Performance-Enhancing Drugs and Sports
In the year 1967, a Dr. Gabe Mirkin asked 100 athletes the following: “If I could give you a pill that would make you an Olympic champion — and also kill you in a year — would you take it?” (Freudenrich 1). Of the 100 people questioned more than half responded that they would indeed take the pill if given the opportunity despite the risks involved. The issue has only gotten worse in the years that have followed. In the world of sports, people are judged little by how hard they work or how many years they might put into training their bodies for peak physical performance. Instead, all that matters to most people involved in either professional or amateur sports is the end result. The more scores on the board, the better the athlete is considered. This modern age is an extremely competitive one and athletes are not only judged based on how they compare to one another, but also how they compare to the past. In order to overcome the competition, both past and present, athletes have frequently taken to preparatory methods which go far beyond exercise and conditioning. Professional and amateur athletes inject or imbibe their talent if they cannot go about it naturally which had created a severe disadvantage to those who do not break the rules and use steroids to improve their athletic prowess. These athletes pump their way into the record books through illegal and immoral chemical consumption. Steroid use of any kind by athletes has become rampant and should be officially banned by all sporting authorities on all of the professional, amateur, and/or academic levels.
There are legitimate reasons for nearly all medications and drugs, or at least there was a legitimate use at one time. What are often referred to as performance-enhancing drugs were at one time just medical treatments and for many patients they still are used in order to treat medical conditions. Their uses relating to professional sports was tangential to their intended purposes. Steroids have been used legally and honestly for many medical conditions including asthma, cancer, and in AIDS patients. They have also been used for therapeutic means such as in inducement of bone growth, stimulation of appetite in cancer and AIDs patients, and in inducement of male puberty should it be physically retarded in a certain patient. However, for every correct and medically sound reason for using a particular medication, there will always be those who can find improper reasons to inject and abuse such materials as is the case with steroids.
The use of drugs in the world of sports is often colloquially known as “doping.” Anabolic steroids are used by athletes to increase their muscle mass which in turn increases their physical strength. An additional benefit to athletes is that steroids tend to reduce the muscle damage that occurs during a training session or game, and if a person is injured during the course of either of these types of activities, steroids lessen the time that it takes for the athlete to heal from their injuries. Bones can be strengthened through steroid use as well as increasing oxygen delivery to tissues which are heavily exercised also increasing the speed of healing and increasing their ability to perform (Freudenrich 2). One of the side effects of steroid use is an aggressive attitude which many athletes believe aids their performance on the field (Mayo). This perceived benefit of steroid usage supposedly leads to stronger defense and a stronger ability to fight against the opponent. Other reasons for athletic drug use include relaxation, reduction of body weight in the case of gymnasts or ballerinas, or to hide the use of the other drugs or narcotics.
Some of the most frequently used performance-enhancing drugs include: anabolic steroids, androstenedione, human growth hormone, erthyropoietin, diuretics, creatine, and chemical stimulants (Mayo). These are the most common performance-enhancing drugs because they can be obtained easily and can be used as injectables, as pills, or as a topical cream. Androstenedione is also called androgenic steroid because it affects gender of the individual; those who take them are responsible for increasing male traits such as growing facial hair or deepening the voice. Women who use androstenedione materials tend to have issues with facial hair and have a more masculine voice because of the increase of testosterone in the body. Many females use this in sports such as body building, testosterone decreasing menstrual cycles and making the symptoms less severe thus preventing impediment to their training. A new branch of designer steroid has become popular with the introduction of drug testing by major sporting organizations both professional and amateur. These are synthetic anabolic steroids, known as “designer drugs,” which have been created by scientists or those in the medical field for the express purpose of being undetected by drug testing. Such drugs have not been tested or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are thus considered extremely dangerous for usage by anyone because there is no way of knowing how it can affect the human body.
Competitive athletics goes back to before the times of Ancient Greece, to the time before recorded history. It is reported that even then those who sponsored certain athletes would give them minerals or salves which would increase their abilities in the arena or on the field. There has thus always been some degree of additional help for athletes who desired a boost of some sort in order to aid their performance. In modern times, drug use for athletes can be traced back to the 1960s at the height of the Cold War between the western world and the Soviet Union. At this time, the Soviets were found to have given East German athletes anabolic and androgenic steroids in order to increase their abilities in international competitions, such as in the Olympics (Harding 1). According to reports that have come out of East Germany, not only did the Soviets encourage steroid use in their Olympic athletes, but the use was actually mandatory until the fall of the Berlin Wall.
There are many dangers associated with prevalent drug use of any kind. Steroid use can be particularly damaging to the human body because it can affect permanently damage many of the body’s basic functions. In men they are known that anabolic steroids can cause baldness, shrunken testicles, and infertility and in women can cause increased body hair, baldness, and an enlarged clitoris in addition to the traits already discussed (Mayo). Additionally, both genders can develop severe facial acne, increased likelihood to develop tendinitis or a rupture of the tendons, abnormalities or tumors in their livers, increased bad cholesterol, decreased good cholesterol, hypertension, heart and problems with the circulatory system, suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, enlargement of the prostate gland, aggressive behaviors including rage and likelihood to commit acts of violence, psychotic and psychiatric disorders, dependence on other drugs, infections from needle-drug use, and inhibited growth or development as well as a risk of future health problems if they begin using steroids as teenagers or young adults.
