Children make right choices
“To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now,” (Bush). President Bush said it best when he made his State of the Union Address in January of 2004, telling all of America that steroids are a problem and that they need to be removed from sports immediately. Anabolic steroids not only change the level of competition in professional sports, but they harm those involved and set a bad example for others to follow. While an issue in most professional sports, baseball takes the forefront of both accusations and investigations by government officials and administration alike. The purpose of this research is to better explore the causes and effects of using anabolic steroids, along with the effects it has on the game of baseball and what is being and/or can be done to prevent them from further tainting “America's pastime.”
Anabolic-androgenic steroids, also known as AAS, are artificially manufactured substances pertaining the male hormones, mainly testosterone. Anabolic refers to the muscle and cell building characteristics associated with steroids, and comes from the Greek word anabole, meaning, “to build up.” Androgenic refers to the development of male-like properties, and also has Greek origin where andos means “male” and geneis means, “to produce.” Examples of the anabolic effects on steroids include are increased protein synthesis in amino acids, growth of bones, and increased appetite. Androgenic effects of these hormones include pubertal growth and sexuality. Other effects include growth of the clitoris in females and the penis in adolescent males, growth of pubic, facial, chest, and arm hair, deepening of the voice due to vocal chord enlargement, and impaired production of sperm. Both the androgenic and anabolic effects of steroids directly lead to the growth of muscle fiber, causing increased muscle mass and strength. While this increase in muscle mass is very appealing to many, there are also many adverse effects associated with AAS use. One of the most common problems is elevated blood pressure, especially in those with a previous history of hypertension. Abuse can also lead to cholesterol problems, acne, enlargement of the heart, and in some cases cardiovascular and liver disease. Male-specific problems include development of breast tissue, known as gynecomastia, along with testicular atrophy that decreases sperm production and can lead to sterility. Along with the physical side effects come psychiatric ones as well. Steroids can lead to extreme mood swings, paranoid jealousy, and “impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility,” (NIDA). AAS can also carry addictive properties, where users crave the feeling and satisfaction they get from being on the drug, thus causing them to use more. Although the numerous adverse side effects of using steroids are known, these destructive properties are heavily outweighed by the benefits of abuse to some.
Anabolic steroid use and abuse is a significant problem in competitive sports, professional and amateur alike. The ultimate goal of participating in competitive sports is to win, which means to outperform your opponent. The easiest way to outperform competition is to be a better physical specimen than them. Stronger, quicker, healthier athletes have an edge over those that are smaller and possess less strength. If an athlete is given the chance to increase these characteristics with less effort by the use of drugs, such as AAS, the decision seems obvious to many. In a 1995 study conducted by Bob Goldman, a Chicago physician, 198 athletes capable of performing at the Olympic level were polled. When asked if “taking a drug would provide a certain win and no probability of being caught, only two of the athletes said they would not take the drug,” (Staudohar). When the same question was asked again, but in this instance the drug would be taken continuously over a five-year period with certain death at the end of those five years, still more than half still said they would take the drug. This study alone shows the desire of athletes to win, no matter the cost or consequences. To be perfectly honest, taking steroids as a professional baseball player seems like a no brainer. With increases in muscle mass, pure strength, and quickness combined with the ability to heal from injuries significantly quicker, the obvious choice to many would be yes. However, not only is non-prescription steroid use against the rules, it is unfair to many. There are many players out there that realize the side effects of steroids and want to keep the game all natural. They want to be able to look at their achievements as a player and know that they accomplished all of this due to their own personal hard work and perseverance, not with the help of an artificially manufactured hormone. On the other hand, many players believe that they will never get caught using the drugs or are willing to take the risk of getting caught just to boost them up to that next level of competition. The difference between a minor league baseball player and a Major League Baseball player can be millions of dollars, along with fame, fortune, and the chance to live a dream. While the feeling of invincibility is directly related to steroid use, not all players get to be so lucky.
