The use of steroids in sports is rumored to be quite widespread at all levels. While professional sport bodies test athletes regularly and publicize the results, steroid abuse is rising in children too. Because anabolic steroids are illegal, use at this level falls under the radar. The effect of steroids on sports may go deeper than we think.
Steroids, in particular testosterone, as a means to improve performance are not new to sport. As early as 776 BC, athletes’ attempts to enhance their performance with testosterone were documented. Those athletes were competing, not for honor, but for prestige and money – much like the athletes of today.
Anabolic steroids are believed to enhance performance, develop muscle quicker, and speed up recovery from over-exertion. Because they are banned, few studies of the long-term effects of steroid abuse have been conducted. Known side effects of steroids, however, include:
– for men: prominent breasts, baldness, shrunken testicles and infertility
– for women: deeper voice, increased body hair and baldness
– for both: acne, liver abnormalities, aggression, depression and cardiovascular problems
Taking anabolic steroids is a bit like playing Russian Roulette – you don’t know what result you’re going to end up with until it’s too late.
Why then would anyone take the risk? The pressure to compete and win in sport starts early. There are no parents on the bleachers at Little League matches encouraging their children to lose! This pressure increases in high school, where excellent performance can be a stepping stone to college and beyond that to professional ranks.
Parents push their children to excel for those very reasons, as do school coaches and teachers which lead to steroid abuse. Peer pressure in terms of appearance comes into the mix as well. Whether it’s sports stars or rap singers, successful, wealthy, ‘cool’ people flaunt muscular physiques that young people yearn for. When it comes to muscles, the bigger the better. And the opinion of most teenage boys is that muscles get the girls running too.
Once athletes reach professional level, that pressure is miniscule compared to what they will experience now. They answer to millions of fans ready to cast them out of favor for the slightest error on the sports field. The internet means that news travels, and exposes athletes to disgruntled fans via social media as well. Sponsors put pressure on individual players and teams too. They don’t want their brand name on the loser’s jersey. Sponsorship is vital to a team or individual, allowing them to practice with the best equipment, travel as they need to, and earn money doing so. Sponsorship outside of sport can be extremely lucrative for athletes, but nobody pays the loser to drink their brand of soda. Even the level of salaries in professional sport can contribute to the pressure to perform. As ridiculous as it may sound to most of us, most big earners are living up to the limit of their credit cards too – they may be able to pay it off quicker than us, but they are spending their earnings just as quickly as we are. Not only do they need to keep that level of income consistent, they also need to keep up appearances, and look like the successful stars they are, thus steroid abuse.
The pressure to excel is immense, and when natural methods are no longer working, athletes turn to steroids to keep them at the top of their game. Steroid abuse affects every other participant in professional sport. Excellent performance is no longer celebrated, it is questioned and immediately falls under suspicion. Athletes who consistently outperform their competitors are no longer lauded for their skill, talent or performance. The glory of winning is being tarnished by the actions of a few athletes.
The very nature of sports and sportsmanship is fair play, and steroids in sports destroy the very concept of fairness. Athletes taking steroids affect the athletes they play with, whether on the same team or not. It is, in effect, cheating, giving users an unfair – and illegal – advantage over other competitors who are depending on hard work and dedication to succeed. If caught, they will most certainly be suspended from playing the sport, if not banned outright. That affects the team they play in. It also has a huge impact on their families, as they are now effectively unemployed – and unemployable in any sport-related position.
It is ‘easier’ to take steroids and reach the top level of your sport in 6 months than to train naturally and possibly never get to the top spot. Taking steroids may be a symptom of the ‘convenience’ disease society suffers from. Everything is geared towards faster results with less effort required – even TV dinners! When you consider the fall from grace, the side effects of steroids, the shame and embarrassment, the betrayal of team mates and fellow competitors, and the lifelong stigma that a steroid abuser carries with him it would make most people turn their back. But the pressure to be the best, and remain the best, is one that few of us have to endure. Is it really worth it?