Blood, Sweat, Tears...and Drugs?

Blood, Sweat, Tears...and Drugs?

Going, going, gone! On September 8, 1998 at 9:18 PM, history was made. Mark McGuire ripped a line drive over the left field fence of Busch Stadium in St.Louis to record his 62nd homerun of the season. This was no ordinary homerun. This was no ordinary night. In hitting number 62, McGuire had just broken Roger Maris’ 37 year-old single season homerun record! Five days later in Chicago, an equally powerful counterpart, Sammy Sosa blasted his 62nd home run of the season off Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Eric Plunk. Roger Maris’ record had just been blown away by not one, but two different players in one season! Millions of fans tuned in to ESPN and piled into ballparks around the nation to watch the home run story unfold; to watch records that once stood as brick walls, never to be knocked down, be torn through like tissue paper!

These days, fans crowd into stadiums to watch big-time players hit the “long ball.” Smash hits, big plays, powerful bats, and 100 mph fast balls are what the game of baseball has become today. There is a drastic change in the appearance, strength, speed, power, and quickness of players today compared to those in the past. The professional athlete of yesterday is significantly different from the superhuman “monsters” that bless us with there performances today.

Is it a bad thing that the game of baseball has changed? It has certainly become more exciting from an onlookers perspective. But it may be bitter-sweet, if the positive change is due to the use of anabolic steroids.

Many are convinced that the new face of the game is due to the rampant steroid use of professional athletes. There is little doubt that the use of anabolic steroids is prominent in professional sports. We read about it in the newspapers and magazines, and we are bombarded by coverage on ESPN and the news. The drug controversy has even gone so far as to be brought to congress. But just how prominent are steroids? Former National League MVP Ken Caminiti responds by saying, “It’s no secret what's going on in baseball. At least half the guys are using steroids.” With so much abuse of performance enhancing drugs, it calls into question the potency of these drugs, the legitimacy of the records being broken, and the morality and respect for the game itself.

It is no doubt that the game of baseball has changed. Athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster than they have ever been. Homerun hitters of the past are mere amateurs compared to the massive mounds of muscle that punish the baseball today. Mark McGuire was 6’5 weighing 250 pounds at his peak. Barry Bonds is the seven-time MVP of the National League, and many, including myself, consider him to be the best baseball player of all time. He is the all-time single season home run champion, bashing 73 homeruns in 2001. He is the first and only player to hit over 400 homeruns, and steal 400 bases. Needless to say, Bonds is 6’2, 230 pounds of solid muscle, and speed – the prototype athlete. When compared to sluggers of the past, like the great Willie Mays who stood at 5’11 and weighed a mere 180 pounds, Bonds is just one of the many staggering examples of the power and athleticism that athletes possess today. If we were to pit Bonds vs. Mays against each other in a boxing ring, Bonds would certainly pummel his adversary. It would truly be a match of David and Goliath.

Some argue that our national pastime has been changed from a game of strategy and skill to a freak show of muscle. It is clear that ball players are more powerful than they have ever been. The small have been replaced by the gigantic. The weak have been replaced by mountains of testosterone. A new “breed” of athlete if you will, has taken center stage. More homeruns are being hammered and more fastballs are reaching 100 mph. “The harder it comes the further it goes” is common baseball knowledge. Pitchers are gearing up and bringing in fastballs at speeds once thought unreachable. Batters are responding right back with faster, more powerful swings. When they meet the baseball, they don’t just hit it - they destroy it! With so much action, and showing of strength and speed, baseball is no doubt more exciting from an onlooker’s point of view. But what are the costs of reaping these benefits?

Whether they are called steroids, juice, sauce, or gear, performance enhancing drugs have profound effects of the body and mind. Although steroids cannot magically give someone the God-given talent some are born with they can give athletes dominating advantages. Whether they are injected with a needle or swallowed by pill, they can add pounds of mass, strength, and power to the body of the user. Anabolic steroids have also been shown to increase reflex abilities in athletes. Besides the obvious physical effects that steroids have on the body, these drugs also have a direct effect on the brain. They increase aggressiveness, and mental intensity. Studies have even been done to show that steroids have the ability to give users a much higher pain tolerance than a natural athlete. This is something that could greatly benefit an athlete during intense competition (Taylor 69). Although there is no replacement for hard-nosed training, anabolic steroids have the ability to improve the effectiveness of training. They drastically improve the intensity, and more importantly, the recovery rate after a hard workout. Basically, someone using these drugs can train longer, harder, and more often than a non-user, resulting in physically superior competitors.

