A special interview with Will Brink, John Berardi, Will Carroll, Rick Collins, Bruce Kneller, Bill Lewellyn, Anthony Roberts and Caleb Stone.
On behalf of all Mind and Muscle readers, the M&M staff would like to thank each of you for being so kind as to participate in this roundtable discussion. Each of you brings to the table a wealth of knowledge on the subject of steroids and sports, and are regarded as experts in your respective fields. We could not be more pleased to have you share your diverse views with us today on the following reader-generated questions.
1) Let’s start with everyone’s favorite question: Why, in your opinion, is the average person so adamantly against steroid use, both in terms of recreational and athletic use? What do you think the almost visceral public aversion to AAS is grounded in?
Rick Collins: The average person’s opinions are shaped by the media. Consistent with the media-fuelled ‘culture of fear’ that defines our times, anabolic steroids have been portrayed in a scary, negative light, and the public has come to see them as, 1) ‘dangerous’ and, 2) ‘cheating’. Both points are debatable. The health risks associated with AAS use in mature adult males have been overstated or outright misrepresented, and the fact that androgens have beneficial medical uses has been suppressed. The ‘cheating’ argument only applies to competitive athletes, not to the millions of ‘cosmetic’ users who make up the vast bulk of the AAS population. So, basically, the visceral public aversion to AAS is grounded in ignorance.
Will Carroll: It’s mostly propaganda. They haven’t done their research and don’t have any interest in an educated and nuanced approach. Jose Canseco sold a million copies of is book because he was big and told juicy stories with small words. Howard Bryant’s look at the problem didn’t sell 1/10th of that because that would have required more thought than dialing in a vote for American Idol.
There’s also the top down approach – if AAS are ‘bad’ for professional sports, they must be bad in every other use. Again, there’s no room for a middle ground in a faith-based world.
Bruce Kneller: Both questions are patently easy to answer – in a nutshell, people fear the unknown. If you asked the average ‘Joe or Jane’ to name just four anabolic steroids, how many of them would be ale to do so? If you asked them what the difference between an aromatizable and a non-aromatizable anabolic steroid, how many physicians could even answer the question?
Historically, humans fear what they do not understand. The fact (and it is an absolute fact), is that 99% of journalists writing about anabolic steroids in the mainstream media usually do not give a damn if what they are reporting is factual or not. They are mostly interested in getting some sort of international/national recognition or reward for their publication or themselves. This doesn’t help to educate people about AAS. It’s all about headlines and sensationalism. So we have a combination of factors working to create and maintain this ‘visceral aversion’ to anabolic steroids based on half-truths and myths, rather than facts. The public at large does not understand what anabolic steroids really are and the information they are usually fed (at least superficially), is that all anabolic steroids are ‘dangerous drugs’ with no real medical purpose. They only see them as substances that athletes abuse in order to cheat.
The general public’s failure to truly understand what these compounds are capable of doing or not, sits squarely on our shoulders as a social subgroup. We need to educate the masses with honest and objective scientific proof in a manner they can understand and digest. This will allow them to come to an informed opinion regarding the use, safety and accessibility of AAS, rather us as a sub-group continually whine on internet bulletin boards and in chat rooms saying, “they [the general public] just don’t get it, they’re like…so stupid”. This does nothing and is of no real value to anyone! It has to start with our subculture dispelling the bullshit myths and acknowledging what is really not known or understood. Then we need to move this information into the mainstream.
Will Brink: The public is viscerally against what ever the media and ‘powers that be’ tell them they should be against. As one man said, “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” If AAS had been presented as the best thing since the invention of the clitoris, most people would think they were wonderful drugs. Of course, as is usually the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle. AAS have applications in medicine and can actually improve the health of some populations (e.g. men with low T, people with AIDs, people with some forms of wasting diseases, etc.). They can also, as we know, have negative health consequences for people using high doses for long periods of time (e.g. bodybuilders, etc), though the side effects are generally overstated.
John Berardi: First of all, it’s pretty hard to make sweeping generalizations about what the ‘average’ person thinks (especially with respect to this issue), since it’s not the ‘average person’ we hear speaking out most often against steroid use – it’s the media, politicians, sport governing bodies, etc. It’s my impression that most ‘average people’ don’t think much about steroid use at all.
However, I do see the point that you’re driving at – if you make most people think about steroid use (as the media is doing right now), they’d likely shoot off about how bad steroids are; whether or not they know anything about them at all is irrelevant. They’ve been told that they’re bad and that’s good enough for them. After all, steroids are absolutely irrelevant in their own personal lives – they can’t see any reason why they should personally take them – so there’s no incentive to learn more. So they just accept what the media tells them.
