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?On Sept. 13, 1968, Mike R. Breckon, manager of the Canadian national cycling team then preparing to race in Greece, gave team members a memo telling them how and when to take two drugs that were supplied in a separate packet. Breckon closed his instructions with the remark, "You will no doubt note that very small amounts of strychnine are contained in both these preparations. Don't get the wrong idea that the substance is poisonous.... It is on the forbidden list of substances in the CCA [Canadian Cycling Association] rules concerning the use of stimulants, but as you will not be taking it during the race and it is being administered to you under prescription by a doctor, there is no problem."
?"It is not unusual for an athlete to carry his own little kit with hypodermic syringes. Athletes have learned to inject themselves," says Harold Connolly, U.S. Olympic hammer thrower. "Some track athletes," says Russ Hodge, a U.S. decathlon man, "spend $30 or $40 a month on pills, steroids and food supplements."
?Four years ago George Richey, a tennis pro and father of tennis internationalist Cliff Richey, withdrew his son (or got him fired) from the U.S. Davis Cup team because, among other things, Cup Captain George MacCall had wanted to treat young Cliff's sore thumb with a drug called DMSO. DMSO was at that time widely used. It was believed to be a wonder cure for every athletic ailment from cauliflower ear to tennis thumb. A wonder cure it wasn't. In November 1965, the Food and Drug Administration restricted the use of DMSO to controlled clinical testing on the grounds that 1) its use had gotten out of hand, 2) its effectiveness was questionable and 3) its possible dangers had not been determined.
Such a collection of pharmaceutical vignettes can be expanded at will, but while the amount and kinds of drugs used in sports are impressive, the important difference between athletic and nonathletic drug use comes down to a matter of motive. An athlete takes—or is given by his supervisors, medical and otherwise—many drugs that he would not take or be given if he were not an athlete. And the rationale for much athletic drug use is unique, for the drugs are not taken either with the intention or effect of improving or maintaining health, or to achieve a pleasurable sensation, but rather because the athlete or those around him believe he will perform better drugged than undrugged.
For example, the family of hormonal drugs, which are widely known in athletic circles as anabolic steroids, were developed as restorative aids for patients seriously debilitated by age, accident, major surgery or other infirmities. As with any drug, there are risks attendant with their use—in this case, disruption of certain glandular functions, particularly the sexual. However, a physician may reasonably prescribe anabolic steroids to an emaciated 70-year-old man on the assumption that if the drug helps add 10 pounds to his wasted body this advantage will outweigh the risk of decreased sperm production, testicular atrophy or prostate discomfort. On the other hand, there is no conventional medical reason for a healthy 23-year-old, 240-pound shotputter to use the drug. But many do, because they believe the drug will make them bigger and stronger than they are and because they believe they cannot become national or world-class competitors without it. It is their motivation that makes athletic anabolic steroid users unique.
Another example of the same general phenomenon occurs in the case of the broken-legged hockey player. Midway through the sixth game of the 1964 Stanley Cup finals against Detroit, Bobby Baun, then of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was hit on the leg by the puck and carried from the rink on a stretcher. In the training room he received an injection of Novocain. His leg was taped, he returned to play, and he scored the winning goal in overtime. The next day it was determined Baun had a cracked right fibula. Nonetheless, he was shot with painkiller and willingly, probably eagerly, took his regular turn on the ice the following day.
Numbing a broken leg and sending the patient out to play hockey is not a treatment any physician would follow with a nonathlete. It may not cause complications, but the procedure has no known therapeutic value. It is not conceived as a method of speeding up or improving the knitting of bone. The only motive was to enable a man to play a game that he could not otherwise have played.
There are abundant rumors—the wildest of which circulate within rather than outside the sporting world—about strung-out quarterbacks, hopped-up pitchers, slowed-down middleweights, convulsed half-milers and doped-to-death wrestlers. Nevertheless, it is the question of motive and morality that constitutes the crux of the athletic drug problem. Even if none of the gossip could be reduced to provable fact, there remains ample evidence that drug use constitutes a significant dilemma, not so much for individual athletes as for sport in general. One reason is that the use of drugs in sport leads one directly to more serious and complicated questions. Is athletic integrity (and, conversely, corruption) a matter of public interest? Does it matter, as appreciators of sport have so long and piously claimed it does, that games be played in an atmosphere of virtue; even righteousness? If not, what is the social utility of games—why play them at all? Drug usage, even more than speculation about bribery, college recruiting, spit-balls or TV commercials, raises such sticky questions about the fundamentals of sport that one can understand the instinctive reaction of the athletic Establishments: when it comes to drugs, they ignore, dismiss, deny.
"Somebody should speak out on this subject, and speak out strongly," says Dr. Robert Kerlan, until recently the physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers as well as for a number of individual athletes in all sports. "I'm not a therapeutic nihilist," says Kerlan "Situations arise where there are valid medical reasons for prescribing drugs for athletes. There are special occupational health problems in some sports. However, the excessive and secretive use of drugs is likely to become a major athletic scandal, one that will shake public confidence in many sports just as the gambling scandal tarnished the reputation of basketball. The essence of sports is matching the natural ability of men. When you start using drugs, money or anything else surreptitiously to gain an unnatural advantage, you have corrupted the purpose of sports as well as the individuals involved in the practice."
The view of Dr. Dooley is quite different from that of Dr. Kerlan. In fact, the two men in many ways represent the opposite poles of medical and metaphysical opinion regarding drug use in sports. Nevertheless, both the Los Angeles area physicians share the common belief that this is a serious matter and one that should be aired thoroughly in public.