The Chemical Edge: Steroids

On October 5th of 2007, Marion Jones, an American Track star, stood on the steps of a courthouse and apologized to the world. She admitted at the press conference that she used anabolic steroids during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. According to the Washington Post article, by Amy Shipley, Jones’s confession caused the loss of the five Olympic medals she won at the 2000 games and forced her to retire from future competition. Marion Jones was an American icon; which is why her admission shocked the world. Steroid scandals, such as the Jones example, are common in professional sports. Over three million Americans have used anabolic steroids in their lifetimes (NIDA). Such substances have become embedded in the quest to surpass the body’s natural limits. Though athletes face shame, frightening side effects, and career ending penalties, they still desire the benefits of

anabolic steroids. Officials argue that steroids should be forbidden because they are detrimental to the health of athletes; while athletes believe that the choice to use steroids should be left to the individual.

Steroids have not always been forbidden in the arena of professional sports. Professor for the University of Texas, John Hoberman once said “Ethical objections, such as the idea that doping is a violation of ‘the spirit of sport,’ did not exist at the beginning of the high- performance era… The idea of using drugs to combat fatigue seemed like a perfectly natural strategy, since the primary competition was between human beings and their fatigue symptoms”(qtd. in Crossen). Indeed, even with today’s advanced training techniques, the greatest obstacles to success are the limitations of the body and mind.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic drugs that mimic the hormone testosterone which occurs naturally in the body. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Testosterone has two main effects. The anabolic effects promote muscle hypertrophy (growth) and androgenic effects are responsible for male sex traits, such as deeper voice and facial hair. The list of side effects given by the NIDA include liver abnormalities, tumors, increased low density (bad) cholesterol, decreased high density (good) cholesterol, aggressive behaviors, depression, withdrawal, and other psychiatric disorders. Men may become sterile or develop feminine traits such as breasts, hair loss, shrunken testicles, or a higher voice. Women may develop a deeper voice, enlargement of the clitoris, increased body hair, baldness, and increased appetite. For adolescents, steroids can halt the normal pattern of growth and increase risk of future health concerns. Such a list of consequences should be enough to deter athletes from using steroids; yet steroids still pervade professional sports.

Lists of side effects fail to deter athletes because they do not mention how rarely effects occur. According to Anthony Roberts, the senior editor for, the effects of anabolic steroids are generally mild. Serious side effects occur in less than 5% of users. Most effects are cosmetic and disappear when the drugs are discontinued (Roberts). Dr. Di Pasquale, an expert on steroids, says, “As used by most people, including athletes, the adverse effects of anabolic steroids appear to be minimal” (qtd. in Kotler 3). Dr. Di Pasquale believes that with proper management, the most common side effects can be avoided through diet and cardiovascular exercise (Kotler). The side effects of steroids are often rare and reversible, and are therefore far less severe than portrayed.

According to, a website dedicated to educating steroid users, testosterone can increase muscle growth and tissue repair, allowing an athlete to train harder and recover faster. Steroids work by blocking cortisone from breaking down muscle tissue which allows for optimal gains. The benefits of testosterone are clear when one compares an athlete’s ability before and after a cycle. However, these benefits only last as long as the steroids remain in the muscle. After the individual stops taking them, muscles begin to atrophy back to normal.

The official stance towards steroids is that of intolerance. Recreational use of anabolic steroids is illegal in the United States. Anti-doping laws in sports are said to be in place to protect the athletes from the dangerous side effects of steroids. Though testosterone’s dangers are less than previously thought, there is still a measure of risk involved in taking it. It is felt that athletes should be shielded from those dangers.

A supporter of doping would argue that sports in general are inherently dangerous. Athletes are at risk for injuries during training and competition. Indeed, athletes run a much higher risk for injury than sedentary individuals (Prentice 191). Certain high impact sports such as football, hockey, and extreme sports like BMX and snowboarding can result in severe injury and even death. If athletes have the autonomy to accept such a degree of risk from dangerous sports, should they not be allowed to accept the risk of steroids?

The counter response to this argument is that the dangers inherent in sports do not warrant increasing the risk by allowing the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The dangers that are a part of the sport are negated whenever it is possible through use of protective equipment and training. Furthermore, official rules disqualify an athlete for failing to wear the proper protective gear because it puts them at greater risk than necessary. Likewise, when an athlete fails to follow the rules regarding drug use, he must accept the penalties.
The penalties for violating the laws of the sport are almost as harsh as the punishments for breaking the law of the state. In David Bjerklie’s article Chemical Edge: Who’s Got It?, he describes the penalties for failing a drug test as ranging from mandatory rehab in baseball, to public humiliation and a two year ban in the Olympics. That’s just for the first offense. Secondary infractions can lead to harsher penalties. In the Olympics strike two positive urine tests results in lifetime disqualification.

Even if performance-enhancing drugs were completely safe, there is a concern that the competition in sports would cease to be about the abilities of the human body and become a competition of drug accessibility. To some athletes it reached that point at the peak of the steroid era. An American weightlifter explained, “The only difference between me and him was that I couldn’t afford his pharmacy bill. Now I can. … we’ll see which are better — his steroids or mine” (qtd. in Crossen). However, one must consider the nature of advancements in sports technology over the years. One example is called altitude training. Altitude training involves living or training at high altitudes so that the body creates physiological changes to deal with reduced oxygen (Simpson). Altitude training is expensive and time consuming. Not everyone can afford to do it but, one has o be able to in order to compete on the same level. Therefore, accessibility already plays a role in sports and is not a strong enough argument to support keeping steroids out of professional competition.

There are many challenges facing the world of sports. As long as Anabolic steroids remain illegal, those that try to exploit them will be violating the unspoken agreement to follow the rules of the game. Arguments can be made both for and against steroids. They are likely safe when used properly under the proper supervision. But, as things stand they become an unfair advantage as long as clean athletes follow the rules. If steroids were accepted as morally permissible, they would make training less stressful. But, steroids are not a miracle muscle builder. Steroid enhanced or not, the heart of athletics still lies in hard work and perseverance of the individual athlete.

Works Cited
Bjerklie, David. “Chemical Edge: Who’s Got It?” Time 7 Mar. 2004. 28 Feb. 2008
Crossen, Cynthia. “Using Drugs in Sports’Used to Be Considered Just Part of the Game.’” Wall Street Journal 7 Aug. 2006, Eastern ed.: B1. 2 Feb. 2008 . Path: Athletics.
“NIDA InfoFacts: Steroids (Anabolic-Androgenic).” The National Inst. on Drug Abuse. 2 Jan. 2008. The National Inst. of Health. 12 Apr. 2008 .
Prentice, William E. “Substance Abuse.” Essentials of Athletic Injury Management. 1987. By William E. Prentice and Daniel D. Arnheim. Ed. Nick Barret. 6th ed. New York: McGraw, 2006. 547-552.
Roberts, Anthony. “Side Effects of Steroids.” 2007. 12 Apr. 2008
Shipley, Amy. “Marion Jones Admits to Steroid Use.” Washington Post [Washington DC] 5 Oct. 2007: A01. 16 Apr. 2008 .
Simpson, Alistair. “Altitude Training.” Vers. 3.07f. June 2007. 25 Apr. 2008 .
“Steroid Mechanism.” 25 Apr. 2008 .
Wadler, Gary. “Current Research in Women’s Sport: Drug Testing.” Women in Sport & Physical ActivityJournal 7.6.1 (1998): 254. 28 Feb. 2008 . Path: Performance enhancing drugs.