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Performance Enhancing Drugs in Professional Sports

Competition is fierce among athletes and the temptation to take performance enhancing drugs is great.

Performance Enhancing Drugs in Professional Sports

by Kelli Simkus

Winning is everything. Every sports fan wants to see their favorite team win. Of course the athletes do not want to let their fans down.

Yet, why do so many athletes take performance-enhancing drugs, so they can throw 95-mph fastballs and hit homeruns into San Francisco Bay, just to please their fans? Is the pressure from society so strong that athletes need that edge to excite the crowds? If every day people can take performance enhancers to heighten sexual experiences then why shouldn't athletes take performance enhancers to heighten their game? Steroids have become a common occurrence.

Enhancers are everywhere in the world. Why is it wrong for athletes to take them? Is society's pressure for greater entertainment cause enough for athletes to take performance-enhancing drugs, risking everything in the process?

History of Steriods in Sports

Steroid use dates back to the early Olympic Games in Ancient Greece. These performance enhancers were not known as steroids then. But athletes did not play for prestige or love of the game, these athletes played for money. Athletes did not even compete for pride or for family. Money was the driving force behind a man desire to compete.

Instead athletes ingested herbs and foods hoping to enhance their performance. Some athletes even ingested crushed sheep testicles, which are a known source of testosterone, to improve their performance.

Steroids are bad for sports, they're bad for players, they're bad for young people who hold athletes up as role models.
~President George W. Bush

The use of performance enhancing drugs by modern day athletes began around 1954 with body builders. The Soviet body builders showed a strong performance at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, and at the World Weightlifting Championships the Soviets dominated most of the weight classes.

John Ziegler, the team physician for the United States, questioned the doctor for the Soviets. He said he was giving testosterone injections to the athletes. There was a rumor that discarded syringes were found in the dressing rooms of the Soviets. (Roberts, 2007)

Later, John Ziegler developed a drug with the help of a pharmaceutical company. The drug was called Dianabol. Ziegler gave his bodybuilders Dianabol in the 1960s and dominated American weightlifting. Dianabol was soon made available to anyone who was looking for that extra edge. Dianabol helped many bodybuilders, football players, weightlifters, and Olympic athletes. The results of Dianabol were that it helped athletes train harder, longer and more effectively. Dianabol also allowed new muscle to be built at an increased rate, which improved muscle power and strength, which translated into hefty financial rewards.

Arnold Schwarzenegger won his first of seven Mr. Olympia titles with the aid of Dr. Zeigler's little blue Dianabol pill. Dianabol caught on quickly and the "steroids arms-race" was in full swing. By 1968, an official complaint about steroid use was made by the World Health Organization because major pharmaceutical companies were over producing steroids.

It was at this time that professional sporting events were gaining prominence in the United States and athletes were beginning to make a living by playing professional sports. There were no documented reports of athletes using performance-enhancing drugs, but the International Olympic Council issued a ban on anabolic steroids. Later most professional sports leagues followed suit. (Roberts, 2007)

Current use of Steriods

Today performance enhancers are currently being used by athletes to become bigger, leaner, faster, and to increase stamina. These performance enhancers enable athletes to compete more competitively in the games they love and to earn more money than ever before. Personal pressure to acheive record breaking success, fuels competitiveness.

The financial rewards for extraordinary athletic achievements and winning performances are substantial. There is a significant incentive for athletes to maximize their on-field performances, which is the main objective of any sports competition. Virtually all athletes use various artificial means to enhance their body's natural performance while playing their respective sports. (Mitten, 2005)

Athletes thrive on the attention fans bring, coming to watch and enjoy sports competitions. To keep up with society's expectations some athletes will do anything to maintain their competitive edge in the league. The use of drugs by one athlete may coerce or force another athlete to use, simply to maintain equality; therefore heightening the competition. Winning seems to be everything. Athletes, who do not measure up to the standards set by their peers, can face being traded, benched or let go entirely. Fear can be a great motivating factor in the decision to use dangerous enhancing drugs.

