THE ONGOING SCANDAL in Major League Baseball, with more than 20 players linked to an investigation of Biogenesis, including Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, has a far-reaching impact down to Oklahoma high school and collegiate athletes.
How Major League Baseball deals with the scandal, and the players who have been caught cheating, may help advocate for more education and regulations in prep and collegiate sports.
“Guys have been looking for an edge in sports for as long as there have been sports,” said Ron Walker, Clinical Assistant Professor of Athletic Training at the University of Tulsa. “Testing just isn’t a viable alternative right now at many levels because it is so expensive.
“So, it is about education. It is about making sure athletes, the younger the better, understand the consequences of using these drugs. And we need to make sure they understand the only right way, and true way, to improving athletic performance, is through proper eating, proper rest and proper training. We need to make sure we send the strongest message possible that there is no magic pill out there.”
Performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) have become the dirtiest word in sports, from the major leagues to cyclist Lance Armstrong to the Olympics.
Almost no segment of athletics has gone untouched in the push to eradicate the use of PEDs in sports.
However, it is not easy and certainly not cheap.
“There is simply no substitute for hard work,” said Dr. Brad Boone of Eastern Oklahoma Orthopedic Center and one of the team physicians at TU. “For starters, those banned substances are just wrong. It isn’t the right thing to do.
“For some of these drugs, we just don’t know the side effects. But we do know (is) some bad things can happen and that’s why we need more testing and more education for these young athletes.”
At the high school level, where behavior can be modified at a young age, the testing for street drugs or PEDs varies widely from state-to-state and school-to-school.
There are a few schools in the Tulsa metro area that test for drugs. However, the schools that are testing are usually testing for illegal street drugs, not performance-enhancing drugs.
The availability of over-the-counter substances complicates the matter for some young athletes.
“Just because it is available over the counter doesn’t mean it is permitted under the rules,” Boone said. “If you are taking a supplement, you need to make sure what is in that supplement and that it is allowable under the rules.
“It is a very complicated issue. The best policy for young athletes is to eat right, get plenty of sleep and work hard.”
There is random drug testing for various drugs in the NCAA.
Collegiate athletes are required to watch a video that explains the banned substances.
Plus, medical professionals talk with collegiate athletes about the dangers of PEDs and illegal street drugs.
Then there is random drug testing of collegiate athletes through the school year.
In NCAA tournaments there are also random drug tests of athletes.
“So, there is more enforcement at the collegiate level,” Walker said. “Still, there is a need for far more education and research. We need to make sure athletes understand the dangers and we need to find out more about these drugs and their long-terms effects on the athletes.”
Still, all kinds of supplements remain available and legal to athletes of all ages.
As a result, the opportunity and lure to take something that will help athletes gain an edge remains strong among some high school and college athletes.
Don Hooton, President of the Texas-based Taylor Hooton Foundation, advocates for the education of young athletes about the dangers of PEDs. He has appeared as an expert on the issue three times before Congress. Through the foundation, Hooton has spoken to more than 500,000 people about the dangers of appearance and performance-enhancing drugs.
Hooton said the latest statistics, published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics, said up to 6 percent of sixth through 12th grade boys admitted to the use of PEDs.
“That means 25 to 40 kids at some schools are doing these things,” Hooton said. “It means one in every classroom has done these drugs.
“This is all about education. First, we must educate all of the parents, teachers and coaches. Then those people have to educate their children. Testing is not the answer right now. It is making sure we talk with our kids about these drugs.”
Hooton said it is an issue that coaches, teachers and parents should address often.
“We talk with our kids about the dangers of things like alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and cocaine,” Hooton said. “So, why not talk with our children and students and athletes about the dangers of these PEDs?
“It isn’t enough that they are aware of these drugs. We have to make them aware of the dangers.”
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