Steroids: Not just for the big boys anymore

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 6, 2005

As news of Rafael Palmeiro has been endlessly discussed across sports pages, ESPN broadcasts, and sports radio talk shows since Monday, this news shows the time of year to be most deeply concerned about non-prescription steroid and performance-enhancing drug abuse.

While the growth of steroid use can partly be put at the doorstep of major leaguers, this expressed concern is not for major leaguers only, but also for high school athletes.

After all, was this not the main reason Congress delved into the issue to begin with?

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As another set of sports seasons gets going with football two-a-days in 90-plus heat, running lines at soccer practice, building endurance for cross country meets, finding a faster way to get in shape for field hockey or needing to make the cheerleading squad, these are the area that illegal steroid use can do tragic harm.

It sounds odd, especially in the light of Barry Bonds, &uot;Big Mac&uot; McGwire and now, Raffy, playing blind, deaf, and dumb when it comes to what they were putting in their bodies, but compared to professional adult athletes with professional trainers, steroid use by young, completely untrained kids can do a lot more than put a smudge on a future Cooperstown resume.

In 2003, the Center for Disease Control surveyed 15,000 high school athletes, with six percent admitting they tried steroid pills or shots at some point in the last 12 months.

The same study showed a doubling of steroid usage by teenagers between 1991 and 2003.

Uncontrollable aggressiveness and acne are temporary side effects of steroid abuse; sort of as not making the team, or the first string, or all-state are all temporary excuses for using such performance-enhancing drugs.

Permanent effects of steroids include lifelong health problems such as connective tissue injury, sterility, female masculinity, and ossification.

Various federal and state laws have attempted to increase punishment, mostly at the dealer level, over the last 30 years, but they have done nothing to change the increase of usage.

It is a virtual impossibility for state high school associations to implement across the board testing of students.

The cost of testing, from $100 to $175 per test, makes a complete testing policy cost-prohibitive. A few states, Virginia not included, have been able to implement random testing that is able to test, on average, just a couple percent of a given school’s athletes.

Unlike college or pro leagues, accountability cannot realistically lie with anyone but individuals.

Even with Congress’s big show this past spring, when it comes to youth and high school athletics, the big reason for Washington’s concern, accountability must fall on coaches, parents, and the athletes themselves.

Andrew Giermak is a News-Herald staff writer. Reach him at 934-9617 or at