Steroids In Sports

Performance Enhancing Drug and Anabolic Steroid Use In Ancient Sport

The truth is that anabolic steroid use in sports can actually be traced back several thousand years back, dated around 1700BC in ancient Greece. Other uses of anabolic steroids in ancient times have been traced back to ancient Rome as well. In the case of the first recorded use in ancient Greece, it was during the ancient Greek Olympic Games where the ancient Olympic athletes and competitors would consume sheep and bull testicles in mass quantities[1]. The result of this was of course increases in strength and speed specific sport activities, and although these ancient athletes knew that the increase in performance and strength correlated with the consumption of bull and sheep testes, they did not understand what truly was providing them with this increased performance edge. The truth of the matter is that these athletes were ingesting massive quantities of the hormone Testosterone, contained inside the testes.

General ‘doping’ in sports (other substances outside the realm of anabolic steroids) had also been a widespread commonplace practice. The consumption of an almost infinite number of herbs and foods supposedly thought to increase strength and athletic performance was a regular occurrence, and these herbs and foods ranged from essentially stimulants to hormones and other substances. It was, of course, unknown to these ancient athletes what exactly within these herbs and foods were causing these effects but it was known that it was having a positive effect. The fact is that the use of ergogenic aids and substances for the purpose of increasing performance and the win-at-all-costs attitude was commonplace, and it was expected of all athletes to engage in this activity. This is an ironic and drastic change from the attitudes we see today where the use of performance enhancing substances and ergogenic aids by athletes are considered anathema and a gross offense where the majority of society today tends to place emphasis on the premise that athletic activity should be ‘natural’ or performed with the body in the condition as it is. The sentiment among ancient athletes was very much the exact opposite, where the use of substances to increase performance was encouraged.

It has been recorded in history that the winner of the 480BC Olympic Games’ diet consisted of nothing but meat for 10 months straight in preparation for the Olympic Games[2], and it is well understood that meats (especially red meats) contain large quantities of the various B vitamins, and creatine – all proven to enhance athletic performance to some degree. Other common practices involved the consumption of figs, believed by the ancient Greeks that it would assist in muscle growth and stamina, and this was based upon the belief that figs were a staple food for the demigod Hercules. If an athlete had aching muscles, it was recommended for the athlete to get drunk on wine a couple of times2. Although much of the science behind this was essentially nonexistent and the practices based on pure speculation and conjecture, the basis was that ancient athletes and the society they lived in valued the use of performance enhancing substances and the win-at-all-costs attitude. The motivation for this win-at-all-costs attitude and the overall sentiment of the ancient athletes to use anything that would assist them in winning is essentially no different from the reasons why our modern athletes dope in sports today. There was in fact far less in the way of prizes for ancient athletes when compared to what athletes today receive – no award medals were given to the winners, their motivation for competing was not for ‘fun’ or because they loved the games, and they did not even compete for pride. But one common massive driving factor that could be found in ancient athletes that is also found in our modern athletes is: prestige, fame, and money (ancient athletes received 1,200 days’ worth in payment for winning an athletic event)[3]. As we can see, this is no different than the major driving force behind our athletes today and this is also the same primary driving force and motivation for the use of substances and compounds that improve athletic performance in order to achieve an edge to win.
It is the vast and highly attractive payment in the form of salaries, sports contracts, and sponsorship offers today that drive our modern athletes to adopt the win-at-all-costs attitude which of course drives these modern athletes to seek and use performance enhancing substances. The substances in use today have come light years from the substances used in ancient times, where now not only do these performance enhancing substances and ergogenic aids provide athletic performance increase, but also have the ability to heal injuries, strengthen against the potential for injuries, and have the athletes back out on the field sooner following any injuries or setbacks.

The Use of Other Performance Enhancing Substances In Modern Sport

Of course, anabolic steroids are/were not the sole compounds/drugs utilized in modern athletics in order to enhance performance in athletes. Stimulants of all types have been known to provide an edge in performance in the short term and more immediately than do anabolic steroids. Cocaine and Amphetamines are well known stimulants that can and do provide an edge in performance. An American marathon runner, Thomas Hicks, won the Olympic marathon in 1904 where he consumed a concoction containing Cocaine, Brandy, and Strychnine. The cocktail of drugs actually resulted in his collapse and near death, where he had to be revived. Nevertheless, he won the gold medal. Cocaine was also a well-known drug used in the performance enhancement of baseball players in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In later years, many Olympic sprinters and runners had experimented with other compounds such as Nitroglycerine during events for the purpose of blood vessel dilation, and the use of Dextroamphetamines. These were all used during a time period well before the IOC (International Olympic Committee) drug testing policies were brought into place, and the use and experimentation of many different substances were in fact very commonplace.

