A Look At The Steroid Era of Professional Sports

Author’s Preface: This article was originally written in Fall 2007 and still rings true today. The pestilence of illegal performance-enhancing drug use in professional sports has only gotten worse in my opinion. Since the article was written, many more big names in sports have been accused or convicted of illegal drug use such Shawn Merriman, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, and many 2008 Olympic athletes. I am still (unfortunately) confident that there will be a massive scandal of Mitchell-Report proportions for the NFL at some point. The NFL is literally printing money these days but it’s setting itself up for a big fall with a lot of player drug issues.

         The Barry Bonds home run controversy, the Mitchell Report, and the Congressional fiasco with Roger Clemens and his former personal trainer Brian McNamee have all been driving me crazy. It is absolutely ridiculous that it would catch anybody by surprise that Major League Baseball studs such as Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Andy Petite, and Raphael Palmeiro had or have been artificially enhancing their game over the past decade or two. It is even more preposterous that people are surprised to hear from some testimonies that the Mitchell Report leaves out many hundreds of professional baseball players. Anabolic steroids and Growth Hormones are not new to sports, they have been utilized as performance enhancers in dozens of sports since the 1940’s by Russian, German, and United States athletes and coaches! That was a time when athletes didn’t even make any real money, just extrapolate that drug use to the world of professional sports today. In today’s world of cut-throat athletic competition and $100 million contracts, I would be more surprised to find non-steroid and growth hormone users in the minority. Some may call me a cynic but I am just a realist.

         One of the things that irritates me is that individuals such as Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, and Palmeiro are singled out when in fact half the league is sure to be artificially enhanced. It is true they have received more money, praise, and fame from their baseball performance than most other players so they should probably be receiving a proportional amount of scrutiny for their cheating. On the other hand though, these players have been pitching and batting against a juiced up league for probably their entire careers. When Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record, he probably hit a large percentage of them against pitchers on steroids and growth hormones. When Roger Clemens won multiple Cy Young awards, he was facing a large percentage of batters on steroids, growth hormones, and even amphetamines to increase focus and reaction time. People should have listened more openly to Jose Canseco’s book but most wanted to believe that he was just in the immoral minority and that he was just a bitter self-promoter trying to tarnish the legacies of others. Too bad he was dead on.

         Major League Baseball will never truly eradicate illegal artificial enhancement in the sport because every time a drug testing procedure comes out, there will be another untraceable drug, masking agent, or loophole to circumvent that procedure. People are motivated by money so there will always be new drugs invented that can be sold to individuals looking for an edge on the competition or simply a way to keep up against others artificially enhancing their game. With millions in contracts and endorsements on the line, some people will do whatever it takes.

       Steroids have been and continue to be a massive problem in any sport or pseudo-sport including track and field, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, Strong Man, bodybuilding, and even professional wrestling. I have been saying for years that this is not only a big problem in baseball but probably an even bigger problem in the football. Why would players not utilize these illegal drugs in a full-contact sport where size, strength, and power, and speed reign surpreme when they are used in baseball? I am just waiting for the day when an “NFL Mitchell Report” comes out and exposes the cancer that is steroids and growth hormones in the game of football. You think Shawne Merriman and David Boston were the only guys in football to juice? Oh please, I’m sure the NFL’s “rigorous drug testing policy” currently in place is a joke that a rich, intelligent player can easily get round with access to the newest drugs. Something is suspicious when a 300 pounder is running a 4.6 in the 40 yard dash.

         Unfortunately, the fall-out of all this cheating is pretty significant. Natural athletes will continue to feel the pressure to illegally enhance their game so they can keep up with the competition and therefore keep their jobs. Natural athletes will also face unwarranted suspicion instead of praise any time they make major improvements to their strength, physique, or game performance. Athletes using steroids will end up suffering greatly in the form of deteriorating joints, ligaments, heart and liver health, psychological disorders, and from related drug addictions. Professional sports are already brutal enough on the body without these added risks that can even include death in rare cases. This artificially inflated competition also trickles down to college and high school athletes putting pressure on them as well. Unfortunately, the public will continue to shell out cash to see bigger, faster, and stronger athletes until things come to a boil and players are temporarily reprimanded and scrutinized. Then they will simply go back to using the latest untraceable drug in attempts to pursue greatness or simply just to provide for their family. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to be for a long time.

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