So, in my opinion, although some experts wax philosophical on the public’s fear of muscle, masculinity, etc, I believe the public remains negative about steroids for two reasons:
1. Steroids have no relevance to their lives.
Unlike recreational drugs which offer an acute and short-lived ‘good time’ or ‘escape from reality’, steroids are drugs that you have to take chronically in order to serve one or both of two specific purposes – a) improve cosmetic appearance: they make users more muscular and leaner; b) improve athletic performance: they make users stronger, and more athletically adept. As the average professional adult doesn’t necessarily place primary importance on either (sure, they’d like to look better but they know they don’t need steroids to look like a thin, lean Men’s Health cover model), steroids are a non-issue for them. So why bother investigating them any further? Why not just listen to media experts? And can you blame them? Would you go out and investigate all the scientific evidence on a topic completely irrelevant to your life? Probably not.
2. The media’s consistent and unwavering disapproval of steroid use.
Right or wrong, the media has taken a stance and they’re sticking with it, influencing people at all levels of society. Steroids are wrong, harmful, and dangerous, provide a bad example for kids, and the list goes on. Why the media takes this position – well, the answer is probably multi-factorial and should likely be saved for another discussion. But let’s make no mistake – the average person is swayed more by the media today than by another other influence out there (including parents and teachers). So media positioning becomes public policy as well as the mores of the day.
William Llewellyn: The main reason for this, I believe, is that the average American is really only exposed to steroids in the news, when an athlete is caught using them or an anti-drug representative is speaking out against them. They only see negative images of these drugs. If your only information about sharks came from the movie JAWS, you probably would not feel very comfortable swimming at the beach, would you? I understand that the government and sports organizations feel they have a righteous job to do. But to do this job, they are doing what most anti-anything groups do, and that is to emphasize the hell out of any negative traits they can find about steroids. Anti-steroid arguments usually (not always) have some basis in fact, but they are always grossly overstated.
The average American simply doesn’t know enough about steroids to see this, and takes news stories, reports, articles, etc. at face value. They cannot make a truly informed decision about these drugs because they do not have enough information about them, and I believe that is exactly what the steroid opponents count on. Getting back to sharks, if you take that same person afraid of the beach and give them the education of a Marine Biologist, you’ll probably find them swimming with sharks before long. Hell, a few days dosage of the discovery channel will probably dispel much of their fear.
In our case, the public desperately needs objective education about anabolic steroids. In the words of Dresden James, “When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker, a raving lunatic.” We’re two decades into strong anti-steroid propaganda, and already I feel like this quote applies. Steroid abuse can have its risks, don’t get me wrong, but these drugs are most often used to improve body composition and performance with great safety. We need some balance, some ‘reality check’, in the steroid message, or we’re doomed.
Caleb Stone: Because they have been taught that they are evil and have never examined the science or really given it critical thought of their own. And when people use them, the idea (or science) is brought up that they can be used, reasonably and safely, it forces them to challenge those notions. And, that could open up the floodgates to challenging other long held (without reason) beliefs. And most people do not like to think. It is much easier to just accept those values. So, they respond with venomous, emotional, hysterical hatred.
Anthony Roberts: I think there are several reasons the average person is adamantly against steroid use. The first is that they really haven’t done much, if any, real research into the topic. That’s not their fault, per se, just that it’s not on their list of priorities. I don’t know much about cars, but if there is a recall on Firestone tires, because they are blowing out, I’ll go turn mine in and get new ones. And where would I find out about that recall? I’d probably hear about it on the evening news or read about it in the newspaper. So that’s the first reason that the average person is against steroids: they hear on the news and in the media that steroids are bad. Another reason is that they aren’t going to wade through the medical literature like I have, to see exactly what the truth is, from an unbiased perspective. And this is the same as I would do when there is a recall on the tires I have on my car – I would just turn them in, and take the media’s word for it that they are dangerous. I wouldn’t do any additional research because I just don’t care. And the average person doesn’t really care about steroids enough to do research either.
Another reason people are against steroids is that they are probably (emotionally) attached to some sports icon of yester-year and hate to see (insert suspected steroid user’s name here) breaking their hero’s record(s). It’s a purely emotional response. The 49ers used to have the smallest Offensive line in the NFL, when they were a dynasty franchise. Now, if a team has a bigger O-Line and runs a similar offence, 49ers fans can decry the merits of that other team, citing steroids, or whatever else is a convenient excuse. Again, it’s just a silly emotional response, in some cases.
2) We can all likely agree that steroids should not be so widely restricted from private citizens who are willing to accept their benefits and risks. However, the issue of sports competition complicates matters: outside of general laws, what do you think is a fair standard for bylaws of sports organizations concerning steroid use? In other words, even if AAS were legal for popular use, how, if at all, should something like the MLB regulate or restrict steroid use in its players? More importantly, how do you propose keeping steroids out of high school athletics (assuming that you would want to)?
