Once again, recent events have brought the use and abuse of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and steroids to the forefront of sports news. So, I guess it’s time to revisit the issue. Despite the attention, most people don’t understand the scope or consequences of this problem.
We know that steroids are bad for you and taking them, even for a short period of time, can lead to a host of illnesses, diseases and undesirable side effects. We’ve seen athletes like Ken Caminiti and Lyle Alzado die, with their deaths blamed, at least to some degree, on steroid abuse.
We’ve seen Barry Bonds, a potential sports icon, condemned by sports fans ─ a seven time MVP and home run king, hated by most fans. And now we’ve seen several major league players including three MVPs banned from the game for a considerable amount of time.
So why, with all these negatives, would so many professional athletes risk their health, lives, reputation and image by taking performance enhancing drugs? The answer is money. Players want to make more money. Owners want to make more money. And fans want to get their money’s worth.
It’s certainly no secret that the increased performance that comes with PED use leads to players signing bigger contracts and making more money. Alex Rodriguez has been given the longest suspension ever for using PEDs and is, coincidentally, baseball’s highest paid player. Would other suspected steroid users like Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGuire, or Sammy Sosa have made as much money in their careers if they didn’t have the pure power that may have come from performance enhancers?
It’s not just the current and former big name players. More minor leaguers and marginal major leaguers are testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. They’re looking for that little extra to elevate their game to elite status and warrant the big contract. In their eyes, they’ve worked just as hard, they’ve practiced just as much, and, if they’re going to compete, they need to level the playing field by doing what many others are doing.
Owners and player’s organizations have also contributed to the problem of steroid abuse. Both have turned their heads, knowing what was going on, and allowed performance enhancers to be used for years. For them too, it was about money. The greater the statistics and the longer the home runs, the higher the profits.
Finally, it’s not just the athletes and owners that have to take responsibility for the use of performance enhancing drugs. We, the fans, need to share in the blame. Instead of perpetuating the problem by focusing our attention on, for instance, bodybuilding shows where all the competitors are clearly on steroids, consider attending a natural bodybuilding competition instead. You won’t be disappointed at what you see and what you see will be real.
Also, we, as fans, need to decide what we demand from our athletes. If we want to see sprinters that can run 100 meters in 9.7 seconds, or baseball players that hit 70 home runs per season, or 300-pound bodybuilders with three percent body fat, then we must accept that they will use performance enhancers to achieve these results.
So how do we prevent steroids and other performance enhancing drugs from being used by athletes? Many approaches must be taken if we are to be successful.
First, reliable and consistent drug testing must be performed in all sports. The argument that testing everyone regularly is too expensive simply does not hold water anymore. You could test every member of a football or baseball team each week of the season for a fraction of what just one player is paid.
But testing won’t mean anything without stiff penalties for violations. Currently, many athletes are tested, at most, once per year and can fail tests before facing a major suspension. This is no deterrent to steroid use.
Suspensions, even if for a short period of time, need to be levied on the first positive test. With each successive positive test, the penalties need to increase dramatically so that players are faced with losing millions of dollars and missing entire seasons.
Now, I understand that player’s unions won’t be rushing to sign-on to these kinds of penalties. However, these representatives of the players need to remember that without integrity and respectability, their sports will not be supported long-term and the money will disappear.
In the end, if fans aren’t willing to accept change, the problem will never disappear. We must be able to enjoy watching 50 home run seasons and not demand 70 home runs to feel like we got our money’s worth. After all, that money that the players and owners want will ultimately come from the fans.
To truly solve this problem, everyone involved must step up and be responsible. Leagues need to enact testing procedures and penalties that will work. Players need to accept the limits of their bodies and preserve their long-term health. Fans need to accept what those athletes can accomplish without performance enhancers.
Kent Pegg is a certified personal trainer and the owner of the Los Alamos Fitness Center. If you have any questions about the information in this article you can call him at 662-5232.