Performance enhancing drugs have grabbed the headlines again in sports over the last month, questioning the integrity of several sports ranging from football to cycling. With discussions revolving around human growth hormone (HGH), deer antler spray and other anabolic steroids, the focus has been on cleaning up professional sports with the hopes of an even playing field. At the end of the day, that’s not the real priority at all.
Think back to 2005 when Congress put Major League Baseball on trial and invited some of the greatest sluggers in the history of the game along with commissioner Bug Selig and MLBPA head Donald Fehr to testify regarding their knowledge of steroids in the game. Many will remember Rafael Palmeiro’s denial, Sammy Sosa’s translator and Mark McGwire’s reluctance to talk about the past. Many may have forgotten who the final participants were in that hearing — the parents of former USC baseball player Rob Garibaldi and the father of Taylor Hooten.
Garibaldi’s parents sat before Congress, in tears, testifying that there was no doubt that steroids led to their son’s death. Garibaldi ‘s 2002 suicide was attributed to depression which was brought on by the substances he used. Hooten, a 17-year-old baseball player, also committed suicide after using steroids.
Congress’ focus during those hearings was not directed specifically at Major League Baseball, it was a clear message to the entire world of sports: Your actions as professional athletes, good or bad, influence and inspire young people to walk in your shoes. They don’t want there to be any more stories like Rob Garibaldi’s or Taylor Hooten’s.
Under the care of the best doctors in the world, it would make sense for professional athletes to take HGH to help them heal faster and get back on the field. The reality is that if kids see the best in the world doing it, they will want to do it too. Here’s the problem: No pediatrician or family doctor would prescribe those drugs for a kid or teenager, so they wouldn’t be taking them under a physician’s care, opening the door for abuse and overdose.
One thing to keep in mind: when Jose Canseco and company were using steroids, it wasn’t even illegal for MLB players. Baseball turned a blind eye while McGwire and Sosa tore up the record books because its television ratings were booming and the popularity of the sport was off the charts. Players have come out since and said that everyone within the game knew players were taking steroids, the MLB simply ignored it. Had many of those players known the side-effects of what they were taking, they may have made another decision. Ken Caminiti admitted to using steroids during his 1996 NL MVP season. Caminiti died in 2004 after battling substance abuse the rest of his life.
The tragedy today is not that these players are taking substances to get ahead in their careers. Anyone could understand Ray Lewis using something to help him recover from his torn triceps during his final season with hopes of contributing to the Ravens’ Super Bowl run. The NFL doesn’t even test for deer antler spray, so whether he used it is just a matter of personal integrity. That’s not the issue here. This is all about the young athletes sitting at home that hear deer antler spray or some other substance may help them get ahead, without knowing the consequences.
The goal for professional sports by outlawing all of these substances is to clean up their sports and set an example for the younger generation. If it disappears from the pros, it will disappear from all other levels. The reason young people take those substances is because they believe it will help them reach their goals, since they see their favorite players doing the same thing. If there’s no benefit (or perceived benefit) of doing something, people won’t do it. Sports need to continue to alert young people of the negatives and consequences for taking these substances, with the loudest voices being the stars of each sport.
At the end of the day, all the discussion about PEDs and HGH comes back to the health and safety of the next generation. No amount of professional success is worth the life of someone’s child. So professional athletes, before you take that injection or use that substance, stop for a minute and think not about yourself, but about who is watching you and looking up to you.
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