William Llewellyn: The first thing I believe that everyone needs to recognize, is that criminalizing steroids has not accomplished these goals in the 15 years these laws have been in place, and they will not accomplish these goals ever. The two issues need to be completely separated, because they legitimately have nothing to do with one another. With that said, if these organizations truly wanted to keep drugs out of all sports, they would need to focus all of their resources on testing. They’d need to develop much more accurate detection methods, and perhaps become even more invasive in the personal privacy of athletes. I honestly try to distance myself from sports policy issues, as there never is a right answer, and there is certainly no silver bullet on the horizon that will make drug testing impossible to beat. At least for the immediate future, it is an unfixable problem, in my opinion.
Will Brink: As this is more an ethical/moral/legal question then a science/medical question, there is no right answer here per se. I don’t think the public or powers that be are anywhere near ready to change their paradigm on this issue. It’s similar to the “just say no” approach to drug use or teaching kids abstinence as if it were sex education. It’s the denial approach, which we know never works. You either take the pragmatic reality-based approach, or keep the “win at all costs just don’t let me know how you do it” approach favored today. I prefer the former but it does not teach the moral lesson people supposedly crave.
Rick Collins: Well, sports bodies are free to regulate which substances athletes are prohibited from using. As we’ve seen with the federal Anabolic Steroid Control Acts, criminalizing substances by Congressional fiat is not the most effective means of preventing athletes from doping. Keeping AAS out of the hands of teenagers is a reasonable proposition, and I support it. The same applies to alcohol, narcotics and cigarettes, all of which pose greater threats to young people than AAS do. If education and/or random testing are shown to decrease teen use of all these substances, then I’m in support. But scare tactics don’t work, and in my opinion have backfired . Lying to kids is a misguided policy.
Will Carroll: I think that sports governing bodies have the right to make whatever rules they want and if that doesn’t fit, fine. ‘Natural bodybuilding’ didn’t work, if I remember correctly, and I’m interested to see how the more serious steroid policy in the WWE (not a sport but …) will affect their marketing. I think the best possible policy is that AAS be treated as any other elective prescription. We make people see their doctor about Viagra, so why not Winstrol? Age limited, doctor prescribed and monitored, and non-insured.
John Berardi: When I was younger, I remember thinking that steroids should be allowed in all high-level sports – I figured that if everyone was allowed access to them, that would level the playing field.
At that time I didn’t work with any elite athletic organizations.
Now, as director of Sports Nutrition for 5 Olympic Teams, as well as a number of professional and NCAA teams, I’ve had the opportunity to see this issue from all angles – from sport organization perspectives, to management perspectives, to coaching perspectives, to the perspectives of the athletes.
And my thought process has changed.
You see, I actually work with these high level athletes and realize that playing fields will never be level. There are so many levels of inequity in sport that any attempt at leveling the playing field is laughable. Genetics, talent, training resources, food resources, psychological makeup, physical training location and a host of other factors play into equity. Further, the whole idea of sport is based on inequity – someone has to beat someone else!
But the key point, for me, is that high levels of human performance can be accomplished without drugs. In fact, it’s sometimes accomplished with mediocre training, crappy nutrition, and fantastic genes.
I see it every time I’m hired by a new elite sports team. These athletes don’t need drugs to take them to the next level – they need less booze, more high quality rest (both sleep and recovery), better nutrition, and science-based training programs.
If you’ve never been on the road with an Olympic or professional team, you just can’t get it. Their travel schedules, food and accommodation options, and competition schedules demand a higher level of attention to detail than any armchair quarterback could ever imagine. Help these guys to adjust their lifestyles, get them the right foods they need at the right times, get them to bed on time for a change, get them training properly for their sport, and the drug issue will be moot.
So nowadays, I believe steroids should be kept out of sport. The best way to make them obsolete is to hire people like myself and some of the other roundtable participants here to help these teams and athletes take care of the most important things – what the athletes are eating, how they’re training, how they’re recovering, and how they’re managing non-training stressors.
These athletes have so many other things to fix before looking to steroids as the answer (as the edge), that anyone who thinks these athletes only need some testosterone to reach their full human and athletic potential is just naive.
Bruce Kneller: This is something that has no answer. At least no correct answer. It’s akin to asking someone if it’s better to be a conservative or a liberal or asking someone what the ‘luckiest number is’. What you’re doing here is asking people to look internally at this based on their own mores and ethics and then externalize it in the form of some uniform policy. It won’t happen! Because this really boils down to a matter of personal choice – and if people can’t see that then they really have the blinders on – there really isn’t going to be a concrete way to keep anabolic steroids out of anything, be it MLB or high school athletics.
If a professional athlete or a 16 year old kid on an intramural Frisbee football team looks at the risk/reward ratio of using steroids and comes to an individual conclusion that using them is worth the potential risks, then more than likely, that person is going to use them. Or at least they will try damned hard to find a way to use them without detection. It’s a matter or choice and responsibility. Why do people drive drunk? It’s illegal and the repercussions from such behavior are severe. But every year, plenty of people do it. Why do pedophiles molest children? I don’t believe for one moment it’s some ‘disease’ – it’s a choice. It’s the ability to control your impulses or act on them or to ‘rationalize’ what you want to do.
