By Joshua Parrott, Sports Writer
While taking a dietary supplement ended Caro-lina Panthers’ defensive end Julius Peppers’ season, it cost Kiley Belcher something much greater: the life of her husband.
Steve Belcher, a pitching prospect for the Baltimore Orioles, died Monday of heat stroke after he collapsed the previous day at the Orioles’ spring training site in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Coroners who preformed the autopsy said Belcher died from heatstroke caused by multiple-organ failure.
What makes the story even more interesting is that Belcher supposedly had been taking Xenadrine RFA-1, a weight-loss supplement which contains the controversial drug ephedra.
Belcher’s death begs the question: Will major league baseball go ahead and ban ephedra like the NFL, NCAA and International Olympic Committee? My answer would probably get me voted off of the island: No.
While ephedra products have been linked to heart attacks, strokes, seizures and heatstroke, the NBA and NHL haven’t yet banned the substance, which, according to the Food and Drug Administra-tion, has been linked to more than 100 deaths. Although the number of deaths might raise an eyebrow or two, numerous clinical studies have shown that when used correctly, ephedra is safe.
What makes ephedra a dangerous drug is that unhealthy, out-of-shape athletes like Belcher think popping a few pills will get them into shape. Most athletes exceed the daily recommended amount of two capsules. Belcher had been taking three capsules a day. You do the math.
The problem with the 6-2 Belcher was that he was overweight at almost 250 pounds and had struggled with his weight since being drafted by the Orioles in 1998 as a third-round pick. Belcher was not into Tae-Bo or Richard Simmons. Belcher was not a well-conditioned thoroughbred; he was a fat cat looking for a quick fix.
Another reason banning ephedra won’t work is while Belcher’s death is sad and heart wrenching, handing out a more severe punishment to an athlete taking a nutritional supplement than for snorting crack cocaine is ludicrous and pompous. In the NFL, a first-time ephedra user can be suspended for four games, while players who test positive for illegal drugs are not suspended, but instead tested more often. That makes about as much sense as a Mike Tyson face tattoo.
If those organizations who ban ephedra were to lessen the punishments handed out to violators, then maybe it would make more sense. But right now the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
But in the end, it’s not the fans or the Orioles organization who really will deal with the punishment: it’s the Belcher’s first child, who is expected in April.