By Nicole Ramsey
The player walks up to home plate, gripping the bat harder than he has ever gripped it before. His eyes shift from the thousands of fans in the crowd to the pitcher winding up to throw him the ball.
He swings the bat and Smack! It flies out of view. The commentator yells “It’s outta here!” He jogs around the bases and the crowd goes wild.
But would the fans be just as excited if they knew that his powerful swing was chemically induced?
Although there are many problems in the world that some would argue deserve more thought than baseball, the issue of steroid use in professional sports is gaining recognition as a widespread problem. Chemists are steadily finding ways to sneak past regulations and detection methods, while the government seems to remain steps behind. For the devout fans witnessing their favorite players’ careers unravel, they can only hope that someday this matter will be yesterday’s news. Taking these athletes down within the realm of the public eye raises many questions about their influence on the public, specifically children, and the current cultural perceptions of professional sports.
Beneath the surface of the iconic sport we call baseball lies a dangerous game, filled with lies and controversy. As athletes take major steps to become better, faster and stronger than their competitors, some lose sight of the initial idea: playing for the love of the game.
Steroid use has been linked to athletes in sports across the spectrum, and is not limited to baseball. For example, the NFL was one of the first organizations to address the issue of steroid use before it became the more publicized problem it is today.
“It has definitely been around for a while,” ESPN reporter Mark Fainuru-Wada said. “I have heard stories dating back to the ‘50s and ‘60s, and it’s a more prevalent story now than it was back then partly because of the scandals that have happened over the course of the last several years.”
The act of taking steroids is known as “doping,” and pertains to the use of performance-enhancement drugs by athletes to perform in any form of competition. The preferred steroids athletes use are those that increase muscle mass and physical strength, adding more power and force to their physique.
“Performance enhancers change the body chemistry to the point where you gain muscle or lose a lot of fat,” said Primrose Pisares, UC Santa Cruz’s head athletic trainer.
Doping is restricted in professional sports for two reasons. First, it poses a danger to the athlete’s body and will inevitably lead to high blood pressure, liver damage and numerous complications with the heart as well as arteries and blood vessels surrounding it. The second reason: it compromises the equality of the athletes, and is thus considered cheating.
*The Media Storm’s All-Star Lineup*: In two separate incidents, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants and Marion Jones, an Olympic gold-medal-winning track star, were accused of allegedly taking steroids during their peak years.
Bonds came under suspicion when members of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) leaked the names of athletes to whom they had supplied steroids. Bonds was indicted on charges of perjury and accused of lying under oath about his alleged use.
Marion Jones was one of the most famous athletes to be linked to the BALCO scandal. Jones’ alleged steroid use and lies about using resulted in the revocation of all her Olympic medals and endorsements, a two-year suspension from track and field, six months in prison and 200 hours of community service for perjury. In response, Jones retired before the suspension could take place.
Roger Clemens, starting pitcher for the New York Yankees, was listed in the Mitchell report along with 89 other major league baseball players for having taken steroids. He has denied all accusations. Meanwhile, the investigation continues and is currently in the hands of the FBI.
It is definitely a part of the culture,” said Ben Dubose, a Los Angeles Times reporter stationed in Washington, D.C. “The fact of the matter is there will always be something new. The new technology used to detect steroids is more so on the downside than how it was before.”
BALCO, a company located in northern California and owned by Victor Conte, was a business for blood and urine analysis that supplied a number of high-profile sports athletes with a substance called “The Clear” and other growth hormones similar to it. In 2003 it was brought under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for being involved in doping with a steroid that was not detectable at the time and for giving away the substances to professional athletes.
“The Game of Shadows,” a controversial book written by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fanairu-Wada in 2004, investigated steroid use within the sports underworld and became influential in the steroid scandal. The book was based on the BALCO scandal after obtaining testimonies and stories from some of the athletes. The reporters were given the 2004 Polk award for their journalistic excellence and were subpoenaed before a grand jury to testify about the information that was leaked inside the book.
*Cause and Effect*: Brandon Figueroa, a UCSC second-year and self-proclaimed sports fanatic, does not discriminate when it comes to which sports he dedicates his time to watching. From his perspective as a die-hard follower, he believes that many professional athletes don’t see any option other than taking steroids to meet expectations of fans and rising performance standards.
“I think that athletes feel they have to prove to themselves that they can be the best,” Figueroa said. “It becomes a big burden that they just have to take care of. If they don’t, they become overwhelmed by the unexplainable pressure of insecurity and it therefore leads to disappointment and distress. Some feel that steroids or enhancement is the only way.”
Endorsements, respect and strong fan bases are just a few of the many pressures that athletes deal with on a regular basis. Although being on the “juice” may seem like an easy alternative to get them to the right speed and weight, it only adds to humiliation and severe health problems in the long run.