Enter Anabolic Steroids In Modern Sport

Anabolic steroid use as we know it today began more or less in the 1950s, where the Soviet Union had gathered Nazi data on the use of Testosterone for the purpose of performance enhancement following World War II. The Soviet Union obtained this data and the majority of it before most of any of the other Allied nations could. In the late 1940s after studying this information, the Soviet Union began administering Testosterone to their Olympic athletes, and in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games the Soviet Union had put out an impressive and impacting performance. But it was not until the 1954 Olympics when the Soviet Union had perfected their use of Testosterone in their athletes, and it was here where the Soviet Union had the upper hand and dominated nearly every weight class. Dr. John Ziegler of the United States, who was the doctor working for the US Olympic team, had investigated this phenomenon in the mid-1950s and it was discovered that the Soviet Olympic team had been administered injectable Testosterone preparations on a regular basis. It had been previously rumored as well that Germany had utilized Testosterone on their Olympic athletes in preparation for the 1936 Olympic Games in the form of an unknown type of oral Testosterone preparation. It has been speculated that if this was indeed the case, that the positive effects gained had to have been minimal at best. In any case, the reports of early use by Germany are largely unfounded and unconfirmed.

The Anabolic Steroid Development Boom and Extensive Use In The Olympics

Following the discovery of Testosterone use by Soviet athletes, Dr. John Ziegler set out to develop an anabolic steroid that could be administered orally for ease of convenience that would also be the American answer to the Soviet Union’s use of Testosterone in their athletes. The result was the development of Methandrostenolone, produced and marketed by Ciba as Dianabol. Dianabol was the second anabolic steroidever synthesized and created (discounting Methyltestosterone, which is simply methylated Testosterone designed to be active orally). It is also the very first anabolic steroid analogue/derivative of Testosterone. It was through the American Olympic athlete’s use of Dianabol that the Americans started to dominate the Olympic Games by the time the early 1960s came along. It was the development of Dianabol that sparked the anabolic steroid development boom, and hundreds (perhaps thousands) of anabolic steroid analogues were developed ever since – many developed in the quest to find the ‘perfect’ anabolic steroid that could provide all the benefits of athletic enhancement with none of the negative side effects.
It was also by the 1960s that many other countries participating in the Olympic Games had also taken to performance enhancement by way of anabolic steroid use in their Olympic athletes. East Germany in particular had been known to actually hold state-sponsored programs to further this effort in order to win at the Olympic Games. This was designed to increase patriotism and stimulate the sense of national pride among East Germany and many Eastern Bloc countries in the Olympics. The Chief Medical Officer of East Germany’s Olympic team, Dr. Manfred Hoeppner, in 1968 had actually designed a report for submission to the East German government that recommended anabolic steroid use to all of the East German Olympic athletes as a whole[4]. This was known as the “State Plan Research Theme 14.25” and this was a plan designed also for an additional purpose:  to be able to skirt the drug testing program that the IOC was developing. Even the East German female Olympic athletes were administered anabolic steroids (without their knowledge), as all East German athletes under this program were simply told they were being given ‘vitamins’ and ‘nutritional supplements’ while the reality was that they were really being administered anabolic steroids. Many of these anabolic steroids were also undetectable (at the time) mostly due to their relatively new development and unknown status. It was because of this that East Germany became a major player in international sporting events and a dominating force in the Olympic Games and many other sports events during the 1970s until 1990 when the Berlin wall fell and East Germany reunited with West Germany.


It was shortly after the development of Dianabol by Dr. John Ziegler and his medical team that anabolic steroid use quickly began to spread to other athletic activities and areas. Of course, the next in-line groups were that of bodybuilders and weight lifters that would note the benefits of anabolic steroid use in their respective sports and activities. After this, football players took to the performance enhancing benefits of anabolic steroid use in their activities. With the ability for anabolic steroids to increase nutrient partitioning, reduce recovery periods, and increase the rate of healing from injuries, the allure to use anabolic steroids in order to provide an athletic edge and increased physical capability by athletes was irresistible (especially considering the potential monetary rewards for winning and making it to the top of their athletic activity).

