With the recent scandals surrounding MLB stars Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, you can’t blame those who have lost faith in sports.
These days, it seems if you have an athlete as a role model, chances are, that role model will end up disappointing you with their actions — whether it be a performance enhancing drug scandal or some other off-the-field screw up.
Sadly, this has been going on for many years. I grew up a baseball fan, and in 1998, I became entranced — along with thousands of other kids — with the home run battle between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire. What I didn’t know was that the battle would become a dark, defining moment in the world of baseball.
It marked the beginning of what would be known as the “steroid era,” a part of time that has only gotten worse since Slammin’ Sammy and Big Mac graced the headlines of the game.
Many — including myself — now have doubts every time a player has an outstanding season or a breakout year. Was that performance fueled by illegal substances? Sadly, more often than not, that seems to be the case.
That faith and inspiration I once had for the top athletes in this world has faded. I’m now over the age of impressionability and far removed from my days as an athlete, but I sympathize with the younger athletes of this world competing at the youth and high school levels. The pressures of performing well and winning seem to be at an all-time high. Many are giving in to this pressure by turning to performance-enhancing drugs.
Here in Florida, high school student-athletes have been involved with the use of PEDs, including links to the recent Biogenesis scandal in south Florida.
Last week, the Florida High School Athletic Association announced plans to address this issue. Executive Director Dr. Roger Dearing asked the association’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to conduct a thorough review of existing standards to determine how they can be strengthened and stop the trend of PED use among college and pro athletes from spreading throughout the prep level.
The FHSAA currently suspends players who use PEDs, but Dearing said those prohibitions may be insufficient. The prohibition exists now only as an extension to a policy on sportsmanship.
“We must draw a line in the sand against performing-enhancing drugs,” Dearing said in a release. “School districts simply cannot tolerate coaches who encourage or look the other way when athletes use PEDs. Therefore, these coaches cannot be allowed to keep their jobs or have anything to do with young athletes. This is about more than safeguarding fair play — it’s about saving lives.”
The health risks PEDs pose are well documented and reported, but those effects could be even greater on high school athletes, whose bodies still are developing. Some athletes have loads of pressure placed on them to perform well for their team or get a college scholarship. Coaches, family and friends can have a large influence on these athletes. Injuries and tougher competition sometimes can sway athletes to turn to PEDs to bounce back or to live up to their hype.
The 15-member Sports Medicine Advisory Committee includes a cross-section of experts from across Florida, including 11 physicians and athletic trainers, along with former coaches and educators. The committee previously has worked on other factors and concerns in high school sports, including concussions and heat/hydration issues.
Dr. Jennifer Roth Maynard, an assistant professor of family and sports medicine with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and a member of the FHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, noted most young athletes “have no idea the harm that can be caused by performance-enhancing drugs.”
“PEDs have no place in their lives,” she said. “Whatever the FHSAA can do to stop PEDs from being used by high school student-athletes is a step in the right direction.”
High school athletes need to know the dangers that come with PEDs. As alluring as winning a state championship or getting that big college offer may be, nothing is worth hurting your body and risking your life. The issue of PEDs started at the highest level and now is trickling down to younger and younger athletes.
Athletes such as Braun and Lance Armstrong should be ashamed for the negative example they have set for young athletes that grew up idolizing them. Unfortunately, the damage already has been done and has led to a culture in sports in which athletes often will take the risks of health or getting caught to get a “competitive edge.” Others, such as Manziel, set negative examples in other ways. These things do have an effect on young athletes, but all hope isn’t lost.
The advisory committee will be in charge of perfecting the current policies of PED use among prep athletes. This will bring its own challenges. Running tests on all student-athletes in Florida (about 283,000) simply isn’t possible. Each drug test costs $150, which would total $42 million per year.
The committee does feel that school districts need to test any student-athlete suspected of using steroids, as well as punishing adults that allow it to happen.
The FHSAA hopes local businesses will help with the efforts.
Realistically, the use of PEDs in sports — from the pros to even the youth level — doesn’t seem like it will ever cease to be a major issue, but it is refreshing to see the FHSAA being proactive and doing their part to cut down on the use of PEDs by Florida athletes and educating its members on the dangers steroid use can bring.