As the Mitchell Report shines a black light and attaches the stigma of the “Steroid Era” to the sport of baseball, a number of concerns have been raised within the sport. These issues also apply to the athletic world in general. It is clear that performance-enhancing drugs are not exclusive to major league baseball. They are a problem in minor league baseball, cycling and sprinting, and the Mitchell Report raises concerns about high school athletics as well. These problems range from the medical matters that the sport faces to the pressures to clean up the sporting industry. Some major questions that need to be addressed are the following: Where is the best place to start in order to reduce the use of performance-enhancing drugs? What needs to be done to create a performance-enhancing drug-free culture within athletics? Sports professionals within the University community have been able to provide a unique perspective with answers to many of these crucial questions.
Assistant Certified Athletic Trainer for UR sports Angelo Zegarelli holds the opinion that it might take a tragedy, as sad as that is, for people to open their eyes and realize that serious change is needed.
“Performance-enhancing drugs have been part of sport for a long time. Unfortunately, I think in order to change the culture, something bad needs to happen. When Lyle Alzado died from brain cancer secondary to steroid use, steroid use in the NFL declined and testing became more prevalent,” Zegarelli said. “I hate to think about that, but sometimes that’s what it takes. I am by no means looking for that as the answer, but it happened with ephedra too – Kory Stringer from the Vikings and [Steve Bechler], pitcher for the Orioles, died secondary to ephedra use. The government went nuts and pulled the product and people stay[ed] away from it. Young athletes need to know the negative consequences of their actions – death, performance decreases – body breaks down and cannot repair itself due to steroid use – not the success stories – Bonds hit 80 HR.”
The process of reducing the use of performance-enhancing drugs needs to start at both the professional and lower levels of sports. Specifically, education is necessary to establish a performance-enhancing drug-free sports community.
American youth are one target area that need to be provided with sufficient information.
“Unquestionably, the place to start is with younger athletes. Just as the most effective smoking and illicit drug prevention programs focus on children and adolescents rather than adults, the reduction in performance-enhancing drugs should start at the adolescent level. I think that the middle school or JV level would be about right to start,” Senior Instructor and Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician Mark Mirabelli, M.D., said.
Decreasing the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs needs to start from the top-down, as well as the bottom-up.
“I think the share of the solution begins with both pro and youth sports. More pro athletes need to take a stand and prove they are successful without drugs. Kids look up to these guys and need to see that it can be achieved without performance enhancers,” Zegarelli said. “At the same time, parents, doctors, athletic trainers and youth coaches need to constantly educate kids on the dangers of performance enhancers, the consequences of their actions and point them in the right direction through nutrition, strength training and appropriate practices.”
However, knowledge is only the beginning of a complicated strategy that needs to be implemented. Creating the culture that is sought will involve some retooling and modification of ideals.
“Education is certainly the foundation of this, but it’s not sufficient on its own. To create this culture, I believe that both carrots – encouragement – and sticks – punishments – will be needed. In other words, athletes should be encouraged to and provided with the means to safely train to their potential. Athletes must believe that they can reach their potential without performance-enhancing drugs and that those they compete against are not obtaining an unfair advantage,” Mirabelli said. “They should be educated about proper training, including the dangers of certain types of performance-enhancing drugs. Along with this, testing programs and strict consequences for the use of performance-enhancing drugs would also be needed.”
Keep reading next week for a follow up regarding more of the controversies associated with the Mitchell Report.