There are hundreds of examples from cocaine and marijuana use to robbing a convenience store with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun because you consider yourself ‘economically disadvantaged’. Virtually everything we do in life as individuals comes down to our personal choice to do it or not. If as a society we decide that certain behaviors are anti-social and not ‘good for the group’ then we pass laws and empower the judicial system to punish people who behave in these ‘bad’ ways. But you’ll notice that despite or rather, in spite of all the laws and consequences, people who want to do something (and I mean really want to do something irrespective of what the majority of people in society think), these people, (call them rebels or iconoclasts, whatever), end up doing it anyhow. It’s going to be the same with anabolic steroid use or abuse.
Actually, it already is.
Caleb Stone: I think they should divide them up into natural and ‘anything goes’ leagues. People want to see the athletes and feats that result from AAS use. At the very least, it would make the clowns that scream so loudly and show so much indignation about this actually put their money where their mouth is and support the natural leagues (with their inferior physical specimens and abilities). Right now, people want the results of enhanced athletes, but they also demand that they come naturally.
As far as high schools go, I think parents are responsible for watching out for the health of their children and that is the issue of importance. It isn’t like high school is a fair playing field anyway. You have schools that recruit, have the same system installed from middle school to high school, and have two or three times as many players to choose from. You already have your ‘haves and have-nots’. A very uneven percentage of players that go on to the next level are produced by or end up as the ‘haves’. It’s not like steroids are some new variable that is going to suddenly disrupt some egalitarian sports utopia and force those that just wanted to have fun to get on the shit.
Anthony Roberts: This is more a philosophical question than anything. Basically, it hinges on “Does the government have the right to regulate what you put in your body?” I think the most defensible answer is no, they don’t. Certainly most of the larger names in the world of philosophy (Rawls, etc…) would take this position. I certainly do. It’s a bit absurd that the government would even care about what I put in my body, to be honest.
As for the regulation of steroids in sports, I’ve always said that there should be no such restrictions on that, and there are a couple of reasons I say this. The first is that steroids can actually prove to be very healthy, if used correctly. They are going to prolong careers and make sports much more exciting to watch.
3) Congress has recently taken the step of regulating (or attempting to regulate) steroid use in professional sports. They have also meddled in the BCS. Do you see this as a continuing trend in which we will see legislation passed to regulate professional sports in general? Do you see this expanding to cover such issues as collective bargaining agreements and salary caps?
Caleb Stone: And, how absurd it is that they spend their time making laws on how to play fucking games. As with everything else they ever do and have done, of course they will continue to meddle more and more.
John Berardi: It’s hard to know which way the wind will blow in the next few years and which direction Congress will take regarding sport. However, I don’t see them backing off any time soon. After all, why would they? Sport is big business. As the US Government has a hand in the regulation of big business, why would anyone think it odd that Congress would step in on professional sport?
For all of us who love sport, we just have to hope that Congress will consult with individuals who understand sport and understand the relevant issues at stake before messing around too much.
But, to be honest, as many individuals occupying the highest ranks of sport were never athletes and are pretty much just sports fans with more power and money than you or I, what’s the difference if an uninformed Congressman or an uninformed sport official makes the decision?
Let’s stop using Congress as a whipping post and get at the real issues – people who don’t know much about sport making important sport decisions is a problem; no matter who it is. So Congress shouldn’t be making decisions on how many downs a team gets in football or how far apart the blue lines are in hockey.
However, when we talk about the laws of the land, it’s logical that the government gets a say. And when we talk salary caps and collective bargaining, we’re talking business, not sport per se; and it’s logical that government gets a say here too – considering our current government/business climate.
Anthony Roberts: I think the trend isn’t necessarily that Congress is meddling in this thing or that thing, but rather that steroids are a hot topic right now, and politically they are doing what they feel is necessary to please their constituents. If they really wanted to ‘make a difference’ or ‘insert your favorite cliché here _________________’, then they’d try educating themselves fully on steroids first. They’d listen to real experts, not puppets. They’d listen to Rick Collins, Bill Llewellyn, myself etc…people who actually know something about the law and/or steroids. But instead (just like we saw with other drugs; notably, Ecstasy), they’ll find the ‘experts’ they need to justify their opinions, and then go with their recommendations.