Is using these performance enhancing drugs cheating? No moral person would admit that they support cheating in any contest, especially at such a high level. To answer the question of cheating, we must examine the effects of steroids. Just how powerful are these drugs? Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers told Sports Illustrated: “Basically, steroids can jump you a level or two. The average player can become a star and the star player can become a superstar. And the superstar? Forget it. He can do things we've never seen before.”

Others do not see steroids as cheating. They view steroids and testosterone as naturally occurring substances in our bodies; they see steroids as nothing more than strength enhancers. A common argument made is that steroids do not make you a better baseball player, just a stronger one. Barry Bonds responds to steroid questioning by saying, “It takes more than muscles to hit homers. If all those guys were using stuff, how come they're not all hitting homers?” It is true, no matter how much you inject yourself; it will not make hitting the baseball any easier. Perhaps instead of alleged steroid user Barry Bonds hitting balls into the San Francisco Bay, they would be just over the fence, but still homeruns.

The idea that the use of performance enhancing drugs is cheating makes it an ethical issue, rather than a question of physical health. It seems athletes today will cut any corner possible in a desperate attempt to achieve baseball glory. Have we completely lost our morals? Are we as spectators willing to watch our national pastime be made a mockery of by artificial enhancement? If we view athletic events as simply another form of spectator entertainment, then the steroid epidemic is no big deal. But if we feel that professional sports are more than entertainment; if our children still look up to athletes as heroes; if we still value hard work and fair play, then we can not allow synthetic athletes to plague our playing fields.

Still, ball players in the past are notorious for some forms of cheating. It seems that baseball has always been slightly tainted by other forms of dishonest behavior. The famous “spit ball” that makes the pitch dive that much more. The use of pine tar on a pitchers fingers in an attempt to put more movement on the ball and get a better grip. The sharpening of cleats to run faster and to scare infielders who could be guarding a base. It has even been so high profile as the notorious “Black Sox Scandal” of 1919, in which eight players from the Chicago White Sox, including the great “Shoeless Joe Jackson”, were accused of being paid off to throw the World Series.

It’s difficult to make accusations, and assumptions, but players today are without a doubt in better shape than they have ever been. Records are not just being broken, but shattered! But is it all due to steroids? Certainly they play a role, but athletes today are trained at a world class level. Professional athletes have constructed diets. They have personal workout plans developed specifically for them by trainers that shape and mold them into athletic machines. Never before has training been so state-of-the-art, and diets have become as important if not more important than the training itself. If we consider the use of steroids unfair, should we then view other supplements, diets, and training as another form of cheating? Athletes in the past had no access to the modern training techniques or supplements that are available today. Can we blame athletes of today then, for taking advantage of what is so obtainable to them?

The vast number of steroid users seems to grow, and the people using the drugs range from high school kids, to professional athletes. The masses, seemingly unafraid, or unaware of the serious side effects that may occur from use of these physique altering substances, are jumping on the “juice” at a staggering rate. A study taken in 1997 showed that 6.6% of twelfth-grade males had used, or were currently using anabolic steroids. Despite the fact that steroids have been proven to cause high blood pressure, liver damage and concerns, urinary and bowel problems, headaches, achy joints, nausea and vomiting, severe acne, baldness, and even stroke and blood clots, the use of illegal anabolic steroids continues to grow. Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of illegal steroid use is that users rarely obtain information from reliable medical sources. This dangerous, uninformed use only compounds the dangers tied with these potent drugs (Lenehan 14).

Are professional athletes to blame for this extensive and uncontrolled use of “roids”? Many argue that the well known fact that professionals use performance enhancing drugs puts pressure on the youth to do so as well. Youth’s see pro’s hitting homeruns with a little help from “vitamin S”. In turn, many youths see steroids as the only way to make it to the “big show.” With so many young players taking controlled substances, it then puts even the clean players in a difficult situation, because many of the players they will be competing against are using drugs that make them significantly more dominant. This obviously puts pressure on the non-users to “juice” to keep up. It is a dangerous cycle in dire need of an end.

Steroid use is beginning to be cracked down on. Congress has held hearings, and Major League Baseball has to laid down an anti-drug policy in an attempt to curb steroid use. The new policy states that each player will undergo at least one unannounced, random test during the season. Those athletes who test positive for substances banned by Major League Baseball will face greater consequences than there were before. The first offense will result in a ten day suspension. The second time a player tests positive will result in a thirty day suspension. Third-time offenders will be given a sixty day suspension, and those who test positive a fourth time are to be suspended from baseball for one year without pay.

