Steroids in Sports – Dangerous Practice, Bad Example for Youth, and Just Another Way to Cheat
Throughout the vast, diffuse worlds of amateur and professional athletics alike today, champions; ex-champions, and (mostly0 would-be champions of all ages, backgrounds and abilities; at competitions from local Olympic tryouts to the World Cup, compete fiercely to be top of the sport: win first place; bring home the pennant, hoist the Wimbledon Cup, wear Olympic gold, not silver or bronze, which in today’s mercilessly cutthroat ambience of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, makes one practically just another also-ran. Unfortunately for athletes; sports; and fans especially, here steroids often enter the picture. Steroids can damage long-term health and even cause death; set a horrible example for youth (and everyone); and give a users a false “competitive edge” through cheating in order to undeservedly come out on top.
Moreover, steroid use to artificially enhance athletic performance is the worst, most dangerous and probably the most widespread substance abuse problem, ever, in competitive athletics, including time spent training and preparing for competitions. However, the temptations athletes face to use performance-enhancing steroids, while society should neither condone nor sympathize with these, are nevertheless understandable, especially in today’s world of “winners” and “losers,” not just in sports walks of life. Athletics, though, is perhaps the most public, widely-known and watched form of competition from which “winners” and “losers” typically (and very clearly) emerge. Further, athletes and teams often represent much more than just themselves. In World Cup soccer or Olympic figure skating, for example, we are informed that “Brazil (not just its soccer team) wins!” Or “America and Russia both fall to Japan!” Leading up to such fiercely competitive events like these (especially given the embedded patriotic or other pseudo-meanings the biggest among them are assigned) who among any of us would not feel an urge to seek “outside help,” – steroids?
After all, few if any among even the most accomplished athletes are consistent natural top-performers whose skills, coordination, talent, strength, etc. always set them head and shoulders above others. But pressure to be (or appear) that one-of-a-kind runner; kicker; swimmer; skier, skater, etc. is enormous. Steroid use, though, does not just exist in a vacuum: In competitive milieu where second place is tantamount to loss, especially fertile environments for steroid abuse grow, flourish, and spread. In fact, quotations attributed to legendary United States Green Bay Packers (Wisconsin) and later Washington Redskins Head Coach Vince Lombardi, like “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” and “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing” (Vince Lombardi quotes, 2007); ring true (and thereby reinforce the allure of steroids) more than ever.
Clearly, longstanding values and practices of “good sportsmanship” and team spirit [losing teams in particular seem much praised in the media for their “team spirit”] are still valued. But also true is that in today’s overly-commercialized, spectacle-mad, overnight hero-anointing, media and profit-driven entertainment world of competitive “winners” and “losers,” winning really is what truly matters. Therefore, another (this one more comforting) old cliche, that “It isn’t whether you win or lose, but how you play the game” unfortunately rings hollow for one or another hopeful NFL team at the end of every Super Bowl Sunday. Sometimes also, depending on the sport and competition level, millions of dollars in potential Nike; Adidas; Wilson; or American Express endorsements may be on the line, not to mention that once-in-a-lifetime chance to set a new world record.
While steroid use and abuse within team sports in particular might (perhaps) be additionally fueled by peer pressure, dares, or other recognizable “groupthink” phenomena, individual athletes that train separately or alone are in no way more immune to the temptation to use steroids. According to Mc Auley (July 27, 1996),for example:
Classically anabolic steroids are taken by power athletes, so are widely used and abused by body builders and recreational weight trainers, but they are also reputedly used as a training aid by endurance athletes to improve recovery from training loads. Doses greatly exceed the normal therapeutic doses and athletes may take several different types of anabolic steroids. (Doping in sports
Increasingly, it is unlikely that within any competitive sport nowadays – team sport or individual one (or both) – the siren song of performance-enhancing steroid abuse will not rear its heads, and that athletes will not succumb to it. There is, however, some possible hope for the future, should society in general (however unlikely a scenario this may be) put its collective foot down about steroid abuse in professional sports, and simply stop (or at least decrease) support of teams and individual athletes even suspected of it, however difficult it would be. But that is the magnitude of anti-doping pressure in sports that it would likely take to bring about any real, lasting changes.