Bruce Kneller: I think Congressional interest in these matters is limited to those politicians who are at greatest risk of losing their position and need an agenda or cause to rally around. To be frank, I don’t think most politicians give a rat’s ass about ‘the steroid issue’. Sure, there maybe a few in the lot (like Jim Bunning, who played ball before steroid use was as widespread as it is today), that are really convinced that drugs in sports corrupts the integrity of the game somehow. But I don’t think this topic is super important to most polls. So if history is any indication of what’s to come in the future, I think Congress will take a minimalist approach (relatively speaking,) that will probably punish the wrong people. I can’t see Congress meddling into other areas concerning human resources, because salary caps and collective bargaining agreements laws have a serious potential to spill over into mainstream business; whereas drug laws do not. I mean, if the government puts a cap on the salary of a ball player they are outright saying, “We think your talents are only worth up to X dollars and no more” – why can’t the same be said and instituted as law for the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies? That will never fly, forget it. It will stop with drug laws.
William Llewellyn: I hope not. I personally feel the government is too big, wastes too much taxpayer money, and passes too many laws, already. The last thing it should be doing is getting involved in professional sports. These are private organizations, simply put, and their business should remain private. Setting regulations on things like minimum wages and working hours is one thing. Dictating how often you should drug test players, or how much is too much money to pay them, is completely another. So long as they don’t work in sweatshop conditions, leave it alone, that is my opinion. But these days, who knows. We are definitely not on the track to ‘smaller government’.
Rick Collins: The lure of the cameras and national media exposure is a powerful force for elected officials. Call me a cynic, but as long as AAS usage remains the crisis du jour, we’ll see legislators looking for ways to grab a piece of the action.
Will Carroll: John McCain has long sought Federal control over sports. I’m not sure if he believes it’s a good campaign issue or if he wants to be national Sports Czar, but like most things, I think the government has better things to be doing. I don’t so much mind the posturing and trying to force bargaining as they did with baseball, but I mind the grandstanding. I’d love to see the records of some of the Senators and Congressmen that spent time on steroids. What else were they working on and could their time have been better spent?
Will Brink: Only time will tell. AAS issues are being used as a political ‘whipping boy’ to keep people from thinking of the issues that actually matter. It’s an old tactic from an old playbook. Like there are not enough important issues Congress could focus on? Do polls find most Americans are worried about global warming, the economy, and steroids? Nope.
4) What do you make of the relative lack of professional athletes testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, particularly in NCAA football and the NFL? Do you think these specific sports are really that ‘clean,’ are the tests that easy to fool, or is the media purposefully avoiding this topic when it comes to football? How does the tension between the money that steroid-using athletes generate for their clubs (and the joy that the public gets from seeing these increasingly Herculean athletes in action) interact with the simultaneous, paradoxical condemnation that steroid use receives by the very same general public?
Caleb Stone: I think they are easy to beat at those levels, and I think positives are under-reported. When I was in college 10 years ago, I know for a fact that was the case. On the second part, I do not think it creates any tension for most people because most people are more than happy to be blithering hypocrites. As long as they don’t think too much, they get their cake and eat it too.
Anthony Roberts: I think in general, athletes at that level know how to beat the tests. Whether it’s from using a product like Steroid Cleanse, or using only certain compounds, or knowing when the test is going to be, they’ll be able to find a way around testing positive. Steroid users are actually usually quite clever. There are probably more professional athletes testing positive for recreational drugs like pot than there are for steroids. And while I’m at it, why in the hell shouldn’t Ricky Williams be allowed to smoke a joint before the game? It’s not like it helps him! I mean…Christ, if there were a pizza waiting for him in the end zone, then maybe I could see smoking a joint as helping him, but what the hell.
Will Brink: As mentioned already, major sports originations don’t care about AAS, nor does the American public. “Win at all costs, just don’t let us know how you do it or get caught doing it”, is the message the athletes receive. Most of the ‘testing’ programs are a joke, with athletes having plenty of time to prepare for the tests. I don’t believe there is true random testing similar to the IOC in any of the professional sports organizations at this time. U nions generally resist true random testing. I have been told by people in the know there is plenty of ‘wink wink nod nod’ about when, where, and what will be tested for in the pro ranks where steroid testing exists.
Will Carroll: Wow, that’s a big sprawling question. Would baseball be affected if steroid testing reduced home runs? [ignore the evidence here for this example] If so, what would baseball do? I think fear is the best weapon for the leagues. No one wants to be Rafael Palmeiro and no one wants to have that cloud hanging over them. I think we would all be better off by publicizing the negative tests. Imagine Barry Bonds waving his test results – “I tested negative three times this year, on X, Y, and Z.”
Society likes to raise people up, tear them down, and give them a second chance. We see that in entertainment, sports, and life.
Rick Collins: Testing is hampered by limitations such as costs and technology. I’m sure many juiced athletes are never exposed. But the bigger paradox is that while use by cheating competitive athletes was the main reason behind the federal laws against non-medical AAS use, these guys – often millionaires – are never treated as criminals. You’d be hard pressed to name a single professional ballplayer who did time in connection with personal AAS use. They may get suspended from play for a number of games, but they don’t get dragged away in handcuffs. Contrast that to your typical non-competitive AAS users – regular Joes using AAS to look better on the beach. These are the guys the feds are investigating. These are the guys getting busted. That really bugs me.