“There is a lot of money involved and the pressure to succeed in all different levels is unavoidable,” Fanairu-Wada said. “So the athletes are faced with the choice of using these drugs or possibly not making it. Because sometimes they don’t understand how great the pressure can be.”
Many critics, including Dubose, believe that the fear of losing endorsements alone will cause an athlete to think twice about steroid use.
“Sponsors are starting to choose athletes who are not connected in any way to these issues,” Dubose said. “No matter what the circumstances are, we are definitely starting to see a shift in endorsement.”
In addition to pressure to maintain and receive endorsements, athletes are constantly grappling with the expectations their fans hold them accountable for. UCSC baseball team captain Ryan Layne suggests that steroid use, at least initially, helped boost the fan-athlete relationship.
“In terms of major league baseball, steroid use was seen as good for baseball,” Layne said. “We saw the records being broken and the attendance records as well, and everyone was a fan of it while it lasted and all of a sudden they are coming down on these athletes.”
Layne recalls the “good old days” when children could idolize their favorites without seeing the athletes’ careers unravel from steroid use.
“If you are a child, of course seeing Bonds in court would affect you,” Layne said. “As a child I had no perspective on it — I enjoyed the home runs while they lasted.”
While from a baseball player’s perspective the consequences may seem an unnecessary way to deal with athletes, others feel the enhancements are not fair to the general public who enjoy watching these sports.
“I think it takes away the real competition in sports,” Figueroa said. “It’s like using a cheat sheet in math class when taking an exam. Using steroids just takes away from a player’s raw and natural talent.”
*UC Santa Cruz and the Juice*: Because of these rising levels of performance in the Major League, college students with hopes of entering them are increasingly stressed.
UCSC Men’s Soccer Coach Dan Chamberlain, who played soccer for UC Santa Cruz during his college career as well as at the professional level, claims that the steroid issue has never affected him.
“As a player, I needed to gain weight. It was something that I had to do to get stronger, but I changed my eating habits and did extra workouts but never did I feel like I needed to be that competitive,” Chamberlain said. “ I never did feel that pressure from the professional level that I needed to turn to steroids or any performance enhancement in order to move to the next level.”
In college athletics, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policy is very strict about drug-use and any other paraphernalia related to it, and enforces tough penalties for such activity. At UCSC, however, the situation is relatively different than other athletic schools. Due to the fact that UCSC is a Division III school and does not give athletic scholarships, there is no drug-testing requirement for its athletes.
UCSC Athletes Director Linda Spradley believes that students come to Santa Cruz based mainly on academic reasons, not athletic ones.
“The students here are more academically driven,” Spradley said. “It’s less ‘I want to be the best in the world’ and there are no motivating factors to get them off track.”
The other reason UCSC doesn’t test for drugs and steroids is because of the high cost. Spradley, however, believes it is unnecessary anyway because the students are very health-conscious and care about what goes into their bodies.
“We don’t do it here because honestly I don’t believe that we have a problem in that area,” Spradley said. “ I honestly believe that our student-athletes are very good in understanding their own responsibilities.”
Rather than enforce the NCAA policy, UCSC athletics enforce drug-free sports in a much different way. Teams pick two representatives from each team to become part of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) who then help to write the student drug policy.
“I think we are very successful in what we are doing with this new policy,” Spradley said. “They are very self motivated and I am very proud of them.”
*Settling the Score*: While athletes at the lower level may not have as much to lose as the professional athletes, steroid-use becomes more of a moral decision to them rather than a career move.
The long-lasting effects this may have on professional sports is uncertain; the fact that sports are entertaining and people like to be entertained will never go away. The endorsements and advertising will most likely not settle. Fans and critics alike wonder: as long as the athletes are thriving and successful in their sport, then why does it matter?
“Steroids destroy lives, careers and physical bodies,” Spradley said. “It’s a competitive edge that athletes have no right to have.”
The public reaction to this issue has been taken seriously and great measures are being taken to ensure the healthiness of the athletes as well as fairness to competing athletes as well.
Organizations such as the USADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) are doing their best to make sure that no illegal activity is going on within sports.
The government has chosen to get more involved with steroid-use in athletics as well. Federal agencies such as the FBI are not only going after the supplier but also the clients, which was rarely being done in the beginning.
“The government clearly has become much more involved in the steroids issue than they were previously,” Fanairu-Wada said. “They have been prosecuting cases, going after distributors and on the other hand much of the attention is rooted in becoming more aggressive in going after steroid distributors.”
As the steroid issue continues to garner more attention around the nation, education and coaching at UCSC strive to ensure our athletes remain steroid/drug-free. In order to do this Spradley believes that utmost strictness must be enforced.
“We as educators have an obligation to help those that need the help,” Spradley said. “We need drug policies, penalties and we need to speak about it all the time. We need to get them to understand the ethics and morals of the issue plus the physical damage and unfairness about the steroid issue.”