Ten months ago, a story broke that would alter the landscape of international sport. Results from drug-testing were leaked and a subsequent investigation revealed a massive cover up. Since then, hundreds of athletes, including many Olympic medal winners, were found to have taken performance-enhancing drugs. Russian track stars topped the list. Investigations into various doping allegation revealed widespread corruption in international track.
But the controversy doesn’t stop there. Tennis players, baseball players, nearly 1,000 athletes from over 200 countries across the gamut of international sport.
Naturally, the news caused a firestorm and the media has had a field day.
With the 2016 Olympics on the horizon, the world of international sport is at a cross-roads.
Doping scandals of such scope arise periodically. In the early 2000s there was the Major League Baseball steroid scandal. 1998 was dubbed “The Year of Scandals.” 1988 of course saw Ben Johnson disgraced.
With all the media attention, few know the true history of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs the way Richard Anthony (Tony) Fitton does. Named “The Godfather of Steroids,” he was the feature of a 2008 Sports Illustrated article and I have had the good fortune of speaking regularly with the man since April 2014. I have since written a book on his life with the hopes of future publication.
Richard Anthony Fitton was a British powerlifting champion who after moving to the United States in 1979, soon became one of the country’s largest steroid dealers years before the drugs became household names. Long before the media caught on to drug use in sport, long before steroid hysteria. In 1984, he would be arrested and was the first person to ever be federally prosecuted for selling steroids in the United States. His is a fascinating story which provides the not so politically correct view of anabolic steroids.
What follows is a visual tour, an introduction to Tony Fitton, the “Godfather of Steroids.”
In 1969, Tony joined the British Amateur Weightlifting Association, the country’s governing body for Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. The BAWLA didn’t do much for powerlifting, so Tony took it upon himself to change that. In 1969, he began publishing “Powerlifting News” which would cause a firestorm of controversy and pave the way for him to change the landscape of international powerlifting by prompting the first ever international contest between Great Britain and the United States in 1970.
Tony Fitton was a regular competitor in the heavyweight class. He won 5 British championships, set numerous British and World Powerlifting records, and placed third at the World Powerlifting Championships twice
In the late 70s, Tony began regularly writing for Mike Lambert’s Powerlifting USA, the first magazine dedicated wholly to the sport. As international editor, he kept America readers abreast of international news and told of his own experiences in the column “Powerlifting Ponderings.”
Beginning in 1979 and continuing over the course of the next several years, Tony Fitton coached the legendary Bill Kazmaier while working at Auburn University’s National Strength Research Center. Under Tony’s tutelage, Kazmaier would go on to win two consecutive World Strongest Man Contests.
In the early 1980s, Tony began dabbling in selling steroids. He’d done so previously while living in England–selling only to his powerlifting friends. While in America, the general public knew little to nothing about steroids and there was no media outcry against the substances. Tony’s business grew like wildfire and he soon became the nation’s largest dealers. He was known by his customers as someone who cared about their health and wrote with each order a steroid program. Keeping himself abreast of medical studies, Tony always preached responsible use. Beloved by his customers, he sent out a Christmas Card in 1982:
Beloved by many within the world of powerlifting, an artist friend used Tony as an inspiration for Pep’s Gym logo.
Between 1982 and 1983, his customer base growing, Tony wrote a little pamphlet. He sent a copy to Dr. Paul Ward who ran a United States Olympic Committee instructional program out of Los Angeles. Ward did not see any problems with steroids, later telling the media that since athletes were going to take steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs anyway, he felt educating them on the best ways of taking them was the ethically responsible thing to do. Ward made hundreds of copies of Tony’s pamphlet. They were there for the taking. On the eve of the 1984 Los Angeles Games, they fell into the “wrong hands.” All of a sudden, television news media and newspaper reporters began calling Tony day in and day out.
Months after the conclusion of the 1984 Games, Tony Fitton was detained at the border. What they found in his car would lead to his being the first person in America to ever be federally prosecuted for selling steroids. Since steroids were not Controlled Substances at the time, there were no sentencing guidelines.
U.S. Attorney Philip “Bulldog” Halpern recommended Tony serve 12 years.
Two weeks before his sentencing, he went on the run.
Five months later, Halpern had tracked him down.
Tony Fitton was incarcerated in the federal pen where he spent a year before being paroled.
Upon his release, Tony soon began working with the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers as a strength coach. Unofficial of course.
Today Tony Fitton lives back home in England. His spends his time with his old powerlifting buddies, making music, and, in the past year, talking to me.