'Netflix Hall of Shame' - Unravels the BALCO Sports Scandal
Victor Conte, despite serving time for his involvement in the BALCO scandal, remains defiant, as highlighted in the latest episode of Netflix’s sports docuseries “Untold,” titled “Hall of Shame.” This episode revisits various figures in track, football, and notably baseball who faced controversy due to performance-enhancing drugs.
Conte insists that the sports world was already saturated with the use of prohibited substances before BALCO shifted its focus in 2000 from supplements to “the clear,” a steroid that was uniquely undetectable by testing methods. He argues that he was equalizing competition rather than giving players and clients an unfair advantage, stating in the documentary that under such circumstances, he believes his actions weren’t cheating.
The documentary’s soundtrack, which features playful and lighthearted music in its initial segments, seemingly underlines Conte’s perspective, portraying him as someone who takes pride in his role within sports and his proximity to success, even if he hasn’t personally received any accolades.
However, “Hall of Shame” does not shy away from presenting contrasting views. It effectively demonstrates how steroids significantly impacted athletes’ performances, exemplified by sprinter Tim Montgomery’s improved time in the 100 meters after using these substances. Montgomery, openly discussing his use of performance enhancers, remarks on his desperate drive for victory.
A significant part of the documentary centers on baseball legend Barry Bonds, one of BALCO’s most famous associates. The film acknowledges that Bonds was likely on a trajectory towards the Hall of Fame even before his sudden surge in home run prowess. While Bonds consistently denies using performance-enhancing drugs, the enduring questions surrounding his achievements have so far prevented his induction into the Hall of Fame, despite his extraordinary career.
The documentary skillfully communicates the pressures and incentives that athletes face, and how the desire for victory can overshadow reservations about employing artificial, chemical aids. It briefly highlights the commercial and social rewards reaped by athletes, such as Marion Jones, who was the only athlete to face imprisonment in relation to the BALCO case after she pleaded guilty to perjury.
The director, Bryan Storkel, juxtaposes Bonds’ home run race with the memorable and eventually tarnished competition between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, illustrating how this chapter impacted the perception of America’s beloved sport.
IRS investigator Jeff Novitzky is featured in the documentary to provide additional context. He labels Conte as a “snake-oil salesman” and criticizes the reckless administration of performance-enhancing drugs, likening the athletes to unwitting test subjects due to the unknown long-term effects of these substances.
The “Untold” series is known for its exploration of the darker or more unconventional aspects of sports, with episodes in this season also focusing on figures like Jake Paul and Johnny Manziel.
While “Hall of Shame” doesn’t provide an exhaustive account of the BALCO story, it captures Conte’s apparent indifference to the line between infamy and fame, placing him firmly within the focus of the episode.