Steve Courson, 29, is an offensive guard with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He stands 6'1" and weighs 285 pounds. He was with the Pittsburgh Steelers for seven years before going to Tampa in 1984. An articulate, intelligent young man, he is a military history enthusiast who loves the wars of Greece and Persia, and has a large collection of books about World War II. He likes classical music and his van resounds with the taped music of Wagner, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. Sometimes he switches to Berlitz German tapes. Courson spent 12 hours telling SI's Jill Lieber about his use of anabolic steroids in his strength-training regimen. He told Lieber, "A lot of guys won't talk about their steroid use. They won't even tell their wives. I'm talking about it because I don't want to be hypocritical, because I believe in telling the truth." What follows is Courson's account of—and rationalization for—his use of steroids:
Seventy-five percent of the linemen in the NFL are on steroids and 95% have probably tried them. Even in college, they're widely used. Rookies, at every training camp, have asked me about them. Most of them have tried some kind of steroid. They've all used Dianabol. I never recommend steroids to high school kids. I tell them they're too young. I say, "Wait until you get everything you can from your body, naturally."
But in football, as in life, only the strong survive. You're preached that by your coaches and your parents from the time you're very young. The strongest people—the strongest athletes—in the world are all using steroids. They're being used not only in the strength field, but also in track and field and in swimming. So you've got to get on drugs if you want to survive.
My freshman year in college [ South Carolina] I got banged around by older, stronger kids. I knew at the time I had to do a lot of work. I knew I had to go on drugs. I wasn't going to be out there just to be out there. I had to be the best. I only did steroids the summer before my sophomore year. My body weight went from 225 to 260 in a month and a half. I didn't need them after that. I was plenty strong enough already. In football, if you use steroids too much, you get muscle tears. You aren't mobile. I don't need them now to gain weight. I'm 6'1", 285. I can't put too much more weight on my frame. I just want to be stronger. These last three years I did steroids for eight to 12 weeks in the off-season.
Unless you're a freak of nature, you can't get away from that kind of training. It stands to reason, if you have two guys, one on either side of the line, and each weighs 250, the guy who's the stronger will win out. When I weighed 250 or 260 I could be pushed around by taller, stronger guys.
Steroids are a different realm of drug from speed or painkillers. They enhance your natural ability. They are a building block. They can take you somewhere. I can't condone steroid use, but I can morally accept it as an aid. I know that if I don't use steroids, I won't be the best I can be.
I'm sure there are a lot of football players doing less steroids than I do. For football players, I'm probably doing a lot. Bodybuilders and powerlifters are doing much, much more. I'd take more, too, but I'm afraid to. First, I don't want to be any bigger, and second, I don't want to lose my mobility.
I use Voids to build up my strength in the off-season, but I never use speed to play. Guys are out there using speed. Why don't they outlaw that? Coaches say, "Hey, steroids are no good for you." Well, how good is taking a painkiller in the ankle or the knee? The whole thing is hypocritical. What's wrong with a football player building his body as strong as he can with steroids? I know I have to play a 16-game season, and to survive without serious injury I have to be as strong as I possibly can be.
I get more enjoyment out of being in a weight room and training—feeling bigger, stronger, seeing myself improve—than when I've read a book. I will keep doing steroids till I see adverse effects in my performance. I want to be strong, but I don't have room for more weight. I want to dead-lift over 1,000 pounds. I want to bench 600 pounds. No football player has done either. I think I can do that within this year.
I ask other players how much they bench. Usually they ask me first: It's a common measuring stick. [The bench press movement is] exactly like going against a defensive lineman. You try to smack him with both hands, raising his shoulders back. You're trying to buy time for the quarterback. Coming out of a stance is like a squat-lift motion. Force moves from the feet through the hips and back. It comes from your pecs, your shoulders, your upper arms, your hands. You've got to be strong to initiate enough shock. You see his head snap back. It feels good to deliver a blow like that.