John Berardi: It’s no surprise that many of the professional sport drug testing policies had been, until recently, targeted at recreational drug use and not steroid use. So, in the past, no one was really trying explicitly to catch steroid users. It’s like in bodybuilding when they claimed they were cleaning up the sport by testing for – drum roll please – diuretics.
Uh…psst…steroids – the athletes are all using steroids.
Nowadays, testing practices are more stringent in many sports. Random, in season testing is now taking place in many professional and collegiate sports. At the Olympic level, some of my athletes are tested up top 20 times a year.
Different sports have different testing procedures so it’s hard to comment across the board on these tests. However, let’s be clear on something – as long as you know what your sport’s testing procedures are, you can likely find a way to break them.
In some university systems, athletes aren’t allowed to miss class because of a drug test. So when their random test comes up, they can say they have class. In some sports, testing occurs only during the season. So when the off-season ends, an athlete can taper off their performance enhancing drugs. And of course, we’ve all heard about undetectable drugs, masking drugs, etc.
So there are ways to beat the tests, but I wouldn’t conjure up huge conspiracy theories that athletes en masse are cheating or that their teams let them get away with cheating. In my experience, very, very few of the athletes on my Olympic and NCAA teams have taken steroids. In fact, most of my young athletes on these teams are afraid of using them for two reasons: a) fear of being caught and ruining their athletic future; b) fear of health safety.
In professional sports, things may be a little different. These athletes are adults, have already made it to the big dance, and are already larger than life. They perceive the risk to be smaller and can be willing to try different routes to improve their game. However, as seen in MLB, this mostly happens at the athlete level, not at the organizational level. WL: Both the NFL and NCAA have taken drug testing very seriously for quite some time. The NFL instituted random year-round testing back in 1990, as did NCAA Division I and II football, which was a year before the first Anabolic Steroid Control Act was passed.
In contrast, professional baseball only banned steroid use in 2002. If you are in a sport that has random year-round testing, you better take your performance-enhancing drug use very seriously. With the money involved in a professional sports career, you can bet the players do. The test definitely can be worked around when you understand how it works, and the athletes in these organizations have had 15 years to adapt. Is football clean? I think it is no cleaner than the Olympics. There is too much at stake for drugs not to remain ingrained in this sport, and I think everyone involved in management understands this. Management also understands that the harder they are on their athletes, the more their performances will suffer, and the less revenue they may generate. I think it will always be a balance of public appeasement versus private financial interests; and management will likely play both side of the coin well into the future.
Bruce Kneller: High level athletes with megabucks can easily, and I am speculating here, find an almost limitless supply of “undetectable and as of yet banned” substances to improve their performance on the field or in the arena so the lack of “positive doping tests” comes as no shocker to me – heck it’s like throwing a rock in a football field and telling a blind man to ‘go pick it up’ – he can’t, not easily or in a timely manner and if the people watching this see the blind guy is getting close to the rock, they can quietly pick up the rock and thrown it 35 yards in the opposite direction. The sports are not clean in my opinion; the testing methodology and the rules are inherently fallible and flawed. I also think it’s amazingly hypocritical of the public to want to see say…a MLB’er smack out 80 home runs a season only to condemn this athlete if he tested “positive” for something. If you ask someone to perform at a level that requires drug use or performance enhancing “stuff” use, you can’t condemn them when it comes out that they did such things. The “out of sight – out of mind” dogma is really pathetic and juvenile. Wake up!
5) What is your understanding of the state of medical knowledge on the long-term health consequences of using AAS to bolter physical performance in the young athlete? Has the scientific world collected analysis-worthy data on the life expectancy of steroid-using athletes two, three or four decades after cessation of use? How does your understanding of the above interact with your position on AAS in athletes?
Caleb Stone: The state of the literature in very, very poor in this area. Androgens have been around and used widely for 40+ years, so we have a pretty good idea that people are not dropping like flies. But there are pathways by which they can cause problems, particularly in conjunction with other factors. So, it would be very nice to be able to become more accurate in our understanding and prediction of possible problems, in regard to both physical and mental health (which I think is the more important aspect of androgens)
Much of what happens in the athletic arena is bad for the health and/or quality of life long-term, but people make the choice to sacrifice it for the big pay-off. So, you have to recognize it is a trade-off. The decision depends on what they have to lose and what they have to gain. I think it is silly for a pro athlete not to use androgens as far as risk/reward. Likewise for a college athlete that could make the league with their help.
Even with a high school senior who has stopped growing and who could get a full ride or go to a big-time school; the reward is pretty big. But, the younger you are, the more difficult the psychological aspects of AAS use will be to deal with. And, they can be difficult. I think they are much more important than the potential physical problems. It is just so great being on androgens. It makes it difficult to use them responsibly.