Small steps are being made toward ending the drug war, but there are still ways around the testing. Methods to avoid detections in tests are being used at an extremely high rate. Masking agents, substances with the ability to hide the use of illegal drugs is just one of the methods used get by drug tests. In Pat Lenehan’s book Anabolic Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Drugs, he reacts to the use of masking agents by saying: “It seems that developments in testing procedures are matched, or in some cases outrun, by improvements in technologies to avoid detection (Lenehan 67).” With the intelligence to fight even the testing of steroids, the effectiveness of the already lax steroid rules seems to be in question. It is difficult to say that we will ever be purged of illegal banned substances. In time, will ball players shrink down, and become replicas of what athletes once were in the past? Most likely, the answer is a resounding no! Athletes will continue to train and eat right. They will do anything to find the coveted edge, needed to get one step ahead of the competition. As for now, we can only hope, for the sake of fair play, and respect for the game, that they do it naturally.


Blood, Sweat, Tears...and Drugs?-Draft 2

Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones but Words Hurt Too…

Any athletic team is made up of individuals who come together to form one single unit. A team becomes a family; a brotherhood (or sisterhood) of people who work together, suffer together, win together, and lose together. Ideally, the closer this unit becomes, the more the team will win. Hall of Fame NFL coach Vince Lombardi said that “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.” It is a simple concept that dates back to the very beginning of sports. Put the team before the individual. Play well, and play hard, not for individual glory, but for the good of the team; for the love of the team. Similar to war, in order to be truly successful, you must be willing to die for the person fighting next to you - to give up everything for the common good.

But what happens when a teammate strays from this family? What are the consequences when their personal successes, feelings, or actions become more important than the team as a whole? The question is answered ever-so-clearly through the circus-like events of November in the National Football League.

It takes a story of mammoth proportions to steal the spotlight from college football on a Saturday night — like a professional sports franchise actually disciplining an athlete for knocking his team and teammates. This is precisely what happened on November 6, 2005 in Philadelphia. ESPN’s Sportscenter has aired continued coverage as the Philadelphia Eagles suspended Terrell Owens, their highly productive but highly controversial wide receiver, for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Owens made comments that severely criticized the Eagles front office, and more importantly, their quarterback, and captain, Donovan McNabb. The Eagles imposed the suspension after Owens refused the team's request that he address his teammates and apologize directly to them. This was not the first time the highly publicized Owens had been caught up in controversy. He has been fined for excessive celebration. He refused to show up to training camp, claiming that his $3.25 million pay for this year was not nearly enough. Owens openly criticized the team for not recognizing his talents. He fought with his head coach Andy Reid, claiming the two had “a conflict of interest”, after being reprimanded for not signing autographs after practice, and fighting in the locker room with a teammate. The never-modest Owens even compared himself, and his struggles to Jesus Christ!

His latest exploit takes it to another level. As we maintained earlier, the greatness of a team is greatly dependent on the bond between the players, and how well they work together. A break in trust or a fight may cause a close knit team to become a dysfunctional family. Owens planted the seeds for just this to occur as he openly declared in an ESPN interview that the team would be better off with a different quarterback! This obvious slap in the face to the team leader and captain, Donovan McNabb caused an outrage in the Eagles clubhouse, and in the homes of sports fans alike. This is not the first time Owens has publicly confronted Donovan McNabb, who has continually been the bigger man, and never let Owens get the best of him. After the 2005 Super Bowl, Owens went public with his belief that McNabb showed a “lack of heart” during the 24-21 Eagles loss to the New England Patriots. Ever since, the relationship between the two super-athletes has been rocky.

A strong relationship between a quarterback and receiver is crucial if the players are to be truly effective. A receiver absolutely knocking his quarterback, the leader of the team, on more than one occasion, is without a doubt damaging to a team’s unity. Mike Wise, writer for the Washington Post says:

You can ask for more money. You can hatch a plan to be so ornery and unapproachable in training camp that your coach sends you home. You can try to convince America that $6 million a year is genuinely difficult to get by on. But you cannot keep publicly insulting your Pro Bowl quarterback, the man who won two playoff games without you, the player most responsible for taking your ungrateful mug to the Super Bowl.

It is despicable from an onlooker’s perspective to witness the arrogant comments of another “spoiled” rich athlete. Many are very happy that Owens has finally been disciplined. They view the suspension as a step in the right direction towards curbing the arrogance of some of today’s professional athletes.

