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Steroids: What’s Wrong with Supporting Science?

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Webster’s Dictionary defines a steroid as:

Any of numerous naturally occurring or synthetic fat-soluble organic compounds having as a basis 17 carbon atoms arranged in four rings and including the sterols and bile acids, adrenal and sex hormones, certain natural drugs such as digitalis compounds, and the precursors of certain vitamins.

Recently we as sports fans have had the issue of steroids thrown in our face again. Issues about records, the state of the game of baseball and The Hall of Fame have all come into question. But my question is if we as humans always want to get better-faster-stronger, why isn’t our whole existence one gigantic steroid?

“There are two basic forms of steroids, actual testosterone, and a chemically modified version it. From a medical perspective, steroids are both naturally occurring (created within the body) and synthetic (created within the lab). In the human body these hormones promote cell growth and division which results in the development of muscle tissue, cartilage, and bone. This is achieved through Anabolism which is the metabolic process of building larger molecules from smaller ones.” Says the Web site for the Association Against Steroid Abuse (AASA). Other forms of steroids include Ergosterol used is the basis for the use of some antifungals against West African sleeping sickness. Glucocorticoids is used in many over the counter weight loss supplements because of the ingredient cortisol that controls carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism. Another common steroid is 20-Hydroxyecdysone (also known as ecdysterone or 20E) and despite lacking FDA approval, it has proven to be moderately successful as a commercial product in the countries in which it is produced, likely due to its efficacy in promoting muscle growth and fat loss, and lower amount of side-effects that are usually associated with anabolic steroids.

The AASA also says that “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).” Another example of steroid use in history is when the East Germans began a statewide doping program the late 60s, which led them to dominate the Olympics over the next twenty years. Only after a complaint was filed with the World Health Organization did the Olympic Committee decide to place a ban on any steroid related drugs.

Bigger-Faster-Stronger is encoded into every humans brain, including the Major League Baseball players of today. McGuire, Bonds, Clemens, and recently Arod have all come under fire for using substances that were banned at some point. Some of the named players took what is termed a steroid today but wasn’t at the time they were taking it and perfectly legal to take proving that steroids in sports have always been around. Former Rangers pitching coach Tom House is on record as saying steroid use was rampant in baseball as early as the 1960s and that he and several teammates used amphetamines, human growth hormone, and whatever steroid they could find to improve their performance. Tom House and Hank Aaron were teammates in Atlanta for five seasons, 1971 to 1975. Do you really think Bonds “taking over” Aaron’s record is really the first time he was witness to the benefits of steroid use? Even the MLB Commissioner, Bud Selig, is on record saying he first because aware of drugs in baseball when he toured the Milwaukee Braves clubhouse in 1958 and saw how open their use was. Some compared the openness of steroid use as candy dishes that surrounded clubhouses across the league.

With the science of the human body over hundreds of years also comes the improvement of better equipment and nutrition used for sports. Today’s bats and balls are engineered in such a way that a bat’s “sweet spot” is studied and expanded as much as possible to increase the distance when a ball is hit. The physics of the sport have been examined in such a way that you can scientifically study your actions and improve your reactions to get the results you want. Could this be considered a competitive advantage as steroids are? On that note, athletes also study to nutrition almost to an obsession taking protein shakes that are perfectly legal, that help repair the muscle damage after a workout and speed up recovery time. Who’s to say that protein shakes will not be illegal in ten years? Is it also a competitive advantage for a pitcher that has had Tommy John’s Surgery or a batter that has had Lasik Eye Surgery? Where does good science stop and steroids start?
The use of steroids in sports creates a debate that we have no seen in decades. The respect for the game is called into play. And for some, rightfully so. For those athletes that have played the right way, it angers them. Roy Oswalt had a very strong opinion about Arod’s use of steroids saying, “ARod’s numbers shouldn’t count for anything, I feel like he cheated me out of the game,” as said to MLB.com. “It does bother me,” Oswalt said. “Especially for the guys that went out there and did it on talent. We’re always going to have a cloud on us, and that’s not fair at all. The ones that have come out and admitted it, and are proven guilty, [their numbers] should not count. I’ve been cheated out of the game,” Oswalt continued. “This is my ninth year, and I’ve done nothing to enhance my performance, other than work my butt off to get guys out. The few times we played them, when he got hits, it could have cost me a game," Oswalt said. “It could have cost me money in my contract. He cheated me out of the game and I take it personally, because I’ve never done [steroids] and they’re cheating me out of the game.” Oswalt’s take is a very compelling side of the argument because Arod is the one reaping the benefits and not him.

Even though I personally struggle as to what is the true definition of a performance enhancing drug, I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for those athletes that have never injected themselves with an anabolic steroid. I somehow feel that they are doing it the right way by working hard and eating right. I hold no grudge against admitted steroid users and like most Americans, will continue to watch MLB baseball with the pure excitement that the game creates. The only thing that worries me is when you see the side effects and hear the horror stories about steroid use, it makes me afraid for our youth who cannot make that decision for themselves and see it as an easy way out to working hard and taking nutrition seriously.
Steroids are a form of science and I feel should be studied more so that they are safe to take. Fact is, we will always try to be better and there should be safe and effective alternatives for athletes to utilize. But until then, I will keep watching sports along with many other Americans.

It is important to note that with all drugs, illegal and legal, there can be many side effects associated with the use. Please read up on the dangers of steroid use here.

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