Anthony Roberts: Medical knowledge on this front is actually surprisingly advanced. When I was writing my book I was able to find information on most of the stuff that I was researching. The thing is, scientists and doctors seem to be reluctant to listen to anyone who doesn’t have a bunch of letters after their name. And, really, that’s a shame, because there are athletes out there in the world who can really progress our current state of knowledge, if doctors and scientists would just listen to them.
William Llewellyn: Information about the short terms effects of anabolic steroids is voluminous. We know how these drugs work, and we know how they affect the body. Although there has been no thorough study of life expectancy and earlier steroid use as of yet, there is little at this time to suggest a strong unforeseen risk decades later. That is not to say there is nothing to worry about at all. For years there has been some concern among doctors about left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), which is an enlargement of the left pumping chamber of the heart. LVH has been linked to steroid abuse, but it has also been shown to occur (to a lesser degree) naturally with heavy resistance training. But it seems to be a valid risk with steroid abuse nonetheless; and one side effect that may remain long after steroid abuse has ended. A recent study with strength athletes has demonstrated slight ventricular hypertrophy to persist several years after they stopped using steroids, for example. Nothing has conclusively been proven on this subject, however, and to spite decades of history with these drugs, no correlation between former steroid use and a short life expectancy has been proven. If it were that prominent, it would be obvious by now.
The key thing to keep in mind also is the abuse factor. Nothing in the literature suggests that the responsible use of anabolic steroids will lead to a heart attack later in life. Those studies in which these drugs were used in reasonable amounts and for reasonable periods of time all fail to show much health risk at all. Those athletes who abuse these drugs for years, on the other hand, already know full well that they are taking some risks with their health. They simply consider it a low and calculated risk. If science can demonstrate some small correlation between years of steroid abuse and cardiovascular disease later in life (and I believe one day they might in a small percentage of abusers), does that necessarily change anything? We’ve long understood there were some negative attributes (such as cholesterol alterations) that can come with steroid use (especially abuse), yet people still choose to take them.
Again, my position is that “to use or not to use”, is a matter of personal responsibility and choice based on the individual doing what they consider to be sufficient ‘homework’, as to the risks and rewards. If ‘sufficient’ in one man’s eyes is solely the opinion of some meat headed guys in the gym, then so be it. That’s his choice, his body. ‘Sufficient’ is highly individual and temporal. What might have been sufficient evidence to me on some subject today, might not be tomorrow and might never be for you?
Rick Collins: Like all prescription drugs, AAS can have adverse effects, including serious ones, particularly when administered without medical monitoring and in excessive dosages for prolonged periods of time. But the studies required in order to understand the long-term consequences of AAS use in athletes have never been conducted. We can only speculate about the subject. A lot of the literature is based on case reports of serious adverse events – a poor source of information with an inherent reporting bias. Have you ever read a case reported about a long-time AAS user who had no serious adverse effects? The literature doesn’t acknowledge such folks exist, but we know they do .
>6) Many people in the bodybuilding community treat every ‘bro’ busted for steroid use as a martyr. Maybe a better question would be: why is there such a sense of entitlement to these drugs?
Bruce Kneller: I hate this! While I am obviously sympathetic towards say…a 34-year-old married father of two small kids having his life ruined by a felony conviction, and his finances pushed into bankruptcy to defend himself against the law…it is ‘law’. And there is no distinction between some athlete using steroids to make mega millions playing gridiron and some guy in a $45,000 per year, dead-end, mid-level manager job in say…Tulsa (OK?), who ordered 20 amps of Sustanon-250 over the internet solely to ‘look and feel’ better for himself or his lady. In both instances, the individual knows or should have known the risks involved. You rolled the dice and didn’t make the pass line. That’s sucks, but you’re not always going to have shit go your way in life. You do the crime and if you get caught, take it on the chin and you do the time (caveat to this – except if you are high profile ballplayer and can buy your way out it of course!).
I don’t see how a ‘bro’ busted because he got pinched with a bottle of Anadrol is any different than a ‘bro’ getting busted with a lid of kick ass bud or a half dozen ‘rolls’ that he “only used in his house on the weekends to help him relax”. There is no difference in my eyes. Now we can argue that the laws around steroid use are asinine. OK, I might personally concur with that. But it’s still a law and as a citizen of this country, that’s how it goes. Don’t like it? Move to Nogales or Hermosillo or Bangkok or Phuket for a few years, I am sure they have plenty of decent gyms in those cities. Just make sure you drink bottled water.