Starting in 2005, American Major League baseball has confronted numerous allegations (and some proof) of certain players’ steroid use. In 2005, Congress even held formal Washington, D.C. hearings on allegedly widespread steroid abuse in Major League baseball after ex-Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Jose Canseco, published a personal memoir (Juiced: Wild times, rampant ‘roids [sic], smash hits & how baseball got big, 2005)including various detailed accounts of his and several other players’ (by name) steroid uses and abuses. According to the article Jose Canseco (February 26, 2007):
In 2005, Canseco admitted to using anabolic steroids in a tell-all book… Canseco also claimed that up to 85% of major league players took steroids… In the book,
Canseco specifically identified former teammates Mark
McGwire, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, “Ivan Rodr’guez” Ivan Rodr’guez, and “Juan Gonzalez” Juan Gonzalez as fellow steroid users, and that he had]injected them.
Further, later on, “On August 1, 2005, Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days by Major League Baseball after testing positive for steroids” (Jose Canseco”)
Congressional hearings, though, have not and most likely will not solve problems of steroid abuse in any professional sport. Steroid abuse exists, and has existed for a long time, in most sports worldwide these days, although up to 2005, Major League baseball in particular had always managed to avoid the harsh drug-testing tactics used in other American sports. Today, NFL athletes, NCAA athletes, and NBA athletes must all abide by strict drug testing policies, and after the 2005 hearings on steroid abuse in major league baseball concluded, Congress asked baseball to follow suit.
Even now, though, the truth has not fully emerged, and probably will not, about just how long (or if, definitively speaking) various major league baseball players throughout the sport used of have used steroids, or (if so) in which kinds of competitive or other circumstances and what extent. Moreover, pragmatically speaking there always have been, and will likewise continue to be ways to “cheat the system” and keep abusing steroids if an athlete or members of a team strongly wish to do so. And the public does not really mind athletes’ steroid abuse enough to become a real force in its future prevention. As Barnard pointed out in 1998, for example (and not much has changed since, either in terms of overall public opinion; public action to censure or penalize athlete dopers, or the ongoing public indifference, if not in fact implicit support, of steroid abuse among competitive athletes:
The use of performance enhancing drug in sports disturbs many people deeply. Yet athletes take such drugs to ever improve their performances and are encouraged to do so by crowds who expect them to win competitions. In truth, drugs in elite-level sports will remain and society will accept this. (Drugs and Darwin fuel athletes, Sept 25, 1998
Whatever the real reasons [e.g. fair, safe, natural, and healthy ones or not] that so many of today’s top athletes, professional and amateur; male and female alike, in every sport, continue to keep growing bigger, stronger and faster than ever, steroid use (if the reason is that) all too often remains quite elusive to detect, and so endemic, it seems, to sports everywhere, that it will not soon see any end. At least one former top baseball star, though, Jose Canseco, however, has more than come clean.
In 2005, Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco and Frank Thomas (via remote video/audio) were all subpoenaed before Congressional board and questioned on their respective past uses of steroids. Although none except Canseco admitted to having used steroids, this subpoena was Congress’s effort to begin cracking down on steroid use within professional baseball. However, neither these nor any other athletes’ testimony (or book, or individual personal confessions or denials or steroid abuse) will likely change very much if anything, in and of themselves, about steroid use within major league baseball, or for that matter, competitive athletics in general. As MacAuley (July 27, 1996) also points out, for example:
The detection of performance enhancing drugs in sports has become increasingly difficult. Athletes may take simulants, narcotic analgesics, anabolic steroids, beta blockers, diuretics, peptide hormones, or engage in blood doping, a technique to increase packed cell volume by re-infusing previously drawn blood. Drug testing is not standardized enough and is too widespread to identify drugs reliably, therefore failing to serve as a valid deterrent. (Doping in sports, p. 211).
But Canseco also may not be the best of messenger-ex-athletic stars, since he remains, going on three years after Juiced was first published, a pariah among current players, and, therefore, (however unfairly) a less-than-ideal proponent of good clean (without help from steroids, that is) athletic competition, in baseball and (therefore) generally. To be fair, also, despite Canseco’s sworn Congressional testimony (and published testimonials) to the contrary, baseball greats like McGwire, Sosa, and others obviously spend countless hours, year-round, keeping fit, strong, and ready to play their very best.
