For decades, the issue of steroids in sports has been a hot button issue and a prominent focus by the media and governing officials. Since their inception anabolic steroids have existed in the sporting arena; in-fact, while there are many anabolic steroids with medical intent being the original focus there are others created for the sole purpose of performance enhancement; most notably Dianabol. For many, steroids in sports have been deemed a massive problem, while for others, it is simply accepted as part of the game. For many athletes, as the bat is to baseball, as the helmet is to football so is steroids in sports and the relationship shared.
For the average sports fan, this is an issue that is of very little concern; most fans only care about the sport and if their team wins but there are many others who also see steroids in sports as a direct threat to the game. Many fans, as well as governing officials, see anabolic steroids as cheating. The argument is it's unfair as it presents an advantage beyond what the other athletes possess. The obvious question remains, is this all true? To answer this we only need to look at how deep the relationship between steroids and sports runs, where it stems from, how its grown and where it is today. Simply put, we'll take a journey through history into the world of steroids in sports, and many of you may be surprised to learn how truly deep the rabbit hole goes.
Anabolic steroids were first synthesized in the 1930's in the form of pure testosterone and through the 40's and 50's this hormone began to spread like wildfire. During this time, the Soviet Union Olympic athletes began supplementing with anabolic steroids, and it was then steroids in sports became a reality. Through this period, the USSR dominated the Olympic Games and quickly the U.S. was in need of a solution. In the mid-1950's, U.S. Olympic Team physician Dr. John Zeigler came up with the solution with the second anabolic steroid ever created. Produced by Ciba Pharmaceuticals Dr. John's little pill coupled with testosterone use gave the U.S. the advantage it desired; you know Dr. John's little pill as Dianabol.
From the first batch of testosterone, to the Dianabol pill the face of athletics was forever changed. While testosterone was first, many view the arrival of Dianabol to be the true birthing of steroids in sports, and since that time there has been no turning back. Both testosterone and Dianabol were quickly becoming favorites of athletes and muscle heads from all walks of life; Dianabol pills would soon become so popular that for decades they were traded like candy openly on the gym floor. As these two steroids were so effective, soon after many other anabolic steroids would be synthesized, and the market for these hormones has never ceased as it has only grown exponentially.
It didn't take long for governing sporting bodies to view steroids in sports as a problem. Through the late 50's and 60's the use of anabolic steroids continually grew but soon many sporting authorities would begin to ban their use; including the governing Olympic body, the very home where it all started. The argument was simple; anabolic androgenic steroids created an uneven playing field, and in the name of "fairness", many sporting bodies began to ban their use.
When many people think of anabolic steroids they often immediately think of competitive bodybuilders and power lifters as they are the epitome of muscle and strength. Make no mistake, at this time these two groups of athletes were supplementing heavily but what many are unaware of is anabolic steroid use was just as prominent in most other sports and remains so even today.
As the use of steroids in sports continually grew, despite the ban placed by many governing bodies, in the late 1980's, the U.S. government took action. Many people point to the 1988, Olympic Games as being the final nail in the coffin. In 1988, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson took the gold medal by beating the American favorite Carl Lewis; not only did Johnson beat him but he destroyed him. Shortly after his victory, Johnson was stripped of his medal as he tested positive for the anabolic steroid Stanozolol, commonly known as Winstrol.
While many other factors played a role, it was the Olympic scandal that really rocked the boat of public perception, as such congress came to the rescue; if that is the right word to use. The anabolic steroid hearings began, and in 1990, the Anabolic Steroid Control Act was passed, officially classifying anabolic androgenic steroids as Schedule III controlled substances. By this new legislation, any use of anabolic steroids without a prescription was deemed a felony offence, and this pertained to personal use as well as steroids in sports.
While there were many who clamored the law was unjust, congress ignored the claims. During the anabolic steroid hearings, several medical and law enforcement agencies were called to testify and despite the testimony being contrary to a ban congress proceeded with action. The evidence needed to Schedule anabolic steroids simply wasn't there; by law, to Schedule a drug physical and mental dependency must be proved as well as any mind altering actions. Such evidence was never found; in-fact, at the hearings the AMA stated based on these findings "we vehemently oppose the ban" a sentiment shared by other agencies including the DEA.
As the law passed, despite solid reasoning, the death of NFL great Lyle Alzado largely gave the face of steroids in sports the cryptic look it needed. Shortly before his death, Alzado, a once massive and fierce competitor was interviewed by Maria Shriver on NBC and the man who once stood as a force to be feared appeared weak, frail and decimated. Alzado quickly became the face of the anti-steroid cry as he depicted his impending demise as a direct result of years of anabolic steroid use. Quickly this garnered more support for the recently passed legislation among the media as well as the public, but the issue at hand was such support warranted? At the time of his death, while no one can make light of Alzado's demise, his own doctors emphatically stated there was no evidence or link between Alzado's death and the use of anabolic steroids. Lyle Alzado died of Lymphoma.