Steriod use can lead to death and is a high price to pay for athletes who are willing to win at any cost. Athletes who train and compete clean should be furious, and athletes should not feel obligated to keep it to themselves. If 15% of the elite athletes are doping, the real question is why are the other 85% so silent, while cheaters steal their medals and sponsorship deals? Do clean athletes have more to lose by blowing the whistle than facing a doped competition? (Quinn, 2005)

Harmful Effects of Steroid Use

Steroid Reactions

Athletes who take performance enhancers often do not think about the repercussions. Prolonged use of steroids can cause physical and psychological side effects. Some of these effects include high blood pressure, heart disease, liver damage, cancer, kidney and prostrate problems and an increased risk of ruptured tendons. Steroid use can also cause acne and hair loss. Men can experience deterioration of the testicles, a reduced sperm count and the growth of breasts. Women using steroids can experience the growth of body hair, a deeper voice and menstrual problems.

Performance enhancing drugs also alter moods, which can lead to depression, and severe aggression or "roid rage." (Facts on File, 2007) Steroids were the supposed cause of a mental breakdown of a professional wrestler who killed his wife and child then himself. Police found several bottles of steroids in the home of Chris Benoit and in the toxicology reports Benoit's wife and child also had performance enhancing drugs in their system. Chris Benoit is not the only professional wrestler who has died from prolonged use of steroids.

Legends like Eddie Guerrero, Rick Rude, and Curt Hennig have died from heart failures due to prolonged use of performance enhancing drugs. The primary harm resulting from an athletes usage of banned performance-enhancing substances is to the sport's integrity.

Florence Griffith Joyner ("Flo-Jo") died at age 38, from a heart seizure on September 21, 1998. Even before her untimely death, the shadow of suspicion hung over her glorious two gold medals and one silver at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Joyner had a muscular form and a husky voice that was typical of steroid users and with her retirement announced abruptly in 1989, when mandatory random testing for drugs was introduced, there were whispers that Flo-Jo had use performance enhancing drugs.

Flo-Jo's death threw the spotlight back on to the debate over drugs in sports. Early the same month another athlete was etching his name in the record books. The US baseball player Mark McGwire hit the most home runs ever in a single season; America's most prestigious sporting record. He is the first athlete in history to break a record while publicly admitting his use of performance-enhancing drugs. McGwire has admitted taking the drug androstenedione, which helps to build muscle and aids recovery from injury or exhaustion. The drug is on the banned list of the International Olympic Committee but is not banned by baseball's governing body, nor is it illegal. So far, the use of drugs has not doomed baseball. (Barnard, 1998)

According to the Associated Press, on December 12, 2007, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) formally stripped former track and field athlete Marion Jones of her five Olympic medals, wiping her name from the record books following her admission that she started using steroids before the Sydney Games. Marion Jones had already handed back the three gold medals and two bronze she won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The International Association of Athletics Federations erased all Jones' results dating to September 2000, but it was up to the IOC to formally disqualify her and erase her Olympic medals. "We disqualified Marion Jones from the five events she participated in Sydney, and for one event in Athens, that was the long jump," IOC president Jacques Rogge said at the close of a three-day executive board meeting. Marion Jones won gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 1,600-metres relay in Sydney, and bronze in the long jump and 100-meter relay. She was the first female track and field athlete to win five medals at a single Olympics.

Let's play ball!

The Future of Steroids

Performance enhancing drugs will never go away. When the ban on anabolic steroids went in place for Olympic athletes, new drugs were found that could not be tested. Athletes who thrive on performance enhancing drugs will always look for new improved drugs that will not show up in testing, just to stay one step ahead of the competition. Performance enhancers are everywhere in the world. Viagra, Enzyte, and Botox are popular enhancements. Men use Viagra and Enzyte to enhance male performance.

Performance enhancing drugs are widely used in the entertainment industry as well. We know that some actors and actress have used some kind of enhancement to strengthen their voice or give them more stamina for photo shoots and taping sessions. We still watch their movies and television shows. Doping does not seem to affect the futures of actress and actors when they use performance enhancers on a casual basis.

Recently the Mitchell Report, which is the report to the Commissioner of baseball of an independent investigation into the illegal use of steroids and other performance enhancing substances by players in Major League Baseball, was released. This report listed some very prominent names in baseball that used performance-enhancing drugs.

So, what is the difference between these athletes and musicians? Many musicians, like The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Def Leppard, and Grateful Dead, used many different illegal narcotics and drank themselves under the table and still performed. Some musicians said taking illegal drugs and drinking alcohol cures stage fright or gives them the energy they need to perform during high-energy live concerts. Fans did not stop attending to their concerts. They enjoyed the music and live performance without much thought of what it took for these musicians to reach that kind of success.

