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Steroid Abuse in Sports

The use of performance enhancing drugs dates as far back to the original Olympic Games, and attempts to increase testosterone were documented as early as 776 BC.  These ancient athletes ingested sheep’s testicles, which they knew to be a source of testosterone. Although it might seem extreme to us now, this was a small price to pay for the prizes of the time.  These athletes did not compete for medals, or for the love of the game. They didn’t practice long hours for national pride, or to feel the championship wreath atop their heads.  Much like those of today, they competed for the two things that matter most…money and prestige (the chance to make more money). Present day athletes still turn to performance enhancing drugs (often called “PEDs”) and anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS).

The first incidence of confirmed Steroid abuse in sports was at the World Weightlifting Championships of 1954 where the Soviets easily dominated most of their weight classes.  Dr. John Ziegler, the United States team physician, questioned the Soviet team’s doctor about AAS.  The Soviet doctor openly admitted that his athletes were given testosterone injections while training for the championships.   This confession, along with rumors of discarded syringes in the Soviet dressing rooms, marked the first public admission to using AAS for performance enhancement in athletic events.  The Soviet team was not penalized for these actions, because there were no regulations in place to address this new problem.

Seeking an alternative to the Soviet injectable version, Dr. Ziegler committed himself to developing a superior oral testosterone derivative.  His diligence resulted in the development of Dianabol, the most widely abused anabolic steroid of all time.

In the late 1960´s the East Germans began a statewide doping program in an attempt to win more gold medals.  In 1968 East Germany’s chief medical officer submitted a report to the government recommending the total and collective administration of steroids to all East German athletes.   For the next 20 years they dominated virtually every major worldwide sporting event.  Soon after this the World Health Organization filed an official complaint against AAS which lead to the International Olympic Council’s complete ban of such drugs during international competition. 

Meanwhile, steroids had caught on in the United States where professional sports were gaining recognition, and athletic compensation began to soar.  Those using AAS became more successful, and generated far greater income than their non-using counterparts.  Athletes all over the world wanted to know where to get these drugs, and how to use them.  Steroids soon became a staple of virtually every gym in the country, and they were here to stay.

 The many pro athlete stories and huge lists of medical side effects clearly illustrate why the ban on steroids was put into effect back in the late 1960’s.  Unfortunately this action did not deter athletes then, and appears to have little impact today. In 1972, the first athlete caught officially breaking the ban on performance enhancing substances was an American swimmer named Rick De Mont who was using a substance called “Ephedrine”.  Steroid use in the Olympics continued in secret, with athletes enlisting various professionals to help circumvent drug testing.  By the 1990´s, knowledge of AAS had become part of the public psyche, and their abuse had penetrated nearly every possible professional and amateur sport.   In 1987 the National Football League introduced its first anti-steroid policy.

While in the late 1990’s a bottle of Androstendione, a prohormone that converts within the body to testosterone, was spotted by a reporter in the locker of then homerun record chasing Mark McGwire.  Though McGwire soon retired the story of steroids in the Major League Baseball (MLB) was exposed.  Further news of AAS exploded onto the scene when Ken Caminiti admitted using them in Sports Illustrated.  Caminiti went on to estimate player usage in the MLB at fifty percent. In a book published during this same time homerun giant Jose Canseco also admitted to abusing AAS, and raised Caminiti’s estimate to 85% of MLB players.  The league’s secret was out, and the scandals were about to begin.  Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds were both implicated and investigated, later testifying before major courts regarding their AAS histories.

The most common reason for steroid abuse in sports is desire to excel. 

These drugs are a particular enticement when faced with the pressures felt at the high school and amateur levels.

They are often seen as a necessary step towards college scholarships and progression towards the professional ranks. Steroid abuse has been speculated to be even worse at these levels than in professional sports.

Perhaps the saddest commentary on this subject is the fact that AAS abuse crosses so many barriers including age, race, gender, and class.