Many organizations have taken action against steroid use or other performance-enhancing drugs and have strict rules and consequences for those who choose to violate these rules (Murray). Among the many sporting groups which ban or seriously limit steroid use are FIFA, Union Cycliste Internationale, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to name but a few. Still even with the pressures of international disapproval, there are still those who will circumvent the rules in order to give their athletes a better chance at winning. In 2003, it was discovered that the United States Olympic Committee had intentionally covered up 114 cases where an athlete tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs between the years 1988 and 2000, including track star Carl Lewis in 1988 (Mackay 1). The National Football League (NFL) in the United States has such stringent laws regarding performance-enhancing drugs that they actually had to go to court in Minnesota. The NFL has banned a product called StarCaps because it contains a chemical which is banned by the league but the state claims this is superseded by laws in Minnesota which demand protection of workers (Belson 1). Government has not only had to deal with this incident but have had direct consequence with several sporting organizations regarding steroid use. The issue has become so rampant that the federal government has gotten involved and has conducted hearings into the use of steroids in professional baseball.
Pressure to win comes not just from within the individual, but also because of external factors such as coaches or parents. These adults and other authority figures add to the stress placed on those participating in athletic fields. Not only will they be letting themselves down by losing a match or a game, but they will be letting down those who depend upon them. There is also more than just winning on the field and the extension of their careers for athletes to consider. Winning in the amateur level leads to offers to play and compete professionally. Those who are in the professional level and win get more lucrative contracts and are then offered highly profitable endorsement deals (Freudenrich 2). Michael Jordan was a basketball player for the Chicago Bulls but his streak on the court led to many such deals so that even some twenty years after retirement he still pulls in millions of dollars a year through Nike shoes and other endorsements. In winning, there is a great deal of money to be made which is another source of pressure for athletes.
The steroid controversy is far from over but there are becoming more stern restrictions against the use of performance-enhancing drugs in competitive sports. One of the sporting world’s most famous names and indeed the most famous bicyclist in the world, Lance Armstrong, had to give back the many medals he had won for finishing first in the Tour d’France because it was alleged that he had taken steroids (Herper 1). Even though Armstrong has yet to admit his guilt, the very fact that he stopped fighting the accusations is enough in many eyes to confirm the fact that even this American legend was a steroid user. He is absolutely not the only one. Barry Bonds, Mark Maguire, and Sammy Sosa all spend the 1990s and 2000s making headlines for their feats in baseball when they took turns trying to win the homerun race, earning the most homeruns in a single season and, for Bonds, the most in a career. However, each of these men has had to deal with the consequences of steroid use which has marred their otherwise illustrious careers. Barry Bonds has had to deal with legal ramifications for lying under oath about his personal drug use. In addition to career consequences, there are now legal ones for choosing to use steroids. Even this is not the worst that could potentially happen to a steroid user. The World Wrestling Entertainment Company (WWE) has had to face allegations that their wrestlers use and abuse steroids, a controversy which came to a head following the double murder-suicide of one of the WWE’s most popular athletes Chris Benoit. Benoit had exhibited many of the classic side effects of steroid abuse including a short stature and obvious protrusion of the veins. Unfortunately these were not the only effects. Benoit had several instances where violence had been reported stemming from “roid rage” which is the side effect of aggressiveness and pituitary damage converging to create an uncontrollably angry person with great strength who is unable to be calmed once agitated.
Steroid use is becoming more and more prevalent in both professional and amateur athletics. The need to be better than one’s opponent encourages people to go beyond mere human ability. Those who want to be the best are taught that winning is all that matters and many are willing to abuse their bodies in the long-term if it means that they have a better chance of sports glory in the present. Performance-enhancing drugs have been used by baseball players, football players, weight lifters, wrestlers, track and field athletes, and many other fields where one would not naturally associate narcotics, such as bicycling. There is simply no good reason for people to use such means just because it makes them faster or stronger. These are not natural athletic abilities, but side effects of a chemical compound found in a pill, a syringe, or a jar. Even if it means a few less runs or a less impressive lift, it is necessary to continue to purge the usage of such drugs from the sports world.
Belson, Ken. “NFL Seeks Congressional Help on Drug Policy.” The New York Times. New York, NY. 3 Nov. 2009. Print.
Freudenrich, Craig. “How Performance-Enhancing Drugs Work.” How Stuff Works, 2011. Print.
Harding, Luke. “Forgotten Victims of East German Doping Take Their Battle to Court.” The
Guardian. Nov. 1, 2005. Print.
Herper, Matthew. “The Case for Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Sports.” Forbes, 2011. Print.
Mackay, Duncan. “Lewis: ‘Who Cares I Failed Drug Test?’ The Guardian. 23 April, 2003. Print.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Performance-Enhancing Drugs: Know the Risks.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Dec. 2010. Web. 05 Dec. 2012
Murray, Thomas H. “Sports Enhancement.” Garrison, NY: The Hastings Center, 2012. Print.
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