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Steroids in sports
Hockey not immune to the issue
12/6/04 - by Fred Begun

Due to the lack of anything NHL to talk about, because I am not really interested that the NHLPA invited the NHL to come to talk after over 3 months of nothing, let's continue to talk about sports in general. We have not heard much about steroids in hockey. I presume that this is because of the wholesome influence of Canada, eh?

In the San Francisco Bay Area, we cannot help but to feel the adrenaline flush from the BALCO inquiries. Now Jason Giambi has come out and admitted he used a variety of steroids . . . big surprise! Giambi claims to have received the steroids from Greg Anderson, one of Barry Bonds personal friends and trainers. Reports on Bonds' testimony suggest he used some things, but didn't know they were steroids. Yeah, right. This does beg the question, how should we view the use of steroids or other performance enhancing substances in sports?

Let's admit that most sports are entertainment. Do we really care if our favorite actors get face lifts, tummy tucks or Botox injections in order to enhance their ability to better entertain us? Athletes are no different than actors, right? We want to see the best show money can buy. But at what price? There are a variety of different steroids or other performance enhancing drugs available. Most are available by prescription only.

Most are organic based chemicals with other synthetic altered formats, most of which were designed to treat real illness. However, as with most drugs, side effects were discovered, and it is those side effects, muscle enhancements with speed, strength and stamina elements, that make them useful in sports. Other chemical or compounds are then engineered to focus on just these enhancements. An added bonus is the new designer drugs are not detectible.

However, most of these drugs also have harmful side effects. Young athletes have had organ failure, heart attacks and strokes, related at least in part to the use or abuse of steroids and related enhancement drugs. Do we, as spectators and fans, represented in large part in this case by the owners, encourage use by demanding higher performance and paying large contracts on historical performance and future expectation?

How do we, as a society, want to deal with performance substance use or abuse? We can take one absolute position against. Either from the players and unions up, or from the legislature down, we can say no drugs. Agreement or law could mandate a uniform leveling of the playing field, in all sports. We create a list of banned substances and agree to some format of verification . . . yes, drug testing.

We put aside some privacy rights and justify this draconian approach on a number of levels. We could simply agree that these are personally harmful and that we don't want to encourage something that is harmful to an athlete, and try to remove the pressure for excess. We do this to protect them from themselves. We can also justify this due to the ever present sports role model argument. We don't want to perpetuate a myth of higher excellence and achievement based upon false pretenses chemically enhanced.

If pros can uses these things, then how about minor leaguers, colleges, high school? Any line drawn between these levels would be totally artificial and only part of the grey area or slippery slope. However some line of permissible versus prohibited must be drawn.

Assuming we draw that line, and establish a procedure for verification, then we must be clear with the ramifications of violation. A single violation means suspension. Retesting must show clean. Repeated violations must become career threatening. After all, if players are not concerned that wrong conduct will jeopardize their health and their lives, and then perhaps they will react if their repeated conduct, also known as drug induced stupidity, will affect their livelihood. The same penalties should apply across the board to all other substances.

But what if we want maximum performance? What if we want to allow records to be broken? What if we want bigger, faster and better in the modern era of sports? Simple. Again, rules are made to allow and to limit whatever we want. Certain drugs are OK and certain drugs are prohibited. Again, there must be testing and verification or everything else is pointless. Whatever was done in the past, was done in the past. Forget the asterisks in the record books. Leagues and Players associations make the rules and really enforce them.

Have clear and heavy penalties for violations, and enforce them. The limbo and speculation that we are all presently suffering is simply pointless. Draw the line in the sand and move on. Let's focus on the integrity of game and not on the off field distractions.

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