The Entrance Of Anabolic Steroid Bans and Testing Procedures

The popularity of anabolic steroids following the development and use of Dianabol soared, and not only was the anabolic steroid development boom well underway, but many pharmaceutical companies had gone into production overdrive due to the massive demands for the substance. It had even come to the point where, as previously mentioned, countries and governments had actually initiated state sponsored programs to administer anabolic steroids to their athletes in order to win and make it to the top. However, in 1968 an official complaint was made and issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) concerning anabolic steroids – specifically, the overproduction and overprescribing of anabolic steroids and the resulting monetary benefits going to the doctors prescribing the drugs. The IOC during this time had grown increasingly concerned about the moral issue of cheating where the use of anabolic steroids in their athletes is concerned, and it was in 1976 when the IOC placed anabolic steroids on the list of banned substances and began testing procedures (however, it was as early as 1968 that the IOC had been developing and considering the ban and testing procedures for anabolic steroids). Prior to the 1976 anabolic steroid ban, however, there had been several substances on the banned substances list that were not of an anabolic steroid nature. One of these substances happened to be Ephedrine, which is a known stimulant that is utilized in the medical establishment for the treatment of asthma at the time. In 1972, an American Olympic swimmer by the name of Rick De Mont was caught using Ephedrine, but to everyone’s surprise, Rick De Mont was able to provide proof of a valid prescription and therefore provide immunity to him in light of the situation. It was then 10 years later after the 1976 anabolic steroid ban that random drug testing had evolved to become more efficient for anabolic steroids, where athletes could now be tested during the ‘off season’ or ‘out of competition’ period[5]. Following the 1976 anabolic steroid ban in the Olympics, other sports organizations began to mimic the IOC and subsequently introduce anabolic steroid bans in their professional sport activities as well. The National Football League had implemented their bans and testing procedures in 1987, while Major League Baseball had no bans or testing procedures at the time, and the MLB would not be concerned with this until approximately 15 years later.

The Futility of the Anabolic Steroid Ban and Testing Procedures

As any person would be able to easily guess, the anabolic steroid ban did not work in preventing anabolic steroid use among athletes, and it has never effectively worked. What followed the implementation of bans and testing procedures was the constant never-ending game of cat-and-mouse. As previously mentioned, countries such as East Germany had already implemented official directives and methodology for the sole purpose of cheating the Olympic drug tests, and they worked very well. The bans and testing procedures now drove athletes to seek various methods by which to cheat the drug testing programs. Various methods involved simple practices such as the use of anabolic steroids that do not result in metabolites that linger for extended periods of time, or the use of anabolic steroids that are structurally and metabolically basic, which leads to a faster clearance from the body (a matter of days in many cases). Other genius yet simple methodology used to cheat the testing procedure was/is to simply develop or use an anabolic steroid analogue that is unknown to anybody, and that does not metabolize into any known metabolites. In order for testing laboratories to test and locate a compound used or in-use by an athlete, the laboratory must already know what substance and metabolites they are looking for. If an athlete is administering a compound yet to be discovered, kept tightly secret, and unknown to anybody, then there is absolutely no possibility of chemists in a testing lab finding locating the substance – the athlete will come clean every time. This was one particular well known tactic extensively utilized by East Germany many times over (many other countries had also utilized this highly successful tactic as well). The only possible manner by which this tactic can be thwarted is if somehow the developed compound’s secret status was breached, and an individual leaked information concerning the anabolic steroid in question.

It was through these almost infinite tactics and methods to cheat the drug testing procedure that allowed an overwhelmingly large amount of athletes to come clean in the drug tests and successfully avoid detection. At this point in history, anabolic steroids had become a solid un-detachable integral part of sports at nearly every level to varying degrees – and it was here to stay.

High School Athletics and Anabolic Steroid Use

By the mid-1980s, anabolic steroid use had trickled down into nearly every aspect of sports and athletics – including high school athletics. Anabolic steroid use at this point became a heavy and integral part of sports at every level, and at this same time in the mid-1980s, increasing concern over anabolic steroid use by high school athletes had become widespread. This resulted in many schools implementing anti-steroid and anabolic steroid “education” programs. The fact of the matter is that these programs implemented resulted in a gross failure, as they had centered on scare tactics and gross misinformation in the hopes of coercing teenagers and high school students away from anabolic steroid use. There is an overwhelming amount of data in existence that provides a clear display that these scare tactics proved not only to be highly ineffective, but in fact have had the opposite effect on the youth it had been attempted on. As a result, there are many growing movements in existence that have promoted a change to a more “truth and education” centered program designed to teach and influence teenagers away from anabolic steroid use.

The Journal of the American Medical Association studied anabolic steroid use among teenagers in 1988, and in this study the participation rate among high school students was 68.7%, and individually was approximately 50%. The survey was conducted across 46 American high schools, consisting of 12th grade students (male) who answered a list of questions surrounding the issue of anabolic steroid and their possible use. Of those grade 12 male students surveyed, it was found that 6.6% had used anabolic steroids with 2/3 of those students being 16 years old or younger at the time of their first anabolic steroid use[6].

