Using Steroids: Is it really Cheating?

by: Josh Hodnik

When you think of an athlete cheating, (and not of the NY Post/Tiger Woods variety)what is the first thing that comes to mind? If you're like the majority of Americans, anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and an array of other performance enhancing drugs is the first thing that pops in your head. Rightly so -  they have been talked about by ESPN and USA Today, along with other medias outlets across the country.

On March 30th, 2006, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig appointed former US senator George Mitchell to investigate performance enhancing drugs in baseball; 21 months later a 409 page report was released that held the names of 89 MLB players accused of using performance enhancing drugs. Baseball was now on center stage, and for all the wrong reasons. Homerun records are now in question of being tainted with the accusations of steroid use. When we question what is cheating and what is not, what do we consider? The laws the federal government has deemed legal and illegal, or what a certain sports agency has considered against the rules. Certain substances, like DMAA, might be legal to buy and sell, but against the rules in most professional sports.

The lines are very apparent in some areas, and they are vague in others. Science is used more today to increase athletic performance more than it ever has been. It is used to reduce recovery time, to heal injuries that may have been career ending decades ago, or to actually correct a short coming that is inherited.

When you hear the names Eric Dickerson, Chris Sabo, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar you think "exceptional athletes," but they also had one other characteristic in common: having to use goggles to see well enough to compete in their field. Even though all three of these guys trademarked these goggles and had stellar careers, it had to be a nuisance to have to put these on underneath a tight fitting football helmet so they would have the vision to find the right crease when carrying the football. This problem would start to change in the early 90s with LASIK surgery. Not only would athletes be able to ditch the bulky goggles, many would have the ability to see 20/15 following LASIK surgery. Just ask Tiger Woods, who had his vision "repaired" to be superhuman.

This may not seem hugely important to some people, but to someone trying to follow a 100mph fastball it meant a world of difference. Not only would this procedure allow people to see perfectly that were born with bad eyesight, it would also allow an athlete to have eyesight corrected that could diminish with age. This simple procedure can allow an athlete to put up higher numbers farther into their career. Until the past few decades, any major knee injury that required extensive surgery was usually career ending. After an injury like this today, the question isn't if he will be back on the playing field, but rather when he will be back. Science has allowed athletes to make remarkable comebacks after some major injuries. That's just another form of recovery - similar to what steroids and/or human Growth Hormone could assist with.

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning sat out the entire 2011 season after undergoing the third neck surgery of his career. For most of the season it was uncertain whether or not he would ever line up behind center to continue some of the most impressive offensive domination the sports world has ever seen. Manning opted to travel to Europe to undergo stem cell therapy to repair a bulging disc. Stem Cell Therapy is not FDA approved , and didn't seem to provide much help for the injured Manning. New York Yankees pitcher Bartolo Colon and former New England Patriots running back Green-Ellis both returned to the game after receiving Stem Cell Therapy. There are many other success stories involving athletes and this non-FDA-approved treatment. There always seems to be a public opinion when it comes to an athletes training methods, supplement intake, and medical treatment. But it's inconsistent. There's no outrage that non-hormonal methods are used - which are undeniably less "natural" than testosterone and GH.

A student who can't focus will be put on Adderal and then compete (for grades, SAT scores, etc.) with non-chemically-enhanced kids. Is that not cheating? The public seems to cringe when the words Testosterone and Athlete are used in the same sentence. Testosterone is the dominant hormone in men that basically makes men, men. It is often associated wrongly (and this is a whole other issue of misinformation) with aggression, heart attacks, and brain tumors. As with any other substance known to man, testosterone in excess amounts can lead to some problems, but low testosterone in men can cause an assortment of problems that include heart disease, obesity, and severe depression.

The medical community recognizes this and will treat low testosterone with injections. This is no different what an athlete would take. It is a synthetic form of testosterone in some way and all considered anabolic steroids. Yes, the 60 year old man going to the doctor to get testosterone injections to feel vibrant and young again is a steroid user. Most people don't have a problem with this scenario, but if an athlete raises testosterone levels many people feel this is cheating and unethical. Why is that? I often hear people say that the only reason Barry Bonds performed like he did was because of steroids. Barry was an outstanding athlete before using steroids. All the steroids in the world will not help you hit a major league fastball. Drugs do not create an athlete, they only allow them to play longer and at a higher level. That is the beauty of science today.

Science has allowed many people, including athletes, to overcome genetic shortcomings, injuries, and has allowed the players we pay big bucks to see play an extended career. When we ask ourselves what is really cheating? Do we draw the line when it comes to hormones being used in sports? If we were just to consider everyone using a synthetic hormone as a cheater, then we would have to put that label on most of the pro athletes in the world today. The playing field is level because everyone is using something. This will never change.

As long as the public continues to pour the kind of money we do into professional sports teams, there will always be athletes trying to stay on top, to gain an edge. In my opinion, there is not much difference from having LASIK surgery, stem cell therapy, and steroid use. It is all using science in a way to do things your body cannot do on it's own. As long as athletes are signing $100 million dollar contracts they will always have access to medical treatments that many Americans do not have access to, and there will always be drugs available that give them an edge.


Chris LaCour

I seem to always be in the minority when discussing this. I have NEVER thought of using PED's or steroids as cheating. I have never done a cycle myself, but wouldn't consider myself a cheater if I did. Look at everything that teams and trainers do today compared to what they used to do. Thousands upon thousands of dollars invested in strength coaches, training equipment, nutrition experts, protein supplements, alternative diet programs, vitamins... You name it. All of it is centered around enhancing performance. Yet athletes are not allowed to take pills or injections that would give them the most direct and immediate results. All based on an arbitrary line drawn by people trying to protect some mythical ideology they refer to as the, "integrity of the game." Baseball seems to be the most aggressive in these policies now, not because of the, "steroid era," but because of the reverence die hard old time baseball fans hold for historical records. I can't count the number of times I've heard morons talk about the old time greats like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. Talking about how they set their records and made their mark without the use of steroid. Just old fashioned hard work. That is a ridiculous argument. Steroids weren't AROUND in the 20's, 30's, and 40's. And you can bet that if they were, the all time greats would have been popping Anadrol and injecting Testosterone at alarmingly high rates. Personally, I don't care about records. I don't care about the reverence people have for the players who set their numbers 100 years ago. I like 600 foot home runs. I love a home run chase. I love seeing athletes perform at insanely high levels and competing with others doing the same thing. I cannot believe that we can accept the advance of medical science when it comes to injury repair, surgical advances, strength and conditioning strategies, and leaps forward in our knowledge of the best way to make the human body stronger and faster; but we shy away from pharmaceutical assistance because the public has been conditioned to believe that steroids are bad and users are cheaters.

April 13, 2012