- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The case history of the anabolic steroids, drugs that 10 years ago were almost unknown to American athletes but now are used and/or gossiped about in virtually every sport, serves as a classic example of how drug fads spread. By his own account, the anabolic steroid pioneer in the U.S. sports world was Dr. John Ziegler, an Olney, Md. physician. In 1960, after hearing that Russian athletes were using hormones to "bulk up," Ziegler, in cooperation with the Ciba Pharmaceutical Company (the maker of Dianabol) began giving these drugs to weight lifters at the York (Pa.) Barbell Club. Dr. Ziegler eventually became concerned about anabolic steroid use. "The trouble was that the York men went crazy about steroids," says the Maryland physician. "They figured if one pill was good, three or four would be better, and they were eating them like candy. I began seeing prostate trouble, and a couple of cases of atrophied testes."
The weight lifters themselves were quickly convinced that anabolic steroids made them bigger and stronger and began to tout the drugs. (Some doctors were—and are—far less sure about their strength-building characteristics.) Track weight men were early converts. By the mid-1960s most of the top-ranking weight men had tried anabolic steroids, including Randy Matson (who used them while preparing for the 1964 Olympics), Dallas Long, Hal Connolly, Bill Toomey and Russ Hodge. Footballers, many of whom are as interested in trying to make themselves as big and strong as any weight lifter or shotputter, were also obvious anabolic steroid candidates. Though the Chargers' experiment may have been a bit abortive, the drug has since caught on in football. It is an assumption, based on reasonably good but unverifiable reports, that some players on almost every NFL and AFL team have used anabolic steroids. It is a fact, according to physicians or players, that, in addition to the Chargers, members of the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns have taken the drug. Ken Ferguson of Utah State University, who went on to play professional football in Canada, has said that 90% of college linemen have used steroids. "I'd say anybody who has graduated from college to professional football in the last four years has used them," said Ferguson in 1968. So widespread is the faith in hormones that there are verified incidents where pro scouts have supplied the drug to college draftees, and college recruiters have given it to high school players.
In this matter of how and why drug habits get started, the case of the anabolic steroids is far from unique. There are many other drugs—amphetamines, strychnine, cocaine, morphine, DMSO, tranquilizers, barbiturates, vasodilators, painkillers, anti-inflammants, enzymes, muscle relaxers—that have enjoyed sudden athletic popularity and whose use has spread quickly through the sporting world, despite official dampening admonishments.
Medicine and science aside, an underlying reason for this is that athletes and their attendants are flaming faddists. The sports world is full of fetishists, gamesmen who swear by the efficacy of nuts, raisins, pancakes, dirty undershirts, voodoo rituals, numbers, words, coins and medals. There is a rational explanation for this irrational belief in magic. More than perhaps any other group, the reputation and salary of an athlete depends on luck, a puddle of water, a gust of wind, a bounce of a ball. It is therefore understandable that athletes should be quick to experiment with any available magic potions.
Vitamin B-12 injections are an example of the athletes' craving to have magic worked on them. Professional football players are among the most devout B-12 believers, and there is many a Sunday hero who would no more go out to battle without having his shot than he would without his cleats. Athletes (football players are not alone, B-12 shots being fancied by baseball, basketball, track, swimming, hockey and weight lifting performers) believe that the shots prevent cramps, muscle pulls and general fatigue, cure hangovers and give you the jollies. The opinion among medical professionals is almost unanimous that the only real therapeutic use of B-12 is as a corrective for pernicious anemia. Otherwise it has little if any effect, since excess B-12 is quickly eliminated from the system. "American athletes have the most expensive urine in the world," says Ray Baldwin, trainer at Xavier University and formerly with the Cincinnati Royals.
By bringing together athletes from all over the world and dumping them into the most formidable sporting pressure cooker yet devised, the quadrennial Olympic Games have traditionally (it took four physicians to revive the marathon winner of the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, an American, Tom Hicks, who proved to be loaded on strychnine and brandy) served as an exchange for drugs and drug recipes. This was particularly true in 1968, when everyone's attention was forcibly fixed on drug usage by the new anti-doping regulations and dope-detection tests instituted by the International Olympic Committee.
Shoe money and drugs were the two hottest conversational topics in the Olympic Village. A West German super steroid was much discussed. Olympic scuttlebutt also had it that African runners chewed kat, an anciently used herb from the Red Sea coast which supposedly masks fatigue, increases endurance and turns on the libido. An extract from the Tree of Life (a Korean bush) was rumored as being used for the same purposes. Bill Toomey believes one of his chief rivals in the decathlon had a shot of anti-inflammant (illegal according to Olympic drug rules) in his elbow prior to making a mighty javelin heave. "I did not see it, but a British coach said he saw it," says Toomey. The Russians, according to Americans, had a new wonder, anti-tension, pro-concentration pill. Some East Europeans were said to be taking a caffeine concentrate as a pick-me-up before competition. This was done presumably because amphetamines, which are traditionally used for this purpose, were illegal, and also presumably because they had not found the undetectable amphetamine that certain weight lifters boasted about having discovered.
An almost universal article of athletic faith is that the other side (the Humpty-Dumps, the Russians, the Jones Junior Highs) is 1) using drugs and 2) getting drugs that are better than our drugs. The oftentimes bitter confrontation between the United States and Communist teams has understandably produced a lot of such feelings. "We are usually a long way behind the Russians in drug use," says U.S. Weight Lifter Bill Starr. "They make a scientific study of it. If they come up with something good, their teams all get it. Here it is a hit or miss thing."
But East Europeans believe the same thing about Americans. Foreign athletes find it inconceivable that American athletes, coming from the land of towering pill factories, are not the most thoroughly doped competitors in the world.
The notion that someplace there is a compound, a formula or a food that will automatically convert bronze medals into gold is a general one confined to no one nation, sport or class of competitors. This conviction that there is the athletic equivalent of the philosopher's stone sought by ancient alchemists, and the terrible fear that somebody else may have already found it, is the rationale—or irrationale—behind many of the current athletic drug practices. It is used as a justification by physicians and trainers for prescribing drugs that cannot be justified on conventional medical grounds. It is the excuse used by coaches and trainers ("There might be something in it") for pushing pills the effectiveness and safety of which are unknown. It is the reason athletes carry their own little black drug bags, endanger their health, risk their reputations and break oaths and laws to get and use bizarre pharmaceuticals. It explains the ever-multiplying rumors about records being set and games being won by doped competitors. Finally, the belief in the existence of the ultimate pill, and the unrelenting search for it, is why many doctors share Dr. Kerlan's fear that athletic drug practices are leading to a sports scandal of major proportions.