February 21, 2013

The PED Dilemma: What Needs to Be Done?

By - Tim Swift

Over the last several weeks, the subject of performance-enhancing drugs has been a big topic in the world of sports, with Lance Armstrong admitting that he was doping, the alleged use of deer antler spray by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, and the supposed links that guys like Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun had to a clinic that distributed PEDs.

Photo by: Giulio Saggin
HGH testing is still being discussed for the NFL and NBA, and the progress has been very slow because both player associations know that they could be stirring up a hornet's nest. What we consider cheating is extremely inconsistent to say the least. A guy takes a cortisone shot before a game and he is considered tough, but if he takes HGH to recover from a major injury, he's a cheater. Also, if I hurt a knee and the doctor prescribes a type of HGH or steroid, it's expected. But if an athlete does it, he or she is a disgrace to the game they play.

In the NFL, no one wants to admit that guys are taking things to enhance their bodies. We want to believe that just with hard work a 36-year-old Peyton Manning came back to an MVP level after multiple neck procedures. We want to believe that with just hard work Adrian Peterson can come back from a torn ACL in 8 months and become more dominant than he every was before the injury. We may never know whether Manning or Peterson took any substances that were "banned," but in this day and age, it's fair to ask the question.

Commissioner David Stern has been on record as saying that PEDs are not a real issue in the NBA compared to other sports. There are well over 100 substances on the NBA banned list, but there is no way that all of those products are bad for your body. Only 8 players since 2000, including Hedo Turkoglu, who was suspended last week, have been busted for taking PEDs. So you're telling me in a sport that can last as long as 9 months with 80+ games, that guys aren't taking something to maintain their energy and strength during the season? Please.

Even in a sport like golf, where we don't consider guys to be PED users, the driving distances have gone up anywhere from 50 to 75 yards over the last 20 years, and the first thing we talk about is how much the equipment has improved. But we are ignoring the fact that the average golfer's body has changed dramatically since the 90s.

Baseball has seemed to be the most sensitive about the usage of PEDs and how they have affected the game, which is funny to me because 3 suspected PED users helped save the sport. In 1998 when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were blasting home runs at a torrid pace, they had America captivated. Sports writers wrote about the "Summer of 98," and heaped praises upon Sosa and McGwire while never asking the question, "How are they doing this?" This HR chase was the first real excitement that the sport had seen since the '94 strike. Then in 2001, every media outlet on the planet followed Barry Bonds around while he went after the record McGwire had just broke a few years prior, and no one wanted to admit what was going on.

The media has been hilarious in its hypocrisy in the coverage of PEDs in sports, ignoring the 250 pound tight end who can run a 4.4 forty, and yet a 170 pound utility hitter who is trying to hang on takes PEDs and he is reviled as a cheater. Trust me, I've had the privilege to be in professional sports locker rooms, and we in the media don't want to bring up the PED question because we want to maintain the cushy access to the players and coaches.

One of the common questions that comes from the average fan is, "Would you ever take PEDs to gain an advantage?" For me, the answer is easy. Absolutely. When you get into this business and have a limited amount of time to make a maximum amount of money, you're going to take chances. Despite the world knowing that he took PEDs, Melky Cabrera just signed a 2-year, $16 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays -- baggage and all. I'm sure he will tell you that the risk was worth the short-term reward.

The toughest issue with this topic is what should be legal and what shouldn't be? If people are taking steroids to help with the pain from chemotherapy, why can't a professional athlete take the same substances to help heal a shoulder or an Achilles injury? The FDA approves many products that are on sports leagues banned lists, and that has to change. Professional sports leagues have to be able to embrace science and progress to give a better product to the people.

Look, I don't want to live in a world where 10 and 11-year-olds are taking PEDs to get an advantage, but at the professional level, we can't be surprised that someone is doing whatever it takes to thrive or survive. There also needs to be some real dialogue between the leagues, doctors, players fans, and media on what is truly bad for your body.

Wake up people. Your favorite athlete could be taking something, and guess what? He or she is doing it in part because they are entertaining you. If the fans are paying top dollar for a product, they should expect premium production from the athletes. And the athletes will provide it -- one way or another.


  1. Should talk ethically about them as well.

  2. I say just let them take whatever they want. Let the "steroid era" properly commence.

  3. Nice article Tim. With advances in modern medicines and things of that nature it is ridiculous to not allow athletes to use whatever is at their disposal (if it is not an illegal drug) in order to recover quickly and get back out on the field. The majority of the things that are banned you can buy over the counter at a GNC. The leagues need to rethink all this.