ďItís so crowded, nobody goes there.Ē Yogi Berra.
Story of the Week
He didnít invent cheating in sports, nor did he create the culture of drug abuse that plagues our society, but Dr. John Ziegler did introduce anabolic steroids to the American athlete, spawning gaudy track and field records, check-swing home runs, and freakish physiques.
While attending a world weightlifting championship in Vienna in 1956, Ziegler was told that anabolic steroids were responsible for the impressive performance of Soviet competitors. Hoping to close the gap for U.S. jocks, Ziegler worked closely with a pharmaceutical company to develop a synthetic testosterone derivative with enhanced tissue-building properties known as Dianabol. The face of American sports, not to mention its bulging biceps, shrunken testicles and acne-riddled back, has never been the same.
Athletes have been searching for an edge since we started keeping score. Tour de France rider Tom Simpson, who died while jacked up on amphetamines in the 1967 race, once summed up his attitude toward pills thusly: ďIf it takes 10 to kill you, Iíll take nine.Ē In 1984, 198 world-class athletes were asked if they would take a pill that would guarantee a gold medal, even if they knew it would kill them in five years. Itís virtually impossible for me to imagine that 52% of those polled said yes.
Given the growth of prize and endorsement money, itís not a giant surprise that this win-at-all-costs ethos has become pervasive. Yet as the BALCO scandal unfolded, itís my opinion that the public seemed mostly free of steroid rage. Certainly, we prefer our athletes to be clean, but we donít demand it, and we seem resigned to the fact that most of the cheaters donít and wonít get caught. That saddens me as I am a sports purist, and I feel that any stats rolled up by steroidal jocks should be stricken and expunged from any and all records. These imitation athletes are guilty of defamation of the character and sanctity of any sport of which they are a part.
Shortly before Dr. John Ziegler died in 1983, he said, ďI wish I had never heard the word steroid.Ē Dr. Ziegler, that makes two of us!
The following is formal printed information on the subject
of anabolic steroids, its cause and effect:
There should not be a controversy over anabolic steroid use in athletics -- non-medical use of anabolic steroids is illegal and banned by most, if not all, major sports organizations. Still, some athletes persist in taking them as these substances provide a competitive advantage. But beyond the issues of popularity or legality is the fact that anabolic steroids can cause serious physical and psychological side effects.
In light of these hazards, measures to curtail the use of anabolic steroids are escalating. One of the nation's foremost authorities on steroid use, Dr. Gary Wadler, is part of a concerted effort to educate the public about the dangers of anabolic steroids. Dr. Wadler, a New York University School of Medicine professor and lead author of the book Drugs and the Athlete, serves as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice on anabolic-androgenic steroid use. He has also won the International Olympic Committee President's Prize for his work in the area of performance-enhancing drugs in competitive sports. He joined us to address the issue of steroids and sports.
What are anabolic steroids?
Anabolic steroids -- or more precisely, anabolic-androgenic steroids -- are the synthetic derivatives of the naturally occurring male anabolic hormone testosterone. Both anabolic and androgenic have origins from the Greek: anabolic, meaning "to build," and androgenic, meaning "masculinizing." Testosterone's natural androgenic effects trigger the maturing of the male reproductive system in puberty, including the growth of body hair and the deepening of the voice. The hormone's anabolic effect helps the body retain dietary protein, which aids in the development of muscles. "Although there are many types of steroids with varying degrees of anabolic and androgenic properties, it's the anabolic property of steroids that lures athletes," says Dr. Wadler. "They take them to primarily increase muscle mass and strength."
How are steroids taken?
Steroids can be taken orally or they can be injected. Those that are injected are broken down into additional categories, those that are very long-lasting and those that last a shorter time. In recent years, use has shifted to the latter category -- shorter-lasting, water-soluble injections. "The reason for that is that the side effects associated for the oral form were discovered to be especially worrisome for the liver,"says Dr. Wadler. "But the injectable steroids aren't free of side-effects either. There is no free ride and there is a price to be paid with either form."