It is difficult to find support for the actions of Owens. Although not many people agree with his actions, some do argue that what Terrell Owens did simply wasn’t that bad. Owens’ now famous agent Drew Rosenhaus argues “There are players in the NFL that are arrested; who violate the program when it comes to drugs and substance abuse, and they are not punished as severely as him.” He goes further to say that T.O. was just exercising his right to freedom of speech. It is certainly not deserving of a suspension, and definitely not grounds for complete banishment from the team. He did not break the law. He seems to be a good citizen. He simply spoke his mind. But why then, have words caused so much commotion?

We have all heard the saying, “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me”. But words have hurt. The simple statements blurted out have caused complete pandemonium in an NFL locker room. They have broken a once Super Bowl – contending team. They have been the topic of discussion on every sports show, sports magazine, and sports page of every newspaper in the country. They have left one of the most dominating players in professional sports without a team. But why?

There will always be disagreements in any stressful environment. But that is when the maturity of the individual must overcome petty differences. It is a matter of not allowing the off-the-field issues to creep into the locker room. Terrell Owens did just that. He spoke out. He acted on urges and immaturity, and in doing so, he ruined a relationship with the Philadelphia Eagles, their star quarterback, and maybe even his NFL career.

Perhaps what goes on in the locker room, and the bond between players is far greater than we could have imagined. Doug Haller, writer for the Arizona Republic, wrote about the “code” of the locker room in reference to the Terrell Owens controversy. What Owens did was the worst thing he could have done. “He called out a teammate. He went Public. He broke the code (Haller).” It is unrealistic to think that no team, especially a group of the most talented (in some cases egotistical) athletes, would ever have conflict.

The message from NFL front offices seems to be that they can work through the domestic disputes and the drug addictions. But when someone disrupts team chemistry, and sabotages team harmony, then a serious issue is at hand. Terrell Owens, perhaps unknowingly, violated the sacred sports code. The code that is “Supposedly instilled the first time a person steps foot into a locker room (Haller).” “With everything he has done he has created acrimonious feelings in the locker room by breaking the code of selling out your teammates,” said Mark Schlereth, an ESPN analyst who spent 12 years in the NFL (Haller). What breaking the “code” does is make it terribly difficult for a team give up their health, their time and their bodies in the violent sport of football for a teammate who has no respect for the team or anyone on it.

In the face of banishment from the Eagles, Terrell Owens seems remorseful for his words and actions. He gave a public 15 minute apology to the Donovan McNabb, the entire Eagle’s team, the front office, Coach Andy Reid, and Eagle’s fans everywhere. But this time, it seems like a case of being too little, too late. The Eagle’s did not accept Owens’ apology, and suspended him from the Philadelphia Eagles for the rest of the season in plans to release him next year.

To some, like sports agent Drew Rosenhaus, it may seem like just words - a simple statement that could be healed with more words. But this time, it seems that that is not the case. Owens must eat his words now and hope that someone will give him another chance. He can only wait in anticipation that someone will have faith that he will never break “the code” of a team again.


Blood, Sweat, Tears...and Drugs?-Process Memo

When I started writing this paper, I approached it as a very broad topic. I have a habit of making my papers too concise, and trying to make the piece more of a summary than an actual article. As we discussed in conference, in the first drafts of the paper, I seemed to be “frontloading” my article, and in doing so, almost giving away every point I was to touch on in the remainder of the text.

After our conference I changed the whole introduction. It went from being a broad, vague summary, to an exact event - an exact night! I feel that in doing this, the article will be able to touch on a specific audience on a greater level than before.

In response to the researching for this project, I felt that I did not have a difficult time. From the start, I knew that I did not want my article to be a list of factual, dull quotes and remarks weighing down my paper. Knowing that this was an “article”, rather than a research paper, made me feel a little bit more freedom in my writing, and I wanted to take full advantage. I feel that this paper is 95% my voice, rather than that of a “steroid expert.” I am very proud of the way this paper turned out. The main points that I did want to get from the books I checked out though, were factual, scientific, and respectable sources concerning steroids. The rest of my sources (online), for the most part were articles that I knew would have quotes and reactions from players. This aspect was very important to me, and I believe that the quotes I have in the article from players has an extremely large impact on the feel of the paper. It breaks the monotony of the listing of facts, and brings the reader into the steroid controversy.

In drafting the paper, I definitely changed a lot from draft to draft. I had many points in the paper, but I felt that they needed to be organized in a much better way. As of now, I am extremely happy with the way my paper came out. I feel that I touch on the most important aspects of this steroid controversy. I feel that and the article is focused enough to keep the attention of its main audience, but still easily understandable, and interesting enough for someone who might not normally pick it up to read. I am proud of the revisions I made, as some were difficult to change, but I am confident that this is the best my article can be.