NEEDLES AND PILLS
I enjoyed Bil Gilbert's article on drugs in sport (Problems in a Turned-On World, June 23 et seq.) in full, but there is one misconception that should be pointed out from the beginning. Professional sport is not the same as amateur sport. In the former one is paid to do a job, as is a highly skilled engineer, as is the business executive in a highly competitive position and as is the ditch-digger. The amateur is in sport mainly for his own egotism, emotional benefit and, in some sports, for future employment. The medical treatment of a professional athlete should be very similar to that of the executive. If he has a bacterial infection, I would give him antibiotics and tell him to stay home or go to work, depending on his symptoms and work demands. If a ditchdigger came in with shoulder pain secondary to bursitis, I might give him cortisone and Novocain injections and tell him to rest it. But if he had to work to bring home money, he would be the final judge as to whether or not he would work.
A professional has his own unique working conditions and is more prone to musculoskeletal injuries than normal. He must be able to perform his duties as soon as possible. Anything that can be done medically to help him without endangering his present or future health should be done.
WILLIAM G. CLANCY JR., M.D.
I must congratulate you on one of the most revealing articles I have ever read. Drugs are one of the greatest problems facing society today, and the problem certainly has not passed over the sports world. As a high school competitor in cross-country and track, I am definitely against the use of drugs to improve my performance because any achievements would no longer be truly mine, and I am therefore opposed to competing against other athletes whose performance will be aided by such means.
One important fact that the sports world seems to ignore is the apparent outcome of these practices. Sports have always been a means for an athlete to display a skill he possesses and to strive to achieve personal glory. However, if he is aided by drugs, that skill is no longer his alone, nor is he deserving of the glory which traditionally is bestowed. There is also his inner self, his ego, which needs to be lifted by his achievements but which can't possibly benefit from an achievement for which some doctor is truly responsible. And if for some reason this athlete were no longer able to get these drugs and found that he could no longer achieve the same feats, his ego could be destroyed. In this way athletes will become a subhuman breed—animals striving to get the most from the body, neglecting the inner self.
After reading the first part of Bil Gilbert's story on the use of drugs in sport, this haunting question remains to be answered: Who is or are the real world champions? Remember last year's Kentucky Derby? What would happen if urine tests were conducted after each championship event? No wonder today's youth reject our present hypocritical society; if it's okay for Johnny Athlete to "pop pills," why not anybody else? How can an athlete truly believe he is a champion if he had some drug to pull him through that last effort that separates the winners and the losers? At one time coaches called on their players for desire, now they call the team trainer or physician. I can hardly wait until they present the MVP award to "Good Ole M.D. Quack, Team Trainer."
DAVID COLLIE JR.
Panama City, Fla.
What is the purpose of a drug? To improve health! Anything short of this would be an adulteration of that purpose.
As a pharmacist I recognize the validity of the viewpoints presented on both sides of the issue. I am also aware of the many and varied possible dangers as the layman is not. Inflammation, swelling, stiffness and pain are part of the body's warning system of disease or injury. To mask symptoms for too long a period could result in damage without the athlete being aware of it until too late.
The use of drugs for therapeutic purposes always involves the problem of choosing between the lesser of two evils: the possible side effects of the drug itself vs. no drug at all.
It is most important that the athlete always be made aware of the possible dangers, the long- and short-term side effects and the possibility of becoming impaired or crippled earlier in life due to the prolonged use of drugs which may temporarily relieve symptoms but have no power to cure.
Steroids, pain relievers, muscle relaxants, etc. do have their place when used to relieve misery in conjunction with other therapy (chemical or otherwise) designed to restore health. They were not intended to enable one to possibly further complicate an existing injury in order to compete a few more minutes (or hours) in a contest.