It was a week when
the trees came down, one by one. They fell all across the country, and even a
big fir named Brian Bosworth crashed to earth. The heavy logging of college
football players came courtesy of the NCAA, which last week proved its
drug-testing program wasn't to be trifled with.
By week's end, no
fewer than 21 college football players had received an NCAA New Year's greeting
informing them that they were ineligible to participate in their teams'
postseason bowl games. In each case, the player tested positive for anabolic
steroids and was automatically suspended from competition for 90 days under the
new NCAA testing guidelines. In most cases the player was none too pleased.
Oklahoma linebacker addressed the matter in Miami, where the Herald had
reported on Dec. 21 that the latest fad among local adolescent boys is to load
up on anabolic steroids and transform themselves into thickly muscled
Bosworthian hulks, thus impressing their schoolmates while looking good on the
beach. It might have been a time for Bosworth to talk about the dangers of
steroid use, inasmuch as he had just been banned from the Orange Bowl by the
NCAA because of a positive test for an anabolic steroid called Deca-Durabolin.
Instead, Oklahoma's fallen star spent much of his 35-minute special press
conference at a Miami hotel on Friday giving a rambling self-defense. The
junior linebacker said the "dictatorship attitude" of the NCAA had
banished him "to Russia" for what was, in fact, the proper use of
"a legal drug" taken more than nine months earlier. Steroids, he
declared, are not only perfectly legal but have been a part of sports for 30
years, and unlike illicit drugs such as cocaine, "steroids aren't
Bosworth was the
best known—and brashest—of the players ruled ineligible for bowl games as a
result of the NCAA's new ultrasensitive drug tests. The bowls affected were the
Rose, Orange, Citrus, Gator and Peach, and the players involved were equally
diverse: Bosworth and USC guard Jeff Bregel, both two-time All-Americas;
defensive end Roland Barbay, an honorable-mention All-America from LSU;
Arkansas linebacker David Dudley; Oklahoma reserve guard Gary Bennett and
defensive tackle David Shoemaker; Auburn offensive tackle Pat Johnson; Stanford
defensive tackle Tony Leiker and Cardinal offensive tackle John Zentner;
Arizona State defensive tackle Richard Bear; and offensive tackle Jim Davie and
defensive end Morgan Roane from Virginia Tech.
Those 12, as well
as at least nine players who previously had tested positive at Division I-AA,
II and III playoff games, (and perhaps others whose names simply haven't leaked
out; teams are not compelled to release information regarding the tests) were
found to have used anabolic steroids—bulk- and muscle-building hormone
Because it is
illegal to obtain steroids without a prescription, lucrative black-market
networks make them readily available to the power- and weightlifting
communities. Since many football players are deep into weight training, they
often obtain steroids from the same dealers who service the weight- and
powerlifters. Some of these illicit steroid dealers are currently under
investigation by the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration.
A few of the
players caught last week said they obtained their steroids from private
physicians. What these players obviously hadn't used was good judgment.
Several, including Bosworth, had apparently been at least partly the victims of
poor medical advice. None seemed adequately versed in the risks of steroid use
(which include hypertension, cancer, sterility, liver trouble and kidney and
skin disorders), yet many believed, incorrectly, that anabolic steroids are of
significant value in treating football-related injuries—a belief that couldn't
be further from the truth. Not one NFL team doctor contacted by SI in a 1983
survey could think of any conceivable reason to prescribe anabolic steroids for
rehabilitating a football injury, and calls made to a variety of doctors last
week underscored that earlier finding. Even as Bennett was claiming that a
doctor had prescribed anabolic steroids as part of his rehabilitation from
arthroscopic knee surgery, Dr. Gerry Finerman, UCLA's team physician, was
saying, "The stories where athletes say they were given or used a small
amount to rehabilitate an injury are nonsense. There's no medical application
for steroids after surgery, especially after arthroscopic surgery."
Dr. Donald Catlin,
the director of the UCLA drug-testing laboratory and the chairman of the USOC
drug-testing committee, said, "With steroids, the average physician cannot
justify the risks when the benefit is getting stronger and larger. In many
cases where steroids are concerned, though, it's not the physician who weighs
the risks and benefits, it's the athlete."
It all made for
tragicomedy. Here was Bosworth, the sides of his punk-Mohawk haircut dyed red
and black, telling reporters that his only mistake was using an oil-based
steroid that stayed in his system too long. There was his coach, Barry Switzer,
saying with relief, "I'd certainly rather it be steroids than cocaine or
marijuana," after the three Sooners were ruled ineligible.
was most curious. He says he received weekly, doctor-prescribed injections of
Deca-Durabolin from early January until mid-March of 1986 to help rehabilitate
the extremely sore shoulders (so sore he couldn't even lift weights, he says)
and badly bruised thigh he took away from the season-ending Orange Bowl victory
over Penn State. Yet Bosworth apparently never told team medical personnel
about the steroid treatments—"I didn't know until this positive test came
through," says OU head trainer and drug-testing director Dan Pickett.
Bosworth didn't disclose the name of the doctor who supposedly gave him the
prescription and said only that the doctor carefully monitored the effects of
the Deca-Durabolin on his blood pressure and liver and kidney functions, to
prevent the development of any complications.