I swore that I'd never get involved in the steroid controversy again. After writing a book on the subject back in 1980, I got so much flak from both the Feds and colleagues that I said, "That's it! I quit!" Apparently, they got the idea that I was condoning the use of steroids. They obviously never read the book.
I took a "neutral" stance on the subject of steroid use back then, and did so because 1) so many medical doctors were still prescribing steroids to their athletic "patients," and 2) those doing legitimate research into effects of steroids continually reported that, while long-term side effects remained unknown, in the short-term there were nothing other than mild, reversible side effects in everyone but young kids and women. Who was I to say they were wrong?
In retrospect, they were. And so was I.
But I'll get to that in a minute. First, let me tell you what prompted this article that I swore I'd never write. I hear kids talking about "juice." What kind to take and how much to take. Stack this, stagger that. I'm hearing it from an awful lot of youngsters just getting into the iron game. The kids, you see, BELIEVE damned near everything they read in the muscle mags!
Am I on a crusade to get rid of steroids? Hardly. The Crusades, in historical retrospect, were a failure, and I'm not into failure, fellow iron freaks! No indeed!
But let's get to the meat of the issue. Kids and juice. Let's look at some down-to-earth philosophical issues as well as some research.
The use of anabolic steroids among high school and junior high school boys is well documented. Two studies published by the Health and Human Services Department estimated that at least 260,000 students in grades 7 to 12 either use or have used steroids. The American Heart Association has estimated that at least half of all Division I college football players have used steroids over substantial periods of time. However, these and many similar studies are estimates. The full extent of the problem remains unclear.
What is clear, however, is that it's a GROWING problem. It's NOT subsiding, as some of the drug testing advocates like to claim (they're merely trying to justify their own existence).
Some of the potential health risks to kids, according to numerous authors, include temporary sterility, premature ossification of the growth plates in long bones, increased aggressiveness, acne, predisposition to connective tissue injury, and (among girls) irreversible masculinization. Some of the social risks include being accused of cheating and breaking the law.
The potential risks, whether real or merely hypothetical, short- or long-term in nature, and whether physiological, psychological or social in nature, are apparently perceived as acceptable by the young users. One important reason for this widespread acceptance of the potential risks is believed to be the belief in the greater consequences of abstinence.
Whoa! Time out! The greater consequences of abstinence? Yes. Yes indeed. Let me explain! This stuff is too important to ignore.
Some Of The Oft-Quoted Reasons For Youngsters Using Steroids Include:
- Fear of not making the team or getting noticed by the pro scouts
- Fear that your peers will not accept you unless you take the challenge or dare
- Fear that you'll lose in the competition for girls
- Fear that you won't be able to compete since all the other guys are using them
- Fear that your appearance or performance won't be as good as it could be, and that your own self-esteem will be diminished as a result.
The Justifications Proposed Often Include Arguments Such As These:
- The fact that so many of the highly paid, highly publicized and highly talented athletes have been caught using or admitted using anabolics;
- Athletes since sports history was first recorded have sought for and used all manner of performance enhancing aids, some safe or dangerous, some legal or illegal, but always for the purpose of gaining the elusive competitive edge;
- Young athletes feel invincible and therefore immune to the reported ill effects of the drugs; and
- The kids do not believe the medical community's dire warnings of POTENTIAL risks (they've been lied to too many times, and not just by the docs and coaches, but by morally corrupt drug pushers).
Kids don't know from POTENTIAL! They want to hear the bottom line! What's really REAL! What's PROVEN! No lies. No false promises of fame and riches, and no false admonitions of doom). NOW do you understand what I mean by the greater risks in abstinence? Hey, I was a kid once! If significant others in my life back then told me that unless I used steroids I'd never make the team and that I'd never get a girlfriend better looking than Olive Oyl or Sad Sacks' sis, why hell! I'd juice up too! Wouldn't you?
Well, MAYBE some of these oft-quoted reasons why kids are juicing up have validity. On the surface. But I believe that there are more insidious reasons which, by virtue of the adult populations' reticence to accept blame, have been totally buried. Perhaps the most insidious factors are how parents, coaches, the media and society in general:
Factors That Contribute To Using Steroids:
- Thrust the talented young athletes into daunting early sports development programs,
- Glorify youngsters willing to risk their bodies (and in some cases their morals) in order to win,
- Demand that the young athlete (or non-athlete for that matter) aspire to greatness at any cost,
- Live, eat, sleep and breathe -- and pass on to their progeny or readership -- the Lombardi-esque vision that winning isn't everything, it's the ONLY thing, and
- View the concept of adolescent (or pre-adolescent) behavioral deviancy.
