Saturday, May 29, 2010
Doping And You
"I don't think it is possible for a weight man to compete internationally without using anabolic steroids," says Dr. H. Kay Dooley, director of the Wood Memorial Clinic in Pomona, Calif., one of the few physicians who openly endorse use of anabolic steroids. "All the weight men on the Olympic team had to take steroids. Otherwise they would not have been in the running."
That excerpt is from article from Sports Illustrated on doping in sports. I mentioned last week that I got sick of covering this topic because of the way it’s handled in the media. This article is fresh and candid. Of course I’m interested in doping. Any person’s whose job is human performance can’t ignore anything, medical or not, that improves it because the latest research always trickles down. Whatever sports scientists are doing to help athletes win gold medals will in some form become a component of the next version of P90X.
In both training and nutrition we distill what’s happening at the pinnacle of the sport; tossing aside anything dangerous and embracing that which works. Of course we never advocate doping but drugs generally stimulate natural reactions which can be improved through diet and supplementation. The latter is not as effective but trends still follow medical research. We look through natural pathways for similar reactions. Famous sports surgeon Dr. Robert Kerlan explains the problems with this difference in the article.
"I'm not a therapeutic nihilist," says Kerlan "Situations arise where there are valid medical reasons for prescribing drugs for athletes. There are special occupational health problems in some sports. However, the excessive and secretive use of drugs is likely to become a major athletic scandal, one that will shake public confidence in many sports just as the gambling scandal tarnished the reputation of basketball. The essence of sports is matching the natural ability of men. When you start using drugs, money or anything else surreptitiously to gain an unnatural advantage, you have corrupted the purpose of sports as well as the individuals involved in the practice."
Doping is a well known problem but the press, for the most part, has done a horrible job explaining it. I guess our love of black and white has led the media to create heroes and villains and pit them against each other. The article paints a slightly different picture of drug use in sports.
The whole matter has been succinctly summarized by Hal Connolly, a veteran of four U.S. Olympic teams.
"My experience," says Connolly, "tells me that an athlete will use any aid to improve his performance short of killing himself."
In the press Americans that are yet to be busted often take a holier than thou approach. After getting beaten by some Chinese swimmers one American woman proudly proclaimed she was “the fasted clean swimmer in the world.” The press loved it. However, Americans appear to be leading the race, not following.
"American athletes have the most expensive urine in the world," says Ray Baldwin, trainer at Xavier University.
After all, Americans are, by far, the most doped society in the world as the article points out.
Setting aside ethical considerations for the moment, there are obvious reasons why athletes should use so many drugs. The most obvious is that there are more drugs available these days for everyone than ever before. Furthermore, we have all been sold on the efficacy of drugs. We believe that the overflowing pharmacopoeia is one of the unquestioned triumphs of the age. We have been sold on drugs empirically because we have tried them and enjoy the results. We have been sold by countless magazine and newspaper stories about wonder drugs—many of which later turned out to be less than wondrous—by massive pro-drug propaganda campaigns mounted by pharmaceutical manufacturers, by TV actors dressed in doctors' coats and by real doctors, many of whom are very quick with the prescription pad. Generally, we have accepted rather uncritically the central message of this persuasive pitch—drugs are good for you. These days it is a cultural reflex to reach for a vial, an atomizer, a capsule or a needle if you suffer from fever, chills, aches, pains, nausea, nasal congestion, irritability, the doldrums, sluggishness, body odor, obesity, emaciation, too many kids, not enough kids, nagging backache or tired blood.
The press doesn’t seem to acknowledge this at all, treating dopers as if they some form of modern freak show. Old school athletes are lionized. When plucked from the woodwork of retirement they feign surprise. Instead of copping to the fact that drugs may have been around in their day, they offer their opinions in an air of denial similar to Louie, the corrupt police chief in Casablanca’s reaction when coerced to change his stance on gambling in Bogie’s bar, “I’m shocked, SHOCKED, to see gambling going on in this establishment!”
Yet drugs have been a part of sport for as long as they’ve been a part of society:
By bringing together athletes from all over the world and dumping them into the most formidable sporting pressure cooker yet devised, the quadrennial Olympic Games have traditionally (it took four physicians to revive the marathon winner of the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, an American, Tom Hicks, who proved to be loaded on strychnine and brandy) served as an exchange for drugs and drug recipes.
When Barry Bonds came clean his entire era of sluggers’ records were dismissed by the traditionalists for cheating. The press wants records to revert back to an era where sports where clean. You know, like Hank Aaron’s numbers from the 70s. Greg LeMond, the time Tour de France winner in the 80s, has been once of the most vocal opponents of modern cycling’s drug addiction yet he hardly mentions drugs during his career, even though the most famous drug-related cycling death happened to Tom Simpson in 1967.
But the most fascinating aspect of this article is that it was published in 1969. No matter how the press wants to handle it, we can’t escape the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Ken Ferguson of Utah State University, who went on to play professional football in Canada, has said that 90% of college linemen have used steroids. "I'd say anybody who has graduated from college to professional football in the last four years has used them," said Ferguson in 1968.