High School Juice

As world class athletes faced scrutiny for steroid use, it was only a matter of time before high school athletes joined the game

“Citius, Altius, Fortius” (“Swifter, Higher, Stronger”) is the motto of the Olympic Movement. These are the words of those striving to become Olympic champions. But in the Olympic Games, as it isthroughout all sport, the journey is more important than becoming champion.

Unfortunately, there are those who wish to take a shortcut along that journey – a shortcut that involves taking performance-enhancing drugs. These drugs have been detected in athletes at the Olympic Games, professional sports, college athletics, and have now trickled down to high school sports.

For the past several years it has been difficult to read any sports newspaper or magazine without seeing some reference relating a well-known athlete to a performance-enhancing substance. From Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds in baseball to Tour de France participants, the search for “who took what” has become notorious. In fact, it may be argued that the greatest controversy that exists in sports today has been the ability of individuals to enhance athletic performance through medical involvement such as taking steroids.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge recently said:

Doping is not just an attack on ethics and fair play. It is also a direct attack on the health of athletes.It is, moreover, a mortal danger to the credibility of the sports world. … Today, we stand at a crossroads. The development of biotechnology and genetics offers medicine incomparable prospects, and the risk of a slide towards doping is all the greater. I call upon the whole sports community to wake up to this terrible danger and do everything possible to protect the athletes. I also call upon governments to support us in our efforts to safeguard the athletes’ health. Any equivocation or weakness would be quite simply unacceptable. (International Olympic Committee, 2002)

Although the greatest amount of media notoriety regarding the ingestion of performance-enhancing drugs has been in professional sports where pressure from wealthy team owners and rabid fans demand superhuman performances from players, a newer focus is developing in interscholasticathletics.

A 2003 Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association study indicated that more than 1 million  adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 had taken potentially dangerous performance-enhancing supplements and drugs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that illegal steroid use among high school students has more than doubled in the last decade from 2.7 percent in 1991 to 6.1 percent in 2003.

A 2004 study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine found that more than one out of every 10 students in the United States will have used steroids by 2010.

Studies have shown that anabolic steroids, even in small doses, could increase muscular strength by 5–20 percent, and in 2005 the American Pediatric Association indicated that young athletes may be very susceptible to the “rewards” that performance-enhancing substances can offer. These rewards include physical improvements as well as the prospect of attaining valuable college scholarships and athletic fame.

Mark Fainaru-Wada is a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2004, Fainaru-Wada told the story of Rob Garibaldi, a young baseball player with “major-league tools but minor-league size.” Garibaldi reportedly used steroids to get bigger fast. Reportedly, he told his father, “I’m on steroids, what do you think? Who do you think I am? I’m a baseball player. Baseball players take steroids. How do you think Bonds hits all his home runs? How do you think all these guys do all this stuff? You think they do it from just working out?” Garibaldi’s parents believe that steroid use led their son into the depression and emotional turmoil that ultimately resulted in his suicide at the age of 24.

The question now is what to do about this situation. On the Olympic level, the World Anti-Doping Agency conducts steroid testing. Basically, any athlete testing positive for steroids faces a two-year ban from competition for the first offense, and a lifetime ban for a second. Professional sports organizations, though a little late, are adopting tougher standards.

At the college level, the NCAA adopted the IOC’s list of banned substances. Currently, the penalty for the use of any NCAA banned substance is the loss of one year of eligibility and withholding from competition for a year from the date of the test. All of these organizations have substantial resources at their disposal. But what about high schools?

A number of states are considering steroid testing at the high school level. New Jersey was the first to mandate steroid testing of high school athletes. What is interesting is that this was not done by order of the New Jersey State Legislature, but by Executive Order of then Acting Governor Richard Codey, a sports fan and also a youth basketball coach.

Codey established a Governor’s Task Force on Steroid Use and Prevention in response to national statistics demonstrating a growing use of steroids among high school students. Codey charged the task force with conducting a study to determine the breadth and scope of the problem in New Jersey. The task force found that:

Sports teach about teamwork and fellowship, leadership and discipline, and good clean competition. Steroid use, however, is threatening this safe outlet. This is an emergent public health crisis, and New Jersey cannot and will not bury its head in the sand. We have a responsibility to help our schools and parents as they grapple with this alarming trend. To force school districts to make a decision on this on their own is unfair. They cannot and should not go it alone. (Governor of the State of New Jersey Press Release, July 19, 2005)

In December 2005, Codey signed Executive Order #72 that turned the recommendations of the task force into action by requiring three items. First, the New Jersey Department of Education was directed to work with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to develop and implement a random steroid-testing program.

Second, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services was instructed to develop and implement a program to randomly test dietary supplement products for sale in New Jersey to detect steroid contamination.

Finally, the Department of Education was asked to work with the Department of Health and Senior Services and other agencies to implement a broad range of educational components from the fifth grade level on up through high school.

Upon signing the order, Codey said, “We’ve all seen the statistics and read the articles about the impact that steroids are having on kids. This is a growing public health threat; one we can’t leave up to individual parents, coaches or schools to handle. … This report puts us at the forefront in dealing with the problem of steroids. Today, we are putting this plan into action and becoming the first state in the nation to address this problem on a statewide level.”

The basic problem is cost. Depending upon what you are testing for, costs can range from $200 to $300 a test. Athletic directors are on the front line in this war against drugs in sports, but they are forced to balance limited budgets, testing and the need for education.

Minnesota is at the forefront in this fight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized Minnesota State Representative Joe Atkins for his efforts to toughen Minnesota’s steroid laws, noting that Atkins’ anti-steroid law focuses on the source of the problem – targeting the suppliers of illegal steroids – not just the users. The Minnesota State High School League was the first in the nation to adopt the World Anti-Doping Code banned substance list and is a leader in anti-steroid education.

Finally, one possible solution to attempt to curb steroid use in high school athletics involves a three-prongapproach. The first would be to have states create legislation such as that in California to mandate coaches or others in charge of extracurricular activities to become knowledgeable about performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids. The second is to include in the educational process an understanding of the legal sanctions that may be employed if a student-athlete is found to be in possession or intending to distribute steroids. The third would be to incorporate random steroid drug testing.

Dealing with young people who participate in interscholastic athletics poses several issues. These athletes are at a stage in their lives when they feel immortal, and this increases their susceptibility to the siren call of performance enhancement. At stake is the young athlete who desires to excel at the “next” level, and who generally does not possess the experience, knowledge or treatment capabilities to address the potential immediate or future health risks.

The consequences of inaction are dire. If we don’t step in now the health and well-being of an entire generation of young athletes may be at risk before they have a chance to play their best game.

John Wendt is a member of the Ethics and Business Law Department. He serves on both the Special Doping Panel of the American Arbitration Association and as a member of the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The CAS is an institution independent of any sports organization which provides for services in order to facilitate the settlement of sports-related disputes through arbitration or mediation. The CAS has only 300 arbitrators from 87 countries, chosen for their specialist knowledge of arbitration and sports law.

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