Of Steroids and Athletes

Dennis Garvin
Dennis Garvin

What can we do about the current steroid issue in virtually all sports where money is generated and the athlete is paid? When we attempt to persuade smokers of the distant risks of their habit, we are met with, essentially, denial.  The same exists in steroid use because risks are vague and hidden in the misty future.  In the here and now, they might help the athlete achieve money, fame and success.  Forget persuasion.  My concern, as a parent, grandparent, and physician is that the age at which steroids are begun is getting younger.

One way is to change the culture.  Make it clear that steroid users are cheaters.  That is already occurring in baseball: early users, like Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa, were admired by their peers; later on, Barry Bonds was viewed neutrally.  Recently, Alex Rodriguez and Brian Braun have been vilified by their peers and by athletes outside their sport.  All five were doing the same thing.

Better testing and screening is clearly needed.  We also, however, need to make the punishment for steroid use far worse than the expected benefits.  All athletes need to sign a contract, separate from all other employment paperwork and only between the athletes and the governing body of their particular sport.  Because it is signed before hiring, the Players unions for the respective sports would have no jurisdiction.  In this contract, the athlete agrees that an accusation of steroid use takes him immediately out of competition, no money earned, until it is resolved.

While I know that this violates the average American’s sense of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ I would submit that this is a business contract and it is not a criminal proceeding in a court of law.  It would apply equally to everyone.  The first offense, having been found guilty, would cause a lifetime ban from athletics.  Sound impossible?  No, I suspect that all ‘clean’ athletes in all sports would support this.  Parents should support it.  The various players unions would have trouble trying to oppose this, all the while demanding better player safety.

Why player safety?  I choose pro football because they have the greatest use (except perhaps for cycling) of steroids and the weakest testing policy.  Simply put, injuries increase as force of impact increases.  The formula for impact power is X= ½ MV2. M stands for mass, or weight. V stands for velocity.  Steroids increase both M and V.

Recently, the NFL became concerned about head injuries.  They have had lawsuits from former players with cognitive problems caused by football.   They are becoming louder in their condemnation of player actions that increase injury risk.

Their response is praiseworthy, but wrong.  For example, they now make almost any contact with a quarterback a penalty. They may as well dress the quarterbacks in a tutu. At the least, they should close the books on all records.  Tom Brady has passed Joe Montana in quarterback passing statistics.  Had Brady gotten hammered as often as Montana, would he have broken his record?  Thus, all ‘records broken’ in this powder puff era cannot be said to exceed those records set in the era when quarterbacks weren’t a protected species.

Implementing the above tough testing policy would immediately address this question of player safety. Changing the penalties of contact simply screws up the game.  What is needed is a return of all sports to the era before steroids, along with intelligent interpretation of penalties. We might then see the same cultural change in football that occurred in pro baseball.

In regard to pro football, I would suggest that every player submit to a blood test when he comes in on Monday to pick up his paycheck for the Sunday game (again, agreed to in the contract).  Also, anyone found guilty of an egregious personal foul would have to submit, right after the game, to a blood test.

In so doing, we hopefully will get all sports to undergo a cultural change in which steroids are viewed as shameful and equivalent to cheating.  The treatment given to Pete Rose (life time ban from baseball and life time vilification) should be accorded to every steroid user in every sport.

Will outlawing steroids in this way alter the game of football?  Not to the degree that the current penalty redefinition is doing?  It will also look the same to the average fan:  there will be players faster than others Naturally; players stronger than others Naturally.

This is the only way we will get our youth to look upon steroids for what they are: harmful and shameful.

– Dennis Garvin

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