OK, at least SOME personal responsibility has to be accepted by the youthful users. Acknowledged. So, let's go through some of these socio-cultural factors item-by-item, beginning with some (very) common interpersonal dynamics.
Steroids are a frequent topic of discussion among all youngsters, especially athletes, and much misinformation is passed on during such bull sessions. Here's what happens. Permutations of the facts, ultimately for the purpose of self-justification, inevitably creep in as steroid discussions go from one bull session to the next (e.g., "I think he got them from his doctor" soon becomes "His doctor feels that steroids are OK," and then, "My doctor says I need them -- I must have a deficiency or something.")
Group consensus regarding the "need" for steroids most often take a "risky shift" as compared to independent judgment. Ever notice how a group of guys will almost always turn to the riskier alternative as opposed to the most conservative one? Thrill seekers? Perhaps. But the social dynamics, supported by years of social-psychological research, say otherwise.
These youngsters have made their decision to use steroids because of conformity pressure (pressure to make personal decisions in deference to either group consensus or the opinion(s) of significant others). Where does their info come from? Not the docs, because the docs aren't to be trusted. How many times have you heard, "They've lied before, and they're probably lying this time too." Just witness the billboards everywhere saying, "Drugs don't work." I beg your pardon!
So, from whom? How about the coach? Older brothers? Older teammates? The magazine photos of 'roided-up bodybuilders? Almost daily in the sports news? And, how 'bout the oft' quoted (drum roll, please) "Steroid Guru?"
Society demands (and rewards) greater and greater feats of athletic prowess. READ THE SPORTS PAGES! Athletes are constantly told that taking risks in sports is essential to success. And they're constantly informed that if you only get good -- REAL good -- then, the pros will draft you and give you millions. (Or, you'll get the girl, you'll make the team, you'll succeed, etc.). Are they wrong in their observation? No indeed. But, it really doesn't matter if it's right or wrong since it is the common PERCEPTION.
An often-used definition of deviant behavior is "behavior which violates institutional expectations recognized as legitimate within a social system." Therefore, even in the young minds of our adolescents, the message is clear. Deviant behavior is seen as a reflection not only of the personality of the youngster, but the structure of the group in which the behavior was enacted.
Deviance cannot be considered merely as a violation of accepted standards of behavior by individual youngsters, but has to be seen rather in the context of the social system of sport in general, and -- in a more direct sense -- the athlete's teammates, students, teachers and coaches.
Using steroids is not, within this definitional approach to deviant behavior, regarded as deviant. In fact, it's regarded as not only normal but desirable! This is particularly true of you get away with it.
So, returning to the opening point of this article, herein lay the greater consequences of abstinence. The risk of NOT using steroids is seen, in a collective (social) sense, as being greater than using them.
Combative Strategies Used To Date
Social-systemic forces notwithstanding, the prevailing mood of the public (certainly at least in part prompted by widespread media coverage) is to combat steroid use in sports. "After all," it's often argued, "the sacrosanctity of mans' last bastion of purity is at stake."
Aside From This Heartfelt Rationale, There Are Other Ethical And Moral Issues:
- The athlete may suffer physical or psychological harm;
- One athlete's use may coerce others to do so in the interest of parity;
- Drug use is unnatural and any success results from external factors;
- Users have an unfair advantage over non users.
Yesalis, in his very excellent and comprehensive book on the subject of anabolic steroid use in sports (1993), contends that each of these issues has inconsistencies despite their intuitive appeal. Many times in the book, the contributors objectively point out discrepancies and ambiguities in the research literature as well as its value. Yesalis does this with the four points above.
I believe that steroid use among youth must be combated. There are just too many biochemical, psychological and physiological reasons, and too many unanswered questions, to condone it. Certainly we cannot ignore the issue.
Neither punitive testing nor providing medical rationale which include "scare tactics" have proven sufficiently effective to warrant reliance on them (Ferstle, 1993; Yesalis & Wright, 1993). And neither has educating our youth (Yesalis & Wright, 1993). Further, no organization has come up with a solution to the problems of the excessive costs of drug testing nor the persistently higher than acceptable incidence of false-negatives (primarily from the ever-increasing sophistication of athletes' detection circumvention techniques) and false positives.
