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Eliminate Drugs in Baseball
…or just raise smarter kids
By Alex Dashevsky

I get a little suspicious when the NY Times, Chicago Sun, Associated Press, USA Today, and the rest of the main stream media all agree on the same issue. Even more so when the issue is one that lumps together the inherently rational decisions of the few with the stupid decisions of the many. In this case, the decision of adult athletes that have incredible skills using performance-enhancing drugs to improve their chances of earning million dollar pay days with minimal health implications; and the so so high school athlete with a miniscule chance of making any money and a high chance of misusing the substances to the detriment of their health.

I love baseball. I love watching muscle bound behemoths hit tape measure homeruns. I love watching pitchers throwing hundred mile an hour heaters past players half their age. I love watching shortstops good enough to hit cleanup. I love it that the best hitters hit over 70 home runs per year. Yes, I know that much of this (though not all of it) is drug induced, but do I care? Whether the increased ability that I love to watch comes from steroids, better training, or eating wheaties, so be it. I respect and encourage the rational calculation of adult athletes to weigh the dangers of performance enhancing drugs with the benefits of improved speed and strength. Baseball is entertaining again. Am I a bad person because I don't feel an obligation towards the whiney, spoiled, adult ballplayer earning $5 million a year? I bet I am not the only one who feels that way, considering that Baseball touted record attendance last year of 73 million and took in a record $3.9 billion.

After a summer of knee jerk reactions and one-sided debate, the majority of Americans report in polls that they are for mandatory drug testing. According to a Gallup Poll of professional baseball fans, 86% are in favor of steroid testing in the major leagues. At the time that this article is being written, it looks like the baseball owners and players are giving into public opinion, and for the first time in baseball history, players will be tested for steroid use. The US Congress, never one to miss an opportunity to jump onto a popular issue, wrote a letter demanding that baseball should be "Instituting mandatory, random drug testing". The letter was co-signed by former baseball great Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky and former Nebraska Football Coach Tom Osborne Rep. Nebraska.

Feeding this public furor are several scandals. For one, more than a few people in baseball have whispered allegations (to this day unproven) that Darryl Kile, the 33-year old St. Louis Cardinal Pitcher died because of complications from steroid use. Also, Ken Caminiti admitted using steroids the year he won the Most Valuable Player Award in Baseball. Finally Jose Canseco, never shy of the headlines when he writes a new book, admits that he used steroids along with 85% of the rest of the league.

Every time I here of a new scandal, I think back to the scene in Casablanca when the corrupt police chief raids Rick's Place "I am shocked, shocked that there is gambling going on here!" Of course major leaguers are taking steroids! Yet, there is no evidence of widespread illnesses of epidemic proportions among players. Though Jose Canseco is no doubt prone to exaggeration, other surveys show that he might not be that far off at all. A USA Today Poll in June found that 89% of major league baseball players believed that there is some steroid use in the game, 10% of which believe more than half of their peers are users. One theory hypothesizes that the increase in tendon and ligament injuries in baseball is caused by the wide spread use of steroids. Despite advances in stretching and training, tendon and ligament injuries have increased 224% between 1992 and 2001, while other injuries have increased just 5%.

The publicity on steroid use in baseball has diverted attention from the fact that other sports are also 'tainted' by drug use. Senator Joseph Biden was criticized when he showed a picture on the senate floor of (the now deceased) track star Florence Griffith Joyner, and compared her thigh muscles over the years as proof of her drug use. Looking at some of the top women's tennis players, I wonder if I could not make the same argument. This column will avoid any accusations of slander, so I will emphasize that I have not had the privilege of personally analyzing the urine of any player on the pro tennis tours. But, I do watch the physiques of many of the top women's tennis players, and I do see that they look more like a man than your columnist does. I also feel it is important to inform my readers that these same players are also leading the fight against steroid testing. Even John McEnroe, never an athlete you would mistake for Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been under a cloud of suspicion about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.

In 1993, the International Olympic Committee Medical Commission's Alexandre de Merode of Belgium said he believed 10% of Olympic athletes were regular users of Performance-enhancing drugs. This controversial statement at the time is now considered naive by most estimates. For example, one study in the late 80's found that 50% of competitive bodybuilders were found positive for steroid use. Stories abound today of black market labs that market to Olympic athletes. The 2002 Salt Lake Olympics saw the first athletes caught for drugs in the Winter Olympics since 1988. In the 1996 Atlanta Games, of 11,000 Athletes, 2,000 were tested and no metals were forfeited. Part of the reason was because although the Olympic committee had paid $2.5 million for a High-Resolution Mass Spectrometer (HRMS), they did not follow up on the 5 positive tests out of fear of lawsuits. In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, 5 athletes were found positive. In 1984, 12 were found positive in the LA Olympics.

