At the 2000 summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, American track & field participant Marion Jones electrified the sports world when she won five gold medals, displaying a physical prowess that was never before seen in female athletic competition. On the morning of Oct. 6 2007, Jones again shocked the world, but in a criminal fashion when she plead guilty to steroid enhancement.
In retrospect, Jones is not alone in her testimony of substance abuse; she as well as a plethora of other professional athletes in the new era of sports entertainment have injected themselves with the illegal “Super Serum.”
Other accused mega-athletes include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGuire…they’re all Major League Baseball (MLB) players. We don’t mean to pick on pro-baseball, but if the needle fits… It’s no secret that Major League Baseball has been the new millennium’s cesspool of deception, but for integrity’s sake lets hope that the game’s newly imposed and strict steroid testing program that includes random, off-season testing and 10 day suspensions for first time offenders curbes its “players” appetite for the unconventional, and inspires the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to kick their drug testing practices up a notch as well.
Why the USADA? Maybe because of the ongoing influx of steroid junkies that Track and Field seems to attract. What’s baffling is how these cheaters somehow manage to evade testing in route to not only compete in the Olympics, but win gold, silver, and bronze medals before they are exposed months and some even years later. What’s up with that? We hope that steroids haven’t corrupted Olympic swimmers.
Clearly, the obvious sport to condemn for steroid slinging is football…right? Wrong says ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman of California. Despite what many may think, “the percentage of NFL (National Football League) players who test positive for steroids is very low,” said Waxman in a ’05 hearing on steroids lead by the House Government Reform Committee. Someone should have given pro-linebacker Shawn Merriman the memo, because a year after Waxman gave his encouraging statement, Merriman, aka “Lights Out,” tested positive for San Diego “Charging” himself with “The Juice.” I’m sure that media lights will be “on” his workout regimen until he gives his retirement speech.
Anyway, the NFL began testing in 1987, added suspensions in 1989, and instituted year-round random testing in 1990. By April 2005, only 111 NFL players had tested positive for banned steroids and of those 111 the NFL suspended 54…not bad if you consider the thousands of NFL players past and present who from a natural standpoint look anything but…well…natural . However, the question must be posed that in light of the maximum six random drug tests during every off season, have a majority of these freakishly-large men figured out how to avoid detection? The very idea of a 300 pound human being running the 40 yard dash in 4.4 seconds raises an eyebrow or two. If a game of “hide the syringe” is being played in the NFL, then at this point, it’s in triple overtime.
It’s probably safe to assume that steroids have successfully jimmied the door of professional sports, (yes, that includes the NBA which is next to be on the hot seat). But have they made a significant impact on the collegiate and amateur levels as well? It would at best be naive to say that is not an issue.
At the college level, the largest source of information about steroid use is the NCAA Study of Substance Use Habits of College Student-Athletes. Conducted every four years, this report surveys athletes from every NCAA institution in all three divisions. The most recent edition published in 2005, included responses from 19,676 college student-athletes about their use, habits and attitudes on a variety of substances, including steroids.
According to the anonymous, self-report study, steroid use among Division I college athletes in 2005 was the lowest since the study began in 1985, with 1.2 percent of respondents reporting they had used steroids in the past 12 months-down from 1.6 in 2001 and a high of 4.8 in 1989. In Division II, reported use fell from 2.5 percent in 2001 to 1.2 in 2005, and in Division III, 1.0 percent of athletes reported using steroids, compared to 1.4 in 2001.
At the high school level, a University of Michigan study called “Monitoring the Future” polls 50,000 students each year on steroid use. In its 2007 report, 1.1 percent of eighth grade males, 1.7 percent of 10th grade males, and 2.3 percent of 12th grade males reported having tried steroids. Use among high school girls ranged from 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent across the grade levels.
The grim reality of high-school athletes “juicing” to gain a physical advantage is disappointing but not surprising. The pressure for them to be better than the next guy is arguably greater than that of a professional athlete, but the fact that 12 year-olds are now statistics to the quiet epidemic, is sickening.
While the numbers on both college and high-school athletes sound encouraging they derive from only surveys, and if my memory is correct, a survey is nothing more than a mere questionnaire. As a result, there is a growing concern that the reports and statistics don’t tell the real story. The decline in user rates in self-reported studies may come because athletes are more aware of the consequences of getting caught using steroids. And some experts believe high school and college programs rarely see positive steroid tests not because few athletes are using, but because testing programs aren’t looking hard enough.
The past few years have seen a growing emphasis on statewide testing programs at the high school level since there has been a growing population of “Man-Children” vying to compete in secondary school intermural sports. Prior to 2006, there were no statewide programs testing high school athletes for steroids. Today, at least 10 states (Texas, New Mexico, West Virginia, Connecticut, Indiana, Missouri, Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, and California) have testing programs or are thinking about developing them.
The NCAA conducts a small amount of year-round drug testing in Divisions I and II, and also screens athletes who are involved in its national championships at all levels. Division III, currently conducting a two-year pilot program, may soon see a permanent year-round testing program in place as well.The program has been heavily critized due to the fact that it tests just four percent of participants each year, so individual athletes understand the odds of being selected are slim to none.