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The Steroid Problem, and How to Fix It

Sports and steroids seem to be going hand in hand these days. Just this past August two Major League Baseball players who were leading their teams to the playoffs tested positive for steroids and were suspended. A seven time Tour de France winner was stripped of all Tour de France titles and banned from cycling for life for allegedly using illegal performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Some have suggested that PEDs should become legal because so many athletes in every kind of athletic competition are users.

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There are different types of performance-enhancing drugs that athletes can use to make themselves better. Anabolic steroids help you develop a lean body and muscle growth quickly. Stimulants are used to electrify the athlete’s brain and body by increasing the level of concentration, stamina, and aggressiveness. A third type of steroids are painkillers, which help the athlete make it through their long and grueling season. When an athlete uses performance-enhancing drugs they are also prone to a high injury risk. Many players who use steroids end up on the disabled list because the increase in muscle mass and speed is greater than the strength of the body’s ligaments, tendons, etc.

Former New York Yankee pitcher David Wells said that “25-40% of baseball players are juiced.” If that’s true that means as many as 480 of the possible 1,200 baseball players that play in a single season are using PEDs. The numbers don’t lie, there has been a steady power rise since the 1980s. Hall of Famers Cal RipkenJr. and Mike Schmidt who played from 1981-2001 and 1972-1989, respectively, averaged 20-30 home runs a year, which is lower than the average today. In 1981, Schmidt led the league the a “mere” 31 home runs. In the 1980s there would also only be a handful of players who were hitting 25-35 plus home-runs, today that number has become the norm for top Major League Baseball hitters. Home run leaders in the 1980s averaged 41.19 home-runs a season, in the 1990s 51.8 home runs a season, and since 2000 have averaged 49 home runs a season. The modern game has moved away from the small ball type of play that was perfected throughout the years. Today pretty much every team has a player who averages 25-35 home runs a season. Yes, there have been advancements in how a player is trained and there are certainly players who have their own pure talent, but it seems that in recent years if a player is having a really productive season the subject of steroid use is immediately brought to the table.

PEDs don’t just affect Major League Baseball, they affect every sport, one of which is professional cycling. 3-time Spanish Tour de France winner Alberto Contador was found guilty of using banned performance-enhancing drugs during the 2010 Tour de France. Contador was banned for two years from professional cycling and even though he was able to return this past August, his career is shattered because of his choice to use PEDs.

Lance Armstrong has won the Tour de France seven times. He has also been banned from cycling for life for allegedly using illegal banned substances while in the Tour de France. In June of this year the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), charged Armstrong with having used illicit performance enhancing drugs throughout his racing career. Armstrong brought a lawsuit against the USADA to federal court claiming that the USADA did not have jurisdiction and that his right to due process was being violated. On August 20th, 2012 a U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of the USADA, but the judge did question the USADA timing and motivation of their investigation into Armstrong and their obvious "single minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate.” On August 23rd, 2012 Lance Armstrong released a statement in which he continued to claimed his innocence but also that he would not be challenging the USADA’s charges any longer. “There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, "Enough is enough." For me, that time is now.” Armstrong wrote in a statement; “Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances.” The New York Times reported that, "according to the WADA Code", Armstrong's failure to contest such serious charges of anti-doping rules violations means that he forfeits all awards and prizes earned after August 1, 1998, including his Tour titles, and is banned from any sport that uses the World Anti-Doping Code.

Armstrong is one of the most famous athletes to have allegedly used PEDs, and while many people believe that he did use banned substances, many people believe that he did not use steroids. Until the USADA decides to release any concrete evidence against Armstrong, I along with many believe that he is innocent.

The differences in opinion in the Armstrong case lead right into the debate about whether or not performance-enhancing drugs should be allowed into professional sports. If PEDs were legal, all athletes and players would not be under certain disadvantages, they could all be even. Nobody would be suspended for cheating and there would be no speculation about if the home-run leaders were a users or not. The opposite side of that debate is that, does the sport community, from fans to natural athletes to coaches etc., really want to be a part of something where you can legally cheat? This is a very pressing issue that needs to be dealt with. People are certainly fed up with the use of PEDs in sports today and they just want the game to go on without all of this surmising if a player is juicing or not, whether that means legalizing PEDs or not.

Back in the day of Ted Williams, Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe, and Jackie Robinson steroids were a none issue. These players had risen to their high standards by pure hard work. It was the golden age of athletics. Today we have veered off course of the golden age. While there are still great, natural athletes I don’t believe that they are the majority but in fact possibly the minority. If PEDs are legalized into sports, we would be disappointing all of the games predecessors who fought and played hard to get athletics where they are today.

If steroids are legalized the players who do choose to use them are putting themselves at a major health risk. Lyle Alzado, a former NFL defensive end, died at the age of 43 due to brain cancer which was caused because of his consistent use of steroids. Alzado was one of the first professional athletes ever to use steroids. “I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I'm sick, and I'm scared.” Alzado said. “My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way.” What Alzado was saying is that, yes steroids may be helping you in the short term but they’re killing you in the long term.

Why do these athletes use performance-enhancing drugs? In reality it’s because they want a big payday. If you’re talented at what you do and are able to lead a team to the championship, you get to sign a new contract so that you can help the team the next season. But when you sign this contract there are more zeroes at the end of it than there were before. In the end it’s greed and addiction. Don’t get me wrong there are definitely players who earn that big contract, players like Mike Trout, Stephen Strasburg, and Cristiano Ronaldo. They all worked hard and earned that respect from their clubs. Same goes for Olympic athletes, they want endorsements, but the only way they can get endorsements is if they win. Some Olympic athletes think that the only way that they can win is if they use performance-enhancing drugs, because crossing that finish line a second earlier could be worth millions of dollars. I’m certainly not accusing all athletes of using steroids, far from it. In fact in recent years there has been a surge of younger players arriving onto the scene because they have worked as hard as they could. Players just like Trout and Bryce Harper, and Olympic athletes like Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. They have all gotten to where they are today by pushing their limits. These athletes are certainly not the only ones who have reached their goal by training hard, they’re but some of many. But there still are those players and athletes who want the money and think that using PEDs will secure those extra zeroes.

I am definitely still a believer that we can bring back the golden age of athletics. But the only way we can do that is to get rid of the use of performance-enhancing drugs in athletic competition. The way to do that is for commissioners, presidents, and athletes to come together and draw out a plan that offers severe penalties and possible immediate expulsion for an athlete if they test positive for PEDs. For instance, at this time the MLB has a three-strike rule for violators of their drug policy. Test positive once, the player gets a 50-game suspension. Test positive a second time and the player is suspended for 100 games. If they test positive a third time they are banned from baseball for life. While this may seem like a adequate policy it certainly isn’t working. In my opinion, Major League Baseball needs to incorporate a two-strike rule. One positive test and the player in question is suspended for one year, test positive a second time and the player is banned for life.

All athletics, not just Major League Baseball, all over the world need to incorporate immensely stern drug policies, from the Barclays Premier League to the International Olympic Committee to National Football League. All of these leagues, and all those in between, need to make the imperative decision to stop the use of performance-enhancing drugs. If each league is able to come together in their respective divisions and are able to resolve the problem of steroid use, the return of the golden age of athletics in this day and age is not far off.