After the passage of the original Anabolic Steroids Act, the belief by many was that steroids in sports would shortly disappear; nothing could have been further from the truth. During the 1990's, the anabolic steroid witch hunt appeared to be slowing down despite evidence to support the contrary. During this time, most notably in the NFL and MLB athletes were growing larger, becoming stronger and faster at rates never seen before. Year after year the size and strength of these athletes grew at a rapid rate and in the late 1990's suspicion began to escalate again. The brunt of the suspicion surrounded Major League Baseball and the homeruns that began to pile up like wildfire. As such, investigations were underway, and since that time, the war on steroids in sports and truly anabolic steroids in general has continually grown with no end in sight.
The hysteria surrounding steroids in sports as they are seen today can largely be traced back to Mark McGwire's chase of the single season homerun record; a 40 year old record held by Roger Maris that McGwire would crush. During the chase, a bottle of Androstendione was spotted in McGwire's locker, and although this was a pro-hormone, not an anabolic steroid this was all it took to really get the ball rolling. From this little bottle of Andro, as it would soon be known, suspicion and the pointing of fingers would continually grow, and the proverbial molestation of steroids in sports was about to begin.
Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) first made headlines when journalists Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada reported the West-Coast facilities owner Victor Conte had been providing athletes an undetectable anabolic steroidal supplement Tetrahydrogestrinone known as THG; a designer steroid developed by chemist Patrick Arnold. With this steroidal hormone being administered, along with Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and other performance enhancing drugs, the public interest in steroids in sports reached new heights far beyond imagination.
Through the reporting, many high profile baseball players were named including Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, Jeremy Giambi, Bobby Estalella and Armando Rios. As a result, BALCO shortly found itself under investigation by the U.S. Attorney District Court in 2003, more or less raising the hysterical bar of the steroids in sports argument to new all-time high levels. The investigation would prove to be detrimental to many MLB players, as well as the BALCO operation, and while this was a severe blow it would not compare to what was to come.
In 2005, former MLB superstar Jose Canseco admitted to his own personal anabolic steroid use as well as stating that over 85% of all MLB players supplemented with the hormones in his tell all book "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big." With his words, the BALCO scandal and the strong suspicion that had already been raised due to the enormous number of homeruns being hit, major league baseball found itself as the premier battle field of steroids in sports and the snowball would continue to grow. While many argued Canseco's book embellished hormonal use tremendously it was enough, coupled with other factors to raise enormous concern by the governing eyes.
Through the Canseco book, the BALCO scandal and all the way back to the suspicion started by McGwire, the U.S. congress felt it was high time action was taken, and in 2005, the baseball steroid hearings would begin. The entire event was a media circus as many of MLB's biggest names, including Canseco were called to testify. While the hearings would prove to be devastating to many MLB players, nothing of any worth came out of them other than a giant waste of tax payer's time and money.
In 2006 U.S. Congressman George J. Mitchell of Maine was charged with bringing the truth to light; the question, how rampant was anabolic steroid use in baseball and what could be done about it? In 2007, the Mitchell Report was released; a 409 page document that named 89 MLB players suspected of anabolic steroid use, discussing the MLB drug enforcement policies effectiveness as well as the history of use in the MLB. Of the 89 players named, they were named based on suspicion, without hard proof of guilt and as you can imagine this would prove detrimental to such players in a host of ways.
Although the Mitchell Report pointed to several high profile names, this was more or less an effort to give the report a bit more media appeal; by-and-large the reports main purpose was to define and discuss several key points regarding supplemental use in baseball, as well as steroids in sports in a more general sense. The 409 page report went into detail discussing the dangers of performance enhancing drugs, including stating many risk that carry with them little to no proof. Further, the report stated the use of performance enhancing drugs influenced other athletes to supplement in-order for them to remain competitive, and as supplementation altered a player's ability it further corrupted the playing field as well as statistics. While all of these were central points, the Mitchell Report put an enormous amount of attention on the issue of children. The argument was straightforward; as professional athletes are often role models to children the use of performance enhancing drugs by such role models only encourages children to supplement; this final piece of the report would prove to be one of if not the perceived main focus.
Much of the discussion regarding steroids in sports often revolves around baseball as the MLB for reasons that are unclear has been picked on like the redheaded stepchild. The various homerun records have for years been viewed as sacred to American popular culture, and this simply fanned the fire and exploded it around baseball; however, the truth regarding steroids in sports goes far beyond baseball in the modern era and far beyond simply baseball in general.