Ferstle (1993) and Kammerer (1993) both make the point that drug testing is still in its infancy, and that the complexity, cost, training and legal factors involved mitigate against total reliance on the practice. They both contend, however, that it has been partially effective (at least in some sports), and that it will only be effective when more money, training, research and planning are forthcoming, and providing the incentives for drug abuse decrease.
That is a very big "if."
There are several strategies that have been applied during the past decade to combat anabolic steroid use among adolescents and pre-adolescents. Chief among them are four strategies frequently proposed (Yesalis & Wright, 1993). Yesalis and Wright offered the following alternatives and comments:
|Legalization: An End to Hypocrisy?||Not acceptable. Athletes would either expose themselves to further harm or compete at a disadvantage|
|Interdiction Through Law||Not completely viable and fraught with Enforcement & Testing? problems. Open to debate.|
|Education: Anybody Listening?||No panacea, but holds promise. Noncompliance, distrust and lack of scientific evidence present major problems.|
|Our Values Must Change||If we cannot control our narcissistic or competitive natures, then we must resign ourselves to AAS use, even among our children. We're not likely to change.|
To date, no organization has adequately addressed the issue of how to effectively manipulate the way children are drawn into sport in a way that will discourage drug abuse. Media, the prevalence of drug abuse among parents and others of significance in our youths' lives, and societal inertia mitigate against the development or implementation of such a plan.
Feeble attempts on the part of marketeers in the sports nutrition industry have been made, but most have been either laughable owing to false claims related to efficacy or similarity to steroids, or downright dangerous and subsequently pulled by the FDA. This is not surprising in light of the "drugs are good" mentality operative in that industry.
Still, in my view, finding viable alternatives to steroids may well be worth the effort. If such alternatives exist, youthful steroid users may opt for the less risky alternative. I do not believe any other strategy has the power to make this happen. I believe that the use of steroids is not regarded as so risky that kids -- or adults -- won't use them.
What Can We Do? What SHOULD We Do?
The prevailing mood of the public, largely attributable to the story-mongering media, is to combat steroid use in sports. "After all," it's argued, "the sacrosanctity of humanity's last bastion of purity is at stake."
Has Sports EVER Been "Pure?"
Hell, has MAN?
What about the substance abuse of the ancient Olympians? Was the demise of ancient sport due to the increase in professionalism back then? Was the "win-at-all-costs' mentality to blame for whatever substance abuse was prevalent then? Is anything different nowadays?
In another century, in the true spirit of Gladiatorial Rome, will it not be MANDATORY for athletes (and aspiring ones) to use drugs? Then, will it be "right?"
This is an argument which could go on and on without resolution. But, I sincerely believe that steroid use among YOUNGSTERS must be combated for sure. Morals aside, among adolescents and pre-adolescents there are just too many biochemical, psychological and physiological reasons (including too many unanswered questions) for avoiding steroid use to ignore the problem.
There are several strategies that have been applied during the past decade to combat anabolic steroid use among adolescents and pre-adolescents. Chief among them are two strategies with either unproved or limited effectiveness, but acknowledged potential:
- Providing a viable alternative that will deliver (at least) similar results, and
- Building viable religious, humanistic, moral and socio-psychological cases (readily understandable and acceptable to our youth) against using the drugs.
In my opinion, neither punitive testing nor providing medical rationale which include "scare tactics" have ever proven sufficiently effective to warrant their continuance. And neither has educating our youth. Further, no organization I know of has come up with a solution to the problems of the excessive costs of drug testing nor the persistently higher than acceptable incidence of false-negatives (primarily from the ever-increasing sophistication of athletes' detection circumvention techniques) and false positives.
Most of us have already "written off" the current and older generations of athletes with respect to their former or current drug use habits. On the one hand, a great majority of them are beyond redemption, reclamation and caring; and on the other hand, they don't think they're doing anything wrong at all. There is NO guilt in their hearts. Further, when you look at the history of steroid use around the globe (particularly in the USA), there was indeed a time when many family doctor freely dispensed them to athletes young and old.
To date, no organization has addressed the issue of how to effectively manipulate the way children are drawn into sport (or society in general) in a way that will discourage drug abuse. Media, the prevalence of drug abuse among parents and others of significance in our youths' lives, and societal inertia mitigate against the development or implementation of such a plan.
I leave you with these abominable thoughts: 1) let the steroid pushers have their way, 2) let the medical comunity control and monitor steroid use, or 3) recall that the Nazis and the ancient Spartans both had a pretty good handle on how to control their youth which (I'm confident) included techniques that may still work in this modern age.
| Only One Sport
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