No matter where you go, we are hearing more and more about the use and abuse of steroids in men’s sports. But when multi gold medallist and track super star Marion Jones recently announced that she used steroids after vehemently denying the allegations for years, it sent a shock wave across the country and mixed messages to her friends, family, and fans. This coming on the heels of Barry Bonds record breaking home run season tainted with accusations of steroid use and the recent rumors of talented boxers Sugar Shane Mosley and Jameel McCline’s use of steroids to prepare for there matches. The question most people are asking is why? Why are athletes, especially women athletes, using these illegal and potential harmful substances?
Before I get into the reasons why, let me first explain this class of drugs more correctly called anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS). AAS are the synthetic derivatives of the naturally occurring male hormone testosterone. The ability for steroids to build muscle and strength is the anabolic effect of the drug, while the development of MALE secondary sexual characteristics, like the pitch of someone’s voice and the pattern of body hair describe the androgenic effect of the drugs. AAS have been around since the 1930s to treat a condition in men called hypogonadism in which the testes do not produce a sufficient amount of testosterone for normal male development and sexual function. Other approved medical uses for testosterone include the treatment of impotency, the “wasting” or weight loss seen in persons infected with HIV or cancers, and delayed puberty.
Performance enhancing drugs like AAS are not new to the arena of sports. They date back to the early Olympic Game’s, which started in Greece and has now evolved into a multimillion-dollar industry due to marketing and advertising. As early as 1969, journalist Bill Gilbert was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying, “The pill, capsule, vial, and needle have become fixtures of the locker room as athletes increasingly turn to drugs in the hope of improving performance.” The desire to win and to gain the edge over one’s opponent is innate, however in the “steroid” culture, there is a phrase used by some professional athletes: “If you are not using steroids, then you are not trying hard enough!” This quest for supremacy at the expense of one’s health has taken over and the all-mighty dollar is more important than health, longevity and loved ones. Steroids have been used and proven to build strength and endurance in competitive athletes for decades; however, AAS are illegal and potentially harmful and considered cheating! These are not the messages we want to deliver to young African American athletes.
The reason women use these illegal and potential harmful substances are very similar to the reasons men use them: to improve athletic performance, to become more muscular, to gain weight, to lose weight, to recover faster from fatigue and injury, and/or to increase speed and endurance. Women who are victims of rape or who have been physically abused also use AAS to improve strength and confidence so that they can protect themselves from future attacks. Muscle dysmorphia, also called bigorexia or reverse anorexia nervosa, is a disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with the idea that he or she is not muscular enough, hence uses AAS to “bulk up”.
AAS have become much more complex as proven by the “designer” steroids used by Marion Jones, some of which are undetectable with the latest technology in urine, blood, or hair samples. Steroids are administered in many ways including pills, needles, patches, or creams. Once in the blood stream they are soaked up my muscle cells and promote the production of protein, which stimulates muscle growth. Athletes will mix different types of AAS to achieve various effects, as there is no accepted medical dosing standard for the use of these drugs for performance enhancement. Side effects of AAS use/abuse include high blood pressure, strokes, elevated cholesterol, nausea, sleep disturbances, acne, increased aggressiveness, and mood disorders including anxiety and depression. Women can experience reduced breast size, increased body and facial hair, a deeper voice, and menstrual problems. In men, reduced sperm count, impotence, breast growth, and decreased testicular size have all been documented. Some of these side effects are irreversible and require surgical treatment.
This is a very unfortunate situation and I am truly saddened as Marion Jones was one of my favorite athletes. I hope that she will turn the negative into a positive and begin to educate young athletes on the only way to become successful in competitive sports while at the same time improving their health: hard work and proper nutrition.
For more information on steroids visit www.nida.nih.gov or visit my website at www.h2doc.com, view the Steroid Man, see a comprehensive list of individuals who have been associated with steroids and shoot me a question or comment at DrRani@h2doc.com. It’s Tha Hip Hop Doc, they call me H2D, come on now lets get Hip Hop Healthy. Peace, I’m out! (c) 2007 Rani Whitfield.