Steroid Policies

The U.S. Government has adopted the list of banned substances from the International Olympic Committee and in October of 2004 President Bush signed a bill that amended the list of performance enhancing drugs and expanded that list to include chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone. "Steroids are bad for sports, they're bad for players, they're bad for young people who hold athletes up as role models," he said.

The issue of steroid use in baseball become more prominent in 2002, when retired baseball player Ken Caminiti admitted to having used steroids in 1996, the season he was named the National League MVP. Caminiti claimed that 50% of baseball players used steroids. Since then professional sports leagues have adopted stricter drugs policies and testing. (Fact on File, 2007)

The non-medical use of steroids is banned by the Women's Tennis Association, International Tennis Federation, International Olympic Committee, International Federation of Association Football, and Union of European Football Association, the Professional Golf Association, the Nation Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the European Athletic Association and the National Football League.

Steroid policy and the NFL as we know it began in 1987. If we look at an examination of the heights and weights of members of the annual Parade Magazine's high school All-American Football Teams from 1963-1971, we see no significant changes in the Body Mass Index of these elite high school athletes. Now if we take another look and examine those same player' heights and weights, but this time we compare 1972-1989, we see a clear trend towards increased pattern in Body Mass Index. These are interesting results, to say the least.

If we take a look at an elite collegiate program such as Michigan State University, we see this trend again. In 1975, their average player weighed 213 pounds, and by 2005 that weight had jumped to 236 pounds. In a story that is very similar to its roots in high school and collegiate football, NFL linemen are weighing well over 300 pounds on average today. Roughly 25 years ago, they weighed over 50 pounds less, on average. (Roberts, 2007)

While the fate of steroid legislation is unknown, professional sports leagues like the Major League Baseball has called for a stricter steroid-test policy. This policy holds the "three strikes and you're out" theory. This started in MLB's 2006 season. Under this proposal, a player would receive a 50-game suspension for a first positive test, 100 games for the second and a lifetime ban for the third.

Will Steroids Kill Sports?

Sports analysts have speculated whether or not we will have professional sports without performance enhancing drugs. Finding athletes who play a fair game is getting hard to find. Preparing for a career in professional sports is risky business because it requires focusing on getting a job that statistically, does not exist. (Yesalis, 2007)

Athletes wonder if they will have a harder time pleasing audiences. Fans like exciting sports events and if left disappointed, these fans would stop attending events. In the meantime, sports fans are not going anywhere. The doping going around baseball does not seem to bother anyone. For example, Barry Bonds lied to the grand jury and is now in the middle of a jury trial and new indictments are being brought up against him, and Marion Jones had to give back her gold medal in track and field, but it did not seem as important as the events going on at that point in time.

Sports fans will continue to fill stadiums to see 95-mph fastballs and the 100-yard dash ran in 8.5 seconds. We like to see fast pace entertainment, like Adam Vinatieri kicking a field goal from 34 yards into a headwind when it is blowing during an afternoon game. (Quinn, 2005) This is what sports fans thrive to see.

While we see more occurrences of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports, ethically it is still cheating. Professional sports would lose their flare if all performances where based on cheating. We, as society in general, need not to put so much pressure on our future athletes to win but to be the best that they can be without enhancements.

Using Steroids? Get Help!

Additional Resources


  1. Finkelman, Paul (2007) Performance-Enhancing Drugs in a Performance-Based Society: Reflections on the Mitchell Report (Retrieved March 24, 2008)
  2. Katz, Jeffery (January, 2008) Should We Accept Steroid Use In Sports? (Retrieved March 24, 2008)
  3. Mitten, Matthew J. (November 2005). Is drug testing of athletes necessary? (Retrieved March 24, 2008)
  4. Quinn, Ryan (February, 2005) Why the Silence? Athletes Need to Speak Out About Sports Doping. (Retrieved March 28, 2008)
  5. Roberts, Anthony (2007). Steroids in Baseball and Sports. (Retrieved April 16, 2008)
  6. Stevens, Stewart (November 2003). Drug Test (Retrieved March 28, 2008)
  7. (2008) Doping (sport). (Retrieved April 8, 2008)
  8. Charles E. Yesalis and Virginia S. Cowart. "The Future of Steroids." Contemporary Issues Companion: Steroids. Ed. Stefan Kiesbye. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2007. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Apollo Library. (March 27, 2008)
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