SI Vault
Craig Neff
January 05, 1987
Brian Bosworth was a conspicuous casualty of the NCAA's steroid crackdown
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January 05, 1987

Bosworth Faces The Music

Brian Bosworth was a conspicuous casualty of the NCAA's steroid crackdown

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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. Especially Bosworth.

Ironically, the 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 destroying society."

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 derivatives.

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.

Bosworth's tale 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.

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