?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
?"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
?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.
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.
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.
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.