Sports  Athletes pressured to cheat

Coverage of steroid abuse in the media neglects the institutional influences

From the day they begin playing sports, athletes are pushed to be on top of their game in every way: to eat right, train hard, and play well. These young athletes experience extreme pressure to not only be the best they possibly can, but also compete with other players who have undergone the exact same kind of training. We are quick to point fingers and accuse athletes who turn to steroids for extra help as being cheaters, but in a world where being the best you possibly can be often isn’t enough, can we really blame them?

Pursuing a career as an athlete can be trying, even for the best players. One can train as hard as possible, eat healthy, and give up most of their social life, but in the end you either make it or you don’t. Not making it can involve losing years of expensive training and hard work, as well as dreams of honour and fame. Because of the pressure, athletes placed in such a position will often turn to anything that can provide them with an edge.

Anabolic steroids are the most commonly used performance enhancing drug. These are synthetic hormones used to boost the body’s ability to produce muscle and prevent its breakdown. Although banned in professional sports and known to have harmful long term side effects, there are still a number of athletes turn to these performance boosters for extra help in keeping on top of their game.

“We can’t deny the facts: steroids break records – records that someone not on steroids could never hope to beat,” said Dan Conacher, McGill Redmen hockey player.

McGill’s coaches and trainers do a good job of keeping their athletes off steroids by enforcing random drug tests and encouraging players to follow natural, healthy methods of getting in shape. But despite these efforts, temptations exist, particularly for athletes who plan on pursuing athletics at a higher level.

“The way that athletes are evaluated can unintentionally pressure them into using performance enhancing drugs.” said Andrew Barr, coach of the McGill Redmen basketball team. “In a sport like football, where much of an athlete’s talent evaluation has to do with how big they are and how much they can lift, steroids have the potential to boost an athletes stock significantly. The fact that the educational component is there and usage rates are as high as they are proves that the incentives to use steroids, at least for some athletes, outweigh the risks.”

These risks, both psychological and physical, can prove detrimental to the athletes who use them. Conacher explained that athletes who use steroids will begin to mentally rely on them to perform well, believing that the steroids, and not their own talent, is showing through. “Although I’ve heard of people who decide to go on steroids just to temporarily boost performance so that they can pursue a higher level of athletics,” said Conacher, “they will often end up staying on them because they believe that without that extra push, they will fail.”

The physical consequences of steroids are enormous as well. With side effects ranging in severity from mild to serious, steroids can cause problems with hair loss, body acne, dizziness, premature balding, and stunted growth, and can increase the risk of developing heart disease, strokes, and cancer when not managed properly. There are also a number of gender specific side effects, such as changes in menstrual cycles and deepening of the voice for women. Men have been known to experience painful urination, shrinking of the testicles, and development of breasts – ironic symptoms for athletes who are trying to “bulk up.”

The trouble with steroids is that they provide fast acting, short term benefits to performance, potentially appealing to athletes under so much pressure to perform. They can lead to dependence, dangerous health effects, and expulsion from professional sports when caught, but despite these dangers, some athletes continue to find the benefits worth the risk. Perhaps the real problem isn’t in the steroids, but in the unimaginable strain we place on our athletes to be faster, stronger, and bigger than is humanly possible.