Who takes anabolic steroids and why?
It is not only athletes, body builders, etc. who may be using anabolic steroids. Nor is it only men. White- and blue-collar workers, females and, most alarmingly, adolescents take steroids -- all linked by the desire to hopefully look, perform and feel better, regardless of the dangers.
Anabolic steroids are designed to mimic the bodybuilding traits of testosterone. Most healthy males produce less than 10 milligrams of testosterone a day. Females also produce testosterone but in minute amounts. Some athletes however, may use up to hundreds of milligrams a day, far exceeding the normally prescribed daily dose for legitimate medical purposes. Anabolic steroids do not improve agility, skill or cardiovascular capacity.
What are the health hazards of anabolic steroids?
"There can be a whole panoply of side effects, even with prescribed doses," says Dr. Wadler. "Some are visible to the naked eye and some are internal. Some are physical, others are psychological. With unsupervised steroid use, wanton 'megadosing' or stacking (using a combination of different steroids), the effects can be irreversible or undetected until it's too late." Also, if anabolic steroids are injected, transmitting or contracting HIV and Hepatitis B through shared needle use is a very real concern.
Additionally, Dr. Wadler stresses that "unlike almost all other drugs, all steroid based hormones have one unique characteristic -- their dangers may not be manifest for months, years and even decades. Therefore, long after you gave them up you may develop side effects."
Physical side effects
Men - Although anabolic steroids are derived from a male sex hormone, men who take them may actually experience a "feminization" effect along with a decrease in normal male sexual function. Some possible effects include:
Reduced sperm count
Development of breasts
Shrinking of the testicles
Difficulty or pain while urinating
Women - On the other hand, women often experience a "masculinization" effect from anabolic steroids, including the following:
Facial hair growth
Menstrual cycle changes
With continued use of anabolic steroids, both sexes can experience the following effects, which range from the merely unsightly to the life endangering. They include:
Rapid weight gain
Premature heart attacks and strokes
Elevated cholesterol levels
Special dangers to adolescents
Anabolic steroids can halt growth prematurely in adolescents. "What happens is that steroids close the growth centers in a kid's bones", says Dr. Wadler. "Once these growth plates are closed, they cannot reopen so adolescents that take too many steroids may end up shorter than they should have been."
Behavioral side effects
According to Dr. Wadler, anabolic steroids can cause severe mood swings. "People's psychological states can run the gamut." says Wadler. "They can go from bouts of depression or extreme irritability to feelings of invincibility and outright aggression, commonly called "'roid rage. This is a dangerous state beyond mere assertiveness."
Are anabolic steroids addictive?
Recent evidence suggests that long-time steroid users and steroid abusers may experience the classic characteristics of addiction including cravings, difficulty in stopping steroid use and withdrawal symptoms. "Addiction is an extreme of dependency, which may be a psychological, if not physical, phenomena," says Dr. Wadler. "Regardless, there is no question that when regular steroid users stop taking the drug they get withdrawal pains and if they start up again the pain goes away. They have difficulties stopping use even though they know it's bad for them."
Last Weekís Trivia
Ron Blomberg (Many printed accounts of his name show the spelling to be Bloomberg, but that is incorrect.) was baseballís first official DH. In a game between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 6, 1973, as a member of the New York Yankees, Blomberg was walked by Boston pitcher Luis Tiant in his first plate appearance.
Here's a bonus. The DH rule is for baseball hitters.......not baseball players. When I become commissioner of MLB, the DH will be abolished.
Trivia Question of the Week
This NCAA Division 1-A football player set a record for most career 100-yard rushing games with 34, and for most all-purpose yards with 7,568. And only Ron Dayne, Tony Dorsett and Ricky Williams rushed for more career yards than his 6,021. Who is he? See next weekís Sports Junkie for the answer.