Forensic Friday: The Performance Enhancing Dilemma

On December 20, 2012, the Associated Press released an Impact report which brought forward the issue of potential steroid use in college athletics. Over a month after the article was released, it was discovered that members of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team had visited room 612 in the New Orleans Marriott, as detailed by Sports Illustrated’s David Epstein and George Dohrmann. The athletes then proceeded to buy negatively charged water and deer antler spray from S.W.A.T.S., or Sports with Alternatives to Steroids. College athletes are now increasingly prepared to find any means necessary to get around a very weak testing system, whereas professionals are increasingly scrutinized for any association with steroid providers.

This leads us to ask: Should athletes use steroids in any situations?

As a member of the media and purest of the sport, my immediate reaction is to say no. That tends to be the overwhelming response of anybody asked about performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). For proof, you need look no further than the baseball hall of fame voting, which will have absolutely nobody elected this year despite the best pitcher, best hitter, and best offensive catcher of all time being on the ballot. The reason: they are assumed to have used PEDs as most of the players during that era used them.

Beyond the purest view of sports, there is the fact that steroid use is increasingly dangerous, especially when

Many believe Ray Lewis was able to get back to his job earlier than he ever could have because he took PEDs. (Evan Habeeb US Presswire)

Many believe Ray Lewis was able to get back to his job earlier than he ever could have because he took PEDs. (Evan Habeeb US Presswire)

unregulated. Without a proper medical official, such as a team doctor, overlooking their use of the drug they are subject to heart deficiencies and cancer. It is also well documented that steroid users suffer from bouts of anger known as “roid rage.”

However, there is reasoning to the idea that athletes should use steroids, not to gain an edge, but for means to aid their sport’s image or to limit their susceptibility to injury. Following my investigation into this topic, I am now led to believe there is a solid reasoning to the argument for PEDs using the above reasons.

First, and possibly most important to this argument, is the possibility that steroids and other enhancers are able to be used to limit their susceptibility to injuries or enhancing the recovering process. ESPN’s John Clayton recently remarked that despite the fact that Ray Lewis is considered to have used deer antler spray (without actual evidence proving he had or had not), we should not overlook the fact that it primarily was used to aid his recovery from torn triceps.

In the article, Clayton quotes Ed Reed who says that what is currently in his NFL training rooms is no different from his high school’s training rooms – back in 1996. The machines are similar, and so recovery isn’t improving for players on significant injuries. The best way to combat this problem could lie in the use of human growth hormone (HGH) to significantly improve a recovery time. As explained by Christopher Key of S.W.A.T.S. in the previously cited Sports Illustrated article, the deer antler spray contains IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor.

IGF-1 is also banned by the NCAA and all of the major professional sports leagues in North America. This makes deer antler spray an illegal substance, however after the story of Ray Lewis, this could be a new direction for sports medicine to take. As Reed stated, medical training in facilities for prevention and recovery have become outdated, and there must be a way to progress in these fields. The answer could be staring us in the face, as Ray Lewis should have been out for the entirety of the season and post-season, yet he returned after an amazingly quick recovery with possible aid from IGF-1.

If there is a way to speed recovery and help players continue their jobs, earn more money, and lead more successful lives, there is no reason to stop them from using it. The only requirement would be to regulate this with team doctors, and once a full recovery is made the athlete will then be taken off of the drug used to aid their recovery.

Finally, I will turn to the previously cited article by the Associated Press. Obviously, based on the findings of this article, colleges often do not seem to care about the safety of their athletes in terms of steroid use. Source of relevancy to Ohio Bobcat fans: fellow Mid-American Conference school Bowling Green State University has been noted as having voluntary drug testing. This means athletes decide whether they want to get caught or not.

In the article, the AP reporters note reviewing over 61,000 players weight changes over the course of their four years in college, as this is a prime indicator of steroid use. They found that about 7 percent of all players gained at least 20 pounds from one season to the next. The article then states that the likelihood of a player gaining such weight compared with other players is the statistic equivalent to an NFL quarterback passing for 12 touchdowns in one game.

The problem in this is that the schools determine their drug testing methods, not the NCAA. Due to this, the schools will focus primarily on the cheapest options which test for marijuana or cocaine use over steroid use. While that is a proper ideal in the prevention of illegal drug use, these tests do not uncover any PEDs. The AP report gives an example of a player for Hawaii who failed a test for marijuana use, but had been using steroids which went undetected.

There are schools who are focused on limiting the use of steroids on their teams, such as Duke University, where a player caught using steroids just once results in a yearlong suspension. While they appear to be on track to prevent such use, UCLA is known to only act on the third failed test. With such differences in testing methods, from Duke all the way to Bowling Green’s voluntary method, this sends mixed messages throughout college athletics.

If these are the messages being sent by institutions, it obviously shows that this schools do not believe that steroid use is a big enough factor in athletics and have allowed it to continue. Unless these schools change, I am led to believe this means that college athletics are only so competitive and entertaining due to steroid use, despite my hope that this is not the case. I would like to now encourage anybody reading this to petition the NCAA into requiring an institution-wide regulation on steroid testing.

Having identified two reasons that steroids could be seen as positive for an individual sport, we can conclude by saying that while for the purity of the game it would be ideal if athletes were completely clean, it is highly unlikely. Therefore, instead of fighting it so aggressively, we should simply accept certain uses for PEDs and regulate them as best we can to prevent dangerous uses. If players are forced to regulate themselves for healing purposes, it could lead to another Derek Boogaard incident of addiction and overdosing, and absolutely nobody wants to see that.

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