Anabolic steroids have been used in sports heavily almost since their inception, and this includes baseball and most other sports. Former NFL running back Paul Lowe testified in 1970, to the California Legislature that NFL players had to supplement with anabolic steroids, and failure to comply could even lead to a fine. OK, fine, it's hardly a secret that MLB and NFL players supplement with anabolic steroids but how much so and what about other sports? Olympic gold medalist Mary Peters spoke on the subject, stating U.S. researchers had at one time tried to measure the effects of steroids among weightlifters and throwers, but the project was deemed a waste, as there were not enough athletes who didn't take anabolic steroids to make a sound comparison.
In truth, we don't know how many players and athletes from all walks of life have supplemented with anabolic steroids over the years, but we do know the number is high and much higher than often reported. When we look at the advancements made in sports over the years, when we look at them with an open mind understanding the rules of nutrition and muscle hypertrophy it's impossible to deny anabolic steroids in sports are rampantly used unless we look at the situation with an absolute naïve nature.
If steroids in sports are so rampant does it really make a difference? The argument is simple; anabolic steroids give an athlete an unfair advantage over athletes who are not taking them but if they are available to all athletes is it really an advantage? Anabolic steroids do not alter a person's natural born talent, they do not improve hand-to-eye coordination, and they will not turn a weak athlete into a superstar. Granted, if you take two genetically identical individuals, have them follow identical training and nutritional plans, if one supplements with anabolic steroids and one does not the one who does will be the better athlete. At the same time, if you take two genetically identical individuals, have them follow identical training and nutritional plans, if one of these individuals begins to ingest a larger quantity of protein he will be a better athlete. Has this athlete cheated? He's taken an advantage that is not available to the other athlete; is that cheating? If you have difficulty answering this question, there's little hope for you.
The truth is relatively simple; anabolic steroids are not magical, they do not create athletes; they simply enhance the engrained natural talent allowing the athlete to do what he already does only a little better. If a particular sporting body deems use illegal in their sport, if the athlete chooses to supplement he is cheating just as he would be if the sport banned the use of water during competition. Does this on its own make anabolic steroids bad; of course not but the rules of the game must be followed but this doesn't mean the rules of the game shouldn't be changed. While the rules of the game may state anabolic steroids are banned, while many may support this ban, if steroids in sports are the true reality and if they have been for decades have they truly tarnished the game? Hardly; anabolic steroids in sports are as much a part of sports as the ball itself.
Athletes have supplemented with anabolic steroids since they became available and as long as athletes are rewarded based on performance, as they should be the use of anabolic steroids in sports isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Of course, we have the main argument given by the U.S. government and the media; the use of anabolic steroids in sports is damaging as it sends kids the wrong message. No one can argue against the truth; the use of anabolic steroids in adolescents is extremely dangerous; their young and fragile bodies simply cannot handle such a large influx of hormones properly. Is this a strong enough argument to make steroids in sports illegal?
If steroids in sports send the wrong message what about the use of tobacco by major league baseball players, what about the rampant womanizing by many professional athletes; what kind of messages do these send? What about tobacco use in general, smokeless and cigarettes? What about excessive alcohol consumption and any other activity deemed legal for adults yet not for children? Both tobacco use, especially smoking and alcohol consumption have both been proven to be far more dangerous than anabolic steroid use, yet both are largely accepted by society. Children are deemed unfit to make decisions regarding tobacco and alcohol on their own, but this choice is protected under liberty for adults; can the same argument regarding anabolic steroids not be made? Of course, such an argument begins to cross into the issue of steroid use in general, not just in sports, but it brings us to the solution.
If we examine the issue of personal liberty the ban on anabolic steroids in the United States is unjust; based on the protection of liberty and by the manner in-which the legislation was passed it is one of the most unjust laws ever passed and is an open doorway to many others if so desired; but what about steroids in sports? Regardless of the law, if the law did not prohibit anabolic steroid use, if it were as open as any other supplement, various sporting bodies would still have the right to ban their use or not but this decision should be up to them alone. The solution is to change the law in the U.S. allow personal liberty to reign supreme, and if a sporting body wishes to ban their use, if an individual takes part in that sporting body freely, he is willingly subjecting himself to the rules, and he should follow them. However, in the end, what makes the most sense of all is simply doing away with the insanity altogether; athletes are going to supplement with anabolic steroids; they will continue to find new ways of beating the test so as long as they are rewarded for performance. The solution is to stop creating criminals out of thin air on the basis of them doing what they are paid to do in the first place; perform.