The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, commonly known as BALCO, began as a urine and blood-testing lab, along with supplying food supplements. After an anonymous tip in 2003, later found out to be given by United States sprint coach Trevor Graham, the United States Government began investigating BALCO. Graham accused a number of athletes of using an anabolic steroid that was undetectable at the time. Shortly after these accusations, Dr. Don Catlin developed a test for the unknown and undetectable steroid, tetrahydrogestrinone. On September 3, 2003, the IRS, FDA, and USADA performed a search of the BALCO facilities. Inside, they found lists of customers and bottles whose labels suggested that they were steroids and growth hormones. A search of weight training coach Greg Anderson's house was also conducted, where inside they found tetrahydrogestrinone, a list of customer names, and $60,000 in cash. Many Major League Baseball players were on these lists found, including high-profile stars such as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield. In October of 2003, a federal grand jury issued subpoenas to nearly three-dozen athletes, Bonds and Giambi included. In December 2004, leaked grand jury testimony was obtained by the San Fransisco Chronicle. In this testimony, Jason Giambi openly admitted to injecting himself with human growth hormone during the 2003 season and that he started using steroids at least two years prior to that. In the same testimony, Barry Bonds admitted receiving clear and crème substances from Greg Anderson, but he was unaware they were illegal. Bonds stated, “I had no doubt what he was giving me, because we were friends,” (Staudohar). After hearing these testimonies, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig felt that it was of the upmost importance to rid baseball of steroids.
In 2004, Bud Selig stood in front of the Major League Baseball Players Union and stated, “I urge the players and their association to emerge from this meeting ready to join me in adopting a new, stronger drug-testing policy modeled after our minor-league program that will once and for all rid the game of the scourge of illegal drugs,” (Staudohar). Following this meeting and President Bush's State of the Union speech mentioned above, a flurry of hearings and public statements by politicians and administration arose. In March of that same year, Senate hearings were held to discuss Major League Baseball's drug testing policy. Commissioner Selig reiterated his zero tolerance approach towards steroids and performance enhancing drugs. Many players spoke out publically on the use of steroids, many of which commented on the need for a stricter drug testing policy. There were many top reasons why players and administration wanted to see the sport rid of drugs completely, especially those that enhance performance. The main reason was that cheaters needed to be saved from themselves. If Selig were to sit back and let this go on in baseball, many players could end up injuring themselves or developing conditions related to the side effects of performance enhancing drugs. In December 2004, the players union finally gave into the public pressure and started plans to move forward with their testing program, which would start with spring training and remain effective through 2008. Under this new agreement, each of the approximately 1,200 Major League players were to undergo at least one random, unannounced drug test during the regular season. On top of that, players were subject to random testing during the off-season. Unfortunately for Selig, the consequences were not harsh enough to stop multi-million dollar athletes from using performance enhancing drugs if they really wanted to. A first time offense landed a player a ten-day suspension, while second time offenders received 30 days. Third and fourth offenses would result in 60 day and one-year penalties respectively. All of these suspensions were served without pay. The stakes were truly raised with a fifth offense. After a fifth offense, the punishment was at the discretion of the commissioner, and would most likely result in a lifetime ban. As of June 2005, five Major League players and 47 minor league players had been suspended for breaking the banned substance policy.
Although there is a current testing policy being implemented, in order to rid the game of drugs and steroids, a harsher act needs to be put in effect. This is not a matter of personal opinion, but rather stating that with these current punishments, players are still using and there are still ways to get around violations. Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida introduced “The Drug Free Sports Act” which is his attempt to rid all sports, not just baseball, of illegal drugs. Under this act, a list of banned substances would have to be made. This list would be based on drugs prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. All athletes would be subject to at least one test a year, which would be performed by an independent agency no affiliated with the league or players union. A first time offense would carry a two-year suspension, while a second time gets an automatic lifetime ban. Selig stated that if the league couldn't reach a tougher policy, he would fully support this act. Finally, in November of 2005, Major League Baseball reached an agreement on a new, more strictly enforced drug policy. These penalties were more closely related to those suggested by Congress, and exponentially greater than their previous regulations. “For steroids, the penalties are a 50-game suspension for the first positive test, 100-game suspension for the second, and a lifetime ban, with reinstatement rights retained by the MLB, for the third,” (Tynes). This new policy went into effect on opening day of the 2006 season.
While Major League Baseball has implemented more effective drug testing policies over the years, steroids is still a huge problem in professional sports and in the world as a whole. While the benefits of steroids are very desirable to some, the side effects and consequences associated with using and abusing anabolic steroids is not worth the risk. Unfortunately for our nation, millions of children idolize professionals like Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, who are admitted steroid users. A child should not be looking up to a person who artificially enhances their performance to gain an edge over their competition. The use of anabolic steroids is spreading quickly, now reaching its way down to freshman in high school. That constant desire to be bigger, stronger, and faster is what fuels an athlete but should be gone about in a proper manner. A substance that is manufactured by chemists in a lab is not the correct way to gain an edge. Performance starts with hard work, dedication, and perseverance, not a vile and syringe.