Perhaps, then, with help from today’s supplements, e.g., Creatine; protein shakes, etc.; combined with proper nutrition and exercise, it is entirely possible for today’s athletes to stay in top shape without ever using steroids. This latter possibility, then, however remote it may actually seem, to some (and perhaps even many these days) still needs to be seriously considered, in the absence of hard evidence to the contrary.
And major league baseball players must also compete every year for their jobs; therefore, just because someone is getting more muscular, hitting better and running faster does not mean that this person uses steroids. It could simply mean that the player is working out a lot, eating right, and training hard. Yes, steroid use is a possibility in such a case, but only that.
Conceivably then, Jose Canseco could just have embarrassed (for whatever reason(s) other professional baseball players before America and the world: first within Juiced (2005; 2006); then by perhaps seeking to make examples of them before Congress instead of (as many argued then and would still argue) having the steroid issue stay where it belongs: within the MLB Committee. Moreover, one need only recall America’s (and the world’s, for that matter various long-lost “wars on drugs” (and various otherwise-named, similar endeavors) in order to recall, too, that national governments everywhere have dismal records of resolving (or even substantively improving long-term, for that matter) substance abuse problems of any kind.
One worthwhile issue that did perhaps emerge from the Canseco-inspired Congressional hearings on steroid abuse that took place in America in 2005, though, was that today’s athletes had it strongly and publicly pointed out to them, even if they were only watching the hearings on TV and not at all involved with them, that they need to realize, accept, and take seriously their status as heroes and role models for numerous children, adolescents, and adults everywhere. If young people watching competitive professional or amateur sports know their heroes take steroids, they may well, unfortunately, decide to do the same, especially if they are already, or aspire to be in the future, athletes themselves.
Professional athletes are, of course autonomous individuals who can and should make their own decisions in life and feel free, like any of us, to be completely authentic. Still, their status as public role models is (for better or worse) real, even if they did not seek such a status. While athletes, especially the stars among them, as in any other high-paying public profession, will very likely always have doctors to prescribe for them; money to pay for steroids if they still choose to use them, and the ability to pay people off, they may now also perhaps be thinking more about how impressionable kids in particular are still watching, and therefore, that they need now to begin making more responsible decisions about steroid use, and for more than just their own or their team’s long-term health and overall benefit.
Steroid use is fueled by competition, the one aspect of professional sports that will never end. Money drives sports. Money also drives athletes to do what it takes to become better than the next person. Still, the MLB Committee should be the entity to crack down on steroid abuse, not Congress. Just as some people find ways to sneak drugs across international borders, athletes will always find ways to beat the system and continue taking performance-enhancing drugs if they wish. No matter how strict Congress, the MLB, the NFL, the Olympic Committee, or the NCAA becomes, athletes will find ways to obtain, and to use steroids if they so desire.
On a similar note, high school athletes and other young adults need to be more aware, on their own, of the potential physical long-term harmful consequences of steroid use, and to take responsibility for their own health and welfare, even if their athletic heroes should still continue to use steroids themselves. Athletes could and should at least send the message, whatever they might or might not be doing personally, that steroids can be fatal when abused, for anyone. Perhaps professional athletes and the general public alike, including young fans who worship potentially steroid-taking athletes, need to start by taking more responsibility. The problem of widespread steroid abuse in sports is most likely, to be solved, if ever or at all, by one responsible person at a time deciding to make the best, most responsible lifestyle choices for the best and most responsible reasons.
Barnard, M. (Sept 25, 1998). Drugs and Darwin fuel athletes. New Statesman, 24 (127) [HIDDEN] Retrieved March 03, 2007, at http://find.galegroup.com/ips / infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-
Canseco, Jose. (2006). Juiced: Wild times, rampant ‘roids [sic], smash hits & how baseball got big. New York: Regan Books
First Reprint Edition).
Jose Canseco. (March 1, 2007). Wikipedia. Retrieved March 8, 2007 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jose_Canseco.html.
MacAuley, D. (July 27, 1996). Drugs in sports. British Medical
Journal, 24(313). 211-215. Retrieved March 03, 2007, at http://find.galegroup.com/ips/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-
1.0 line Abstract:0par, html.
Vince Lombardi quotes. (2007). Brainy quotes. Retrieved March 8, 2007 at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/v / vincelomba115467.html
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