Student athletes shouldn’t be tempted by PEDs

I remember being a kid and watching the few sports with my dad that he enjoyed: boxing and football. We’d watch the Tuesday Night Fights on USA for hours, eating popcorn and watching tough, muscle-headed guys pound the dickens out of each other. It was fun to cheer them on as they got increasingly bloody.

However, if I found out any of those guys had been using drugs to get an edge that others didn’t, I’d have felt greatly disappointed in the athletes I idolized.

Cycling fans must feel that same pang of disappointment, confusion and disgust to find out that Lance Armstrong, the biggest name in cycling in the last 20 years was exactly what his critics called him for years: a liar, a doper and most disappointing of all, a cheater.

Not only was this disappointing to cycling fans but to those victims of cancer that had looked to Armstrong as a sign of hope.

According to investigation reports, he ran the most successful and widespread doping ring in the history of sports. This possibility is staggering and opens up a wide world of implications in the sports world.

Many people have seen this coming for some time. In 2005, a French newspaper reported that Armstrong’s urine tests from 1999 tested positive for erythropoietin, a performance enhancing drug that increases blood flow to the muscles. Armstrong denied all charges.

So did Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and others. These players were all under suspicion of using performance enhancing drugs and denied it for years. And we all know how that turned out: careers and reputations irrevocably stained to the point where they’re unlikely to ever get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I’d say Jose Canseco had his reputation stained but his reputation couldn’t have been any more stained.

My biggest fear about the possibility (or even likelihood) of the wide spread use of performance enhancing drugs in a wide range of professional sports is the chance that it may inspire student athletes to take up the habit.

According to a 2008 University of Michigan study, one out of every 10 parents of high school athletes was aware of the use of performance-enhancing drugs by a student athlete.

Say what you will about the legality and ethics of professional athletes taking performance enhancing drugs, but they are adults who have made a (poor) decision and are aware of the positive and negative ramifications of their actions.

High school students that are interested in or pressured into taking performance enhancing drugs may not be aware of the dangers of these types of drugs which include banishment from sports and actual physical damage to the body.

Let’s examine some of these effects by starting with the most famous performance enhancing drug: steroid.

Steroids work by simulating testosterone in your body. Testosterone is responsible for muscle building, but your body can only create so much at a time. Steroids essentially act as artificial testosterone that boosts your natural levels and which helps foster quicker muscle growth.

The problem with steroid use is that it will eventually cause your body to stop creating natural testosterone. This can and will lead to strange side effects in men. They can experience baldness, infertility, impotence and even the growth of prominent, feminine breasts.

Women don’t naturally produce much testosterone and adding excessive amounts into their body can create even strange effects. They can get a deeper voice, increased body hair, baldness and a decrease in the menstrual cycle.

Steroids can also cause acne, tendinitis, liver abnormalities, high blood pressure, heart and circulatory problems, prostate gland enlargement, aggressive behavior and even psychiatric disorders.

And that’s just the effects of steroids. There are a whole world of performance enhancing drugs out there that effect the body in severe ways.

Human growth hormone is a drug that can only be obtained by prescription. Some athletes take it believing it helps improve their muscle mass but no research has shown it has this effect. It has a risk of causing joint pain, muscle weakness, carpal tunnel syndrome, cardiomyopathy (deterioration of heart muscle), high cholesterol and even diabetes.

Diuretics are a form of drugs common amongst wrestlers and boxers. They change the body’s balance of fluids which leads to a sudden and drastic decrease of water in the body. Boxers and wrestlers often use these to drop quick weight to compete in a lighter weight class. They are often used as a “masking” agent in drug tests by diluting urine.

Naturally, these come with a high risk for dehydration. They can also cause exhaustion, dizziness, fainting, heart arrhythmias, heatstroke and even death.

Erythropoietin, as mentioned before is a hormone injection that is often used to treat anemia by increasing the production of blood cells and hemoglobin. In the 1990’s, it was a common performance enhancing drug among cyclists as it helped increase oxygen flow to the muscles.

It is believed to have lead to at least 18 deaths and can contribute to stroke, heart attacks or pulmonary edema.

Doctors have said that Armstrong’s doping could have lead to an increased risk of cancer. It’s a troubling thought to consider now that Armstrong has come clean.

Of course, I’m not saying that he took performance enhancing drugs to get cancer to boost his career. That’s nonsensical.

I don’t even think he used his cancer after the fact to stay in the news. The fact he founded Livestrong to fight cancer seems to show sincerity as does his tearful apology to the company after he was forced to resign.

It’s troubling because I worry that student athletes that were inspired by Armstrong and by the acts of other athletes may feel weak or like poor athletes for being unable to perform the same feats these athletes performed helped out at least partially by performance enhancing drugs.

These student athletes may feel they have to turn to performance enhancing drugs to compete at the same level.

This could lead to a circle of performance enhancing drug abuse that could take decades to break. Hopefully, this generation of athletes can resist the allure of these drugs and do it the way my idols did: hard, hard work and dedication.