Rick Collins: In a country that prides itself on the personal freedoms of its population, a sense of entitlement to one’s own bodily health decisions is only natural. Women enjoy the right to use sex hormones for birth control. Middle-aged men enjoy the freedom to use pharmaceutical drugs simply to impress their wives or mistresses with superior erections. People have the right to get all sorts of medically unnecessary surgery for the sake of appearance alone; from cheek implants to calf implants to breast augmentation to liposuction. Serious potential health risks are associated with all of these choices, but we accept these choices or even glorify them, as radical surgery is glorified by television programs like “The Swan” and “Extreme Makeover.” So, why wouldn’t the bodybuilding community – presumably even more concerned with appearance than the public at large – feel entitled to assume the risks of informed, cosmetic AAS use?
Caleb Stone: Why is there a sense of entitlement to buy cars, designer clothes, and gourmet food?? Because we live in fucking America, a country that is based upon the idea that we have the right to pursue our own happiness as we see fit, as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others.
What a horseshit question.
Will Carroll: That one I have no idea on. Is there a Rosa Parks of steroids? I doubt it. It’s all about perspective. To the general public, that martyr is probably a demon, if they noticed at all.
Anthony Roberts: I think it’s the fact that we, as Americans, feel a sense of entitlement to put whatever we want into our bodies; that includes cigarettes, booze, whatever. And I feel that most of us believe this to be an inalienable right. The best analogy is to prohibition here: the reasons that prohibition was eventually turned over are applicable to steroids as well.
William Llewellyn: I think it is easy to feel some sense of entitlement when you believe that the laws against steroids are wrong. It is one thing to take a calculated risk with the use of something you know is possibly damaging to society; like heroin or cocaine. The average person understands why these drugs are illegal. But the steroid user usually cannot understand why steroids were ever criminalized; when the principal reason behind this classification (the terrible dangers of steroid use) are largely incorrect or overstated to the point of dishonestly. It is not like they are saying, “I know these drugs are killers, but I want to risk it anyway”. It is more like, “What the heck is wrong with the government when we are locking up people for taking hormones that are relatively safe?” Considering this, I believe it is not completely inappropriate to use the word martyr. The busted steroid user is paying the price for laws the rest of the steroid-using community flat out disagrees with. They know the sad irony of it all; that the more you come to understand these drugs, the less likely you are to agree with the laws that criminalize them. The average steroid user in this country understands steroids far better than any politician sitting on Capitol Hill ever will.
Will Brink: I don’t think users consider them entitled to AAS as much as they are disgusted and outraged at the double standard and hypocrisy that surrounds AAS. Having a surgeon suck fat from your body and literally carve you up with a knife (liposuction and plastic surgery respectively) is OK, but using AAS to increase strength and LBM is ‘cheating’. People smoking cigarettes and pounding down martinis passing judgment and bad illogical laws, etc., is OK. There is no lack of examples showing the bizarre level of hypocrisy when it comes to AAS. Personally, I don’t use AAS but I take a fairly Libertarian approach to such issues and believe adults have the right to use what ever drugs they chose to as long as it does not endanger the life or rights of those around them.
John Berardi: Subcultures thrive on establishing different social norms and mores compared to the culture at large. In fact, the more ‘different’ some subcultures can be, the more pride they carry with them. Since bodybuilders wear the results of these differences ‘on their sleeves’, so to speak, we end up with a scenario in which bodybuilders are driven to be bigger and bigger in order to end up further and further different from the population at large.
To be that big (and different), it’s no secret; steroids must enter the equation.
High level competitive bodybuilders virtually all use steroids, and there’s almost no way to be taken seriously. In this niche physical subculture without blowing up to steroid-using proportions, the bodybuilding community has implicitly adopted a social standard that allows for and encourages the use of steroids.
As the risk of getting caught for steroid use is low as a recreational or even competitive bodybuilder, an old quotation comes to mind: “An uninformed rule is not a law but merely a suggestion.”
So, camaraderie and an ‘us vs. them mentality develops.’ Bodybuilders feel entitlement as a collective and when one of ‘us’ gets ‘busted’ by one of ‘them’ he’s a martyr. A bodybuilder thinks “poor guy, coulda been me.”
7) And a question just for Rick: In practice, how difficult is it to overcome a presumption of an intent to distribute based solely on the amount of steroids you have in your possession? How common is it for users to actually be convicted for intent to distribute even though what they possessed was, or most likely was, for their own personal use (e.g. some guy having 700 Anadrol-50 tabs)?
Rick Collins: For most lawyers, it’s nearly impossible. Most defense lawyers, like most prosecutors and judges, are clueless about the practical realities of non-medical AAS use. In fact, I devoted a whole chapter of my book Legal Muscle and an article on www.steroidlaw.com aimed at bringing them all up to speed. In state courts across America, AAS offenders are often prosecuted as dealers based merely on the quantity recovered, without any other evidence of distribution. I’ve seen charges of possession with intent to sell based on less than 100 tabs or 30 amps. In the cases I have worked on, as lead attorney or as a consultant to local counsel, I have been very successful in avoiding users from being convicted as dealers. But too many other lawyers have been unable to do so out of sheer ignorance.