever, I don't know what he did, but he really bulked up and he started getting clobbered. Does it really help to have that excess size when you're in a sport that's weight controlled. Plus, there are certain things that strength cannot do in MMA over technique so you have to balance all of that stuff.
PC: I look forward to the film with special interest. Good luck and I hope it does well, which I think it will. Anything you want to say in closing and let people know where they can find out more info on the movie?
CB: Where are you at?
PC: I'm in Louisiana.
CB: Well, here's one more thing that I can tell you that we point out in the film that will probably piss you off. The year that they did the Congressional Hearings, they spent 8 days debating steroids in sports, which is more time than they spent on why the levees broke in New Orleans and more time than they spent on national healthcare and more time than they spent on any one issue of the war in Iraq. We point that out in the movie and everybody is like, "Oh my God, that is ridiculous." That's another thing I wanted to point out in the movie. Steroids are an issue for sure, but they definitely shouldn't be taking front page over some of these other issues that are much more serious. We need to look at them in the context of our culture.
PC: Thanks again for your time. This country definitely needs to prioritize some of the issues we're facing. Where can fans find out more on where this movie will be screened at?
CB: Magpictures.com, which is short for Magnolia Pictures. That tells you where it will be playing and they keep updating it. Our trailer is online as well on Youtube and our website is biggerstrongerfastermovie.com. They'll have some info on there as well and they'll be updating that soon as well. We also have a Myspace page so if you look up Bigger, Stronger, Faster, you will come across our Myspace page and you could ask questions and things like that.
PC: Is this something you would look to do a sequel to?
CB: You know what I want to do? I would love to do and we've actually been working along with ESPN and discussing doing follow-ups on ESPN. To do a whole sequel will be a huge endeavor, but to follow it up on ESPN will be real cool. We're looking into that as well.
[ Follow Percy Crawford on Twitter @MrLouis1ana ]