Taylor Hooton Foundation > Hoot’s Corner > General > The cultural assimilation of performance-enhancing drugs
June 23, 2016
The cultural assimilation of performance-enhancing drugs
By Jim Evans Over the past 50 years or so, the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports (and otherwise) has slowly integrated itself into our sporting culture and obscured the difference between cheating and choice.
I remember as an 18-year-old freshman at The Ohio State University in Columbus in 1963, when one of the members of the OSU Weightlifting Club returned to lifting after taking a couple of weeks off and started out by benching more than 50 pounds over his previous best.. Hmm. He was not a very big guy anyway – maybe 150 pounds soaking wet – but he regularly benched a respectable 220 pounds. Now, he was putting up 275 pounds with ease. “John” was a quiet guy who didn’t talk much, but we finally wheedled out of him that he had been experimenting with dianabol (also known as metandienone or methandienone) – a popular oral anabolic steroid even today – and showed us his little blue pills. We had heard about Dianabol (or Dbol as it became popularly known), of course, from some of our club members who had visited the York Barbell Club in neighboring York, PA, where they learned how some of the top weightlifters and bodybuilders in the country were popping pills – not just working out – to lift their prodigious poundage and develop their physiques. But this was the first time we had actually seen firsthand what dianabol could really do. Still, only a handful of our club members were tempted by what they had seen to want to try it themselves. Most of us were skeptical about taking any kind of pills without consulting with a physician. Even back then, it just didn’t seem right. Some of our friends who experimented with dianabol – and later with other performance-enhancing drugs – achieved amazing results and went on to achieve modest athletic acclaim. Some experienced serious side effects. The rest of us were comfortable with our decision to stay clean. Dr. John Zieglar, team physician to the U.S. Weightlifting Team had actually introduced dianabol to the York lifters a few years earlier, collaborating with team coach Bob Hoffman,the “Father of American Weightlifting.” Once the genie was out of the bottle, there was no stopping it. Dianabol and other even more powerful performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) began to change the landscape of the sporting world helping athletes become bigger, faster, and stronger by synthetic means. They still had to work out, of course, but there was no question that PEDs made a difference. It was no longer enough to just eat right and train harder than your opponent. The playing field had been altered forever by pharmaceuticals, and winning and losing was more often determined by who used what and how much. Ziegler himself became an outspoken critic of PEDs. “It is bad enough to have to deal with drug addicts,” he said, “but now healthy athletes are putting themselves in the same category. It’s a disgrace. Who plays sports for fun anymore?” Later he was quoted in Science saying, “I lost interest in fooling with IQ’s of that caliber. Now it’s about as widespread among these idiots as marijuana! I wish to God now I’d never done it. I’d like to go back and take that whole chapter out of my life.” Although most sports fans might personally abhor cheating, they are usually caught up in the excitement of watching athletes excel and set new records at a faster level regardless of how they do it. In fact, many fans have become completely ambivalent about whether or not the athletes use drugs to enhance their performance. Some fans don’t care at all. That still doesn’t make it right. Why? Because those athletes who choose not to use PEDs ultimately pay the price for their peers who cheat. Countless of them in almost every sport are consigned to relative anonymity because they refuse to succumb to the pressure to use drugs to enhance their performance. They never receive the adulation, the fame – the money – that they might rightfully deserve for the excellence they displayed in their respective arenas, all because they chose to play their sport with the dignity and integrity. Some of these forgotten athletes are able to live with their moral victory while their cheating brethren bask in the limelight and laugh all the way to the bank. Others of these forgotten athletes are forever bitter – not so much because they did not get to enjoy the fruits of their athletic prowess but, rather, because the cheaters got away with it. Think it doesn’t matter? Ask former minor league pitchers Keith Linebarger, Kevin Legault, and Brett Roberts who labored for years in the minors along with fellow pitcher Dan Naulty who finally made the big leagues and helped the Yankeees to win the World Series in 1999, only to learn – 13 years later – that Naulty had cheated to make it into the majors by using steroids. Ask them what they think. (Sports Illustrated, “To Cheat or Not to Cheat,” Tom Verducci) Ironically, Naulty is a pastor now and allegedly has deep remorse for his actions, but not enough to give back his World Series ring, his new Corvette, or his $307,809 World Series check. Some remorse. Drug testing in sports has intensified in recent years in an attempt to create a level playing field for athletes. In fact, PEDs are now banned in every sport except bodybuilding and powerlifting – the only two sports in the world divided into categories of “natural” (drug-tested) and the popularly-used term, “choice” (untested). They are also the two sports most identified with drug use by the public regardless of their separate and distinct natural divisions. After decades of competition in the pursuit of legitimacy, these two sports continue to enjoy a fringe following of rabid supporters but remain relatively unappreciated and unacknowledged by the general public because they are internally divided by the very thing that prevents them from obtaining legitimacy in the first place – drugs. American sports writer Grantland Rice allegedly once said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” Really? Somebody isn’t getting the message. http://www.examiner.com/article/the-cultural-assimilation-of-performance-enhancing-drugs