December 14, 2007
The reactions to the Mitchell report on steroid use in baseball have been almost as compelling as the contents of the report itself. There has been everything from yawns to expressions of shock ("Say it ain’t so") to righteous denials by the athletes. And, from lifelong New York Yankee haters, there’s undoubtedly an unstated undercurrent of glee.
If there’s one thing the Mitchell report makes very clear, it’s that steroid use is rampant. No longer can we put mental asterisks next to Barry Bonds’ accomplishments and pretend everyone else in the major leagues is clean.
But should we be surprised in a culture where we worship our top athletes and pay them absurd amounts of money where cheating is all too often considered part of the game where we look in our medicine cabinets for solutions to every problem, real or perceived?
Steroid use in sports is nothing new. Remember the East German swim teams of the 1970s and 1980s? Fortunately, under the leadership of Dick Pound, the International Olympic Committee admitted that it had a problem and took aggressive steps to correct it.
On the other hand, major league baseball looked the other way far too long. Only in recent years has its players’ association agreed to mandatory drug testing.
The most troubling implication of steroid use is the message it sends to younger athletes. How can you tell a gifted young man from an impoverished family not to use steroids or human-growth hormones when he believes it could make the difference between a minimum-wage job and a million-dollar career and when he sees people he has idolized all his life linked to steroid use?
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Are Park City athletes exposed to steroids? Unless you believe we’re completely isolated from the rest of the country, the answer is probably yes.
When kids learn about drugs from their friends, chances are they don’t discuss the side effects. It’s a good bet they don’t know about heart disease, high blood pressure, liver damage, blood clots and a myriad of other problems that have been linked to steroid use. It’s our job to tell them. And drug testing, as invasive as it is, must also be part of the solution.
It’s tragic that drug use and athletics have become so closely linked in recent years. But if we can learn one lesson from major league baseball, it’s that looking the other way doesn’t solve anything.