Baseball's dopes

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Anabolic steroids are synthesized drugs that mimic the effects of the male hormone testosterone. Anabolic steroids became Schedule III controlled substances in the U.S. in 1990. Possession carries a minimum fine of $1,000 and/or a year in prison, but athletes in various sports still use them to build muscle mass.

That is the benefit of steroids to athletes: Larger muscle mass and faster recovery time between workouts. Athletes using steroids can work out with weights six times a week, often twice a day. Natural athletes must rest at least one day between weightlifting workouts to allow their muscles time to recover.

In men, steroid use also can shrink testicles, cause infertility, baldness, development of breasts and increase risk for prostate cancer. In women it can cause growth of facial hair, cessation of menstruation and a deepened voice. In both sexes, abusing anabolic steroids can cause liver tumors, jaundice, high blood pressure and undesirable effects on cholesterol.

There are also emotional effects, one known as "roid rage."

Most sports cracked down on steroid use long ago, but before 2002 Major League Baseball had no official steroids policy. In 2003, a collective bargaining agreement provided for anonymous survey testing and formal testing and penalties if more than 5 percent of the survey results were positive. They were, leading to a 2004 policy requiring each player to be tested once during the season. Players testing positive were required to go into treatment. Two positives resulted in a 15-day suspension. It took five positive tests to result in a one-year suspension. No one was dumb enough to get caught.

Last January, in the wake of grand jury testimony that home run sluggers Barry Bonds and the retired Mark McGwire used steroids, MLB announced a tougher policy. But it did not go far enough. Zero tolerance is the only policy that makes sense. Use steroids, get out of baseball.

MLB's pussyfooting around the steroids issue is shameful.

A congressional committee has subpoenaed a number of current and former baseball players to testify at a hearing on steroid use to begin Thursday. In response, baseball has thrown a tantrum, accusing the committee of "chemical McCarthyism."

Congress has gotten involved in baseball's steroids mess because baseball refused to. Sure, some political grandstanding will occur at the hearing. But the hearing also should provide information about the steroid dangers every teenager needs to know about.

A 2003 study found that 3.5 percent of high school seniors in America had used anabolic steroids at some time in their lives. Steroids are a temptation for teenagers who want to become stronger athletes and for skinny boys tired of the guys with the muscles getting all the girls. Using steroids might give them more manly bodies, but it also can halt their growth through premature skeletal maturation.

Baseball's lack of vigilance has created a situation in which many of its most hallowed records have been broken and are being challenged by athletes whose abilities have been chemically enhanced.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

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