Though these performance-enhancing drugs are not good for athletes, I do challenge the dire consequences purported by the media. First of all, it is a misconception that the only substances taken are anabolic steroids. Human Growth Hormone (HGH), Erythropoietin (EPO), and Amphetamines are all used to increase athletic performance. With the exception of Amphetamines, there is no reliable test for these drugs. Some of the side effects of these drugs are hair loss, acne, infertility, stroke, heart disease, and liver cancer. Deaths caused by steroids are theorized to be between 15-40, which includes the tragic and highly publicized death of former NFL great Lyle Alzedo. Most of which occurred early on, when the science wasn't as good. Jose Antonio, the author of Sports Supplements estimates that "Millions of athletes have used anabolic steroids regularly since the 1950's. At this point there is no evidence athletes are dying all these maladies people have claimed. {Moderate amounts taken over a few months} (Cause) Minimal side effects," In addition to this, Miami Research Associates has shown that when performance-enhancing supplements are taken in moderation, there "does not seem to be any negative effect on liver function, the immune system or cardiac risk profile."

There have been many voices opposing the use of performance-enhancing drugs because of their effect on children, some with more integrity than the main stream media. John McCain, the Senator from Arizona stated that: "Like it or not, professional athletes serve as role models, that's more important than whether a group of highly paid athletes are using anabolic steroids."

A USA Today Poll found that sports figures were second only to parents as role models for teens. A case in point that demonstrates this is after baseball slugger Mark McGwire told a reporter that he used androstenedione, a legal over-the-counter nutritional supplement, sales jumped 1000%. At the same time, polls found that high school seniors' disapproval of steroids and their belief that steroids cause a great risk fell. I concede that the influence that sports figures have are not neutral, and I do believe that performance-enhancing drugs used among kids is a problem. According to Charles Yesalis, a professor of exercise and sport sciences at Penn State "I'd say 500,000 to 600,000 kids in the US have used these drugs at some time"

I want to emphasize the finding that performance-enhancing drugs taken correctly in the care of a physician and in moderation has caused 'minimal side effects.' The real problem with steroid use is that kids are using these substances too early and too incorrectly. The side effects of anabolic steroids include stunting growth in kids, so taking drugs before adulthood could have catastrophic effects on them as mature adults. Professional Steroid users also combine drugs, such as anti-estrogens, diuretics, etc that not only hide their drugs, but also counter-act their side effects. Teenagers are using information that they get off of the internet, black market or in their own chemistry labs. For example, in Dallas and Pittsburgh, authorities found international steroid rings, selling steroids to kids over the internet.

Finally, as much as drugs have improved the game of baseball, there is a more important reason to stop this crusade: personal responsibility. I think that it is wrong for society as a whole to accept a sports figure's influence on children. This is part of a perpetual societal problem of treating the symptoms while ignoring the disease. This thinking undermines children's expected responsibility to think for themselves. The improper use of steroids is a serious health risk. A bigger risk to society and our future is this generation's perceived inability to think for themselves, and the acceptance of that inability. It is easy to blame sports figures, just as it is easy to blame Hollywood and Eminem for crime and drugs. To do so undermines one of the vital philosophies behind our form of government: That freedom of speech is dangerous when not accompanied by independent thought. The real problem is the failure of society to raise children who can distinguish between their own circumstances and the incredibly gifted athletes they watch hitting home runs, scoring touchdowns, and dunking basketballs. The sage (and buffed up) Dodgers slugger Eric Karros said it best: "If people make decisions based on something they've read or what a sports figure says, if that's solely how they make decisions, then there's obviously a lack of parenting."


Sources

"Attendance Decline for Texas Rangers Is Largest among Major League Teams" The Dallas Morning News 7/9/02
"Labor issues, steroid overshadow All-Star Festivities" Philadelphia Inquirer 7/8/02
"Test Baseball Players for use of Steroids" USA Today 7/10/02
"Congress Focuses on Baseball Steroids" Associated Press Online 7/10/02
"Steroids are ruining baseball" Toronto Star 7/10/02
"Kids, Steroids Don't Mix" USA Today 7/9/02
"Kids, Steroids Don't Mix" USA Today 7/9/02
"Over the Edge" Sports Illustrated 4/14/97
"The Incidence of Anabolic Steroid Use Among Competitive Body Builders" Journal of Drug Education Volume 19: 313-25
"Final Dose of Olympics Controversy" AP Online 2/25/02
"Over the Edge" Sports Illustrated 4/14/97
"Build muscles, shrink careers" USA Today 7/8/02
"Build muscles, shrink careers" USA Today 7/8/02
"Build muscles, shrink careers" USA Today 7/8/02
"No more pretending about baseball and steroids" AP Worldstream 6/20/02
"Kids, Steroids Don't Mix" USA Today 7/9/02
"Kids, Steroids Don't Mix" USA Today 7/9/02
"Kids, Steroids Don't Mix" USA Today 7/9/02
"Kids, Steroids Don't Mix" USA Today 7/9/02
"Drug Abuse Update" The Medical Clinics of North America 1994
"Kids, Steroids Don't Mix" USA Today 7/9/02

 

 

 


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