Several surveys and studies were conducted in later years, with the next one being conducted in 1990. In this study, high school students had been surveyed once again (2113 students) but both male and female students had this time been surveyed. Of the 2113 students, 1028 of those were males and 1085 were females. The results demonstrated that of the 2113 students surveyed, 94 of them (4.4%) admitted to anabolic steroid use. 67 students (6.5%) of the male group had reported anabolic steroid use, and 27 students (2.5%) of the female group had reported anabolic steroid use. Of the students surveyed, it was found that the athletic students (1436 of the 2113 studied) fell under a greater percentage of anabolic steroid users, which was found to be 79 (5.5%) of the 1436 athletic students. The non-athletic students were found to be 636 of the 2113 students studied, of which 15 non-athletic students (2.4%) of the 636 admitted to anabolic steroid use[7]. The total end net result demonstrated that approximately 4% of the studied high school students had admitted to anabolic steroid use.

What is very interesting to note is that as the years progressed, anabolic steroid use among high school students did not drop but it had not increased either, yet in the media the population is being constantly told that anabolic steroid use among high schools and youth is an “epidemic”. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed that “the use among high school students had increased by more than double” after it had conducted various studies on anabolic steroid use among high school students between 1991 and 2003. However, the truth of the matter is that in 2003, of 15,000 students surveyed, approximately 6% admitted to anabolic steroid use. If one were to go back and examine the study from 1988, we can see that the number of anabolic steroid using high school students was the exact same – 6%. It had not dropped, but had not increased either despite the claims by the media that, once again, the anabolic steroid problem among high school students and youth is an “epidemic” and an “increasing problem”. In fact, in a 2005 CDC study, it was found that among students surveyed in grades 9 – 12, 6.1% had used anabolic steroids[8]. This demonstrates again that the numbers have not increased as the media has consistently been telling the population where claims by the media have often been seen to reach as high as 20 – 90%. However, it is very clear through the various studies conducted that the numbers have in fact remained the same at approximately 6%, and have not risen to any greater numbers[9]. Other research actually indicates that from high school to post-secondary education and afterwards, the progressive use of anabolic steroids is actually on the decline9.

The truth of this matter is that anabolic steroid use among high school students and youth in general is extremely miniscule when compared to the use of recreational drugs, where in a 2004 study it was determined that among grade 12 students only, only approximately 3.4% had used anabolic steroids[10]. In contrast to recreational drug use, this same study had determined that of these grade 12 students, 76.8% had consumed alcohol alongside other recreational street drugs such as Marijuanna, Cocaine, MDMA, and so on and so forth which had ended up being a far higher rate of use than anabolic steroids in comparison.


The truth of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of the claims made by the media and politicians essentially stems from overly emotional thinking and decision making. As well, much of the evidence that has led to the decision making by lawmakers and politicians concerning these issues has not been based on solid scientific data and evidence, but has instead been based upon anecdotal evidence which has been tweaked to favor only one side in the issue of anabolic steroids. This has been demonstrated in congressional hearings where solid scientific data and evidence had been overlooked and discarded in favor of claims made by the parents of a child who committed suicide, and stated that the suicide had been caused by anabolic steroid use. Meanwhile, there are many professionals who disagree and oppose this flawed logic and sentiment, such as Dr. Jack Darkes (an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and the Director of Interventions) who not only disagrees with this flawed logic but has also cautioned against these habits of blaming the suicide of a teenager (or any life) to only one sole solitary factor (in this case, the use and discontinuation of anabolic steroids).

In fact, there is plenty of research in existence that has determined that mass media holds the capability to further the agenda of certain groups concerning a certain issue (such as anabolic steroids), and end up holding a strong influence over different government policy and its associated changes, which reaches as far as the federal level of governments[11]. It is through this research that we can definitely come to a conclusion that although the concrete scientific clinical evidence makes a clear case that anabolic steroid abuse is not as horrid as it is made out to be by the media, it is not the scientific evidence that is steering government policy but instead the mass media influences based on sensationalism and misinformation11.

Anabolic Steroid Use In Baseball

Anabolic steroid use had never been a concern in baseball until the late 1990s and early 2000s. There had been no drug testing program to speak of, nor had anyone even fathomed the idea that anabolic steroids would even be utilized in the sport of baseball, or even be useful. In the early 2000s, this would change when a reporter supposedly saw a bottle of Androstenedione, a legal nutritional supplement, in Mark McGwire’s locker. Androstenedione is what is known as a prohormone or a prosteroid, where prohormones are precursor chemical compounds to actual anabolic steroids and have little to no hormonal activity on their own. What this means is when Androstenedione is ingested, the liver will convert Androstenedione (or any prohormone) into an active anabolic steroid through a series of biochemical processes and reactions. The clever development of prohormones had effectively snuck around the laws and legality surrounding anabolic steroids – after all, prohormones were not anabolic steroids until ingested and converted into such by the liver. This allowed free sale and purchase of various different prohormones on the supplement store shelves with no problems.

Anabolic steroid usage in baseball


Mark McGwire at this point in time had been just around the corner from breaking the home run record, which had previously been untouched for a very long time. The sighting of Androstenedione sparked a lot of commotion and questions in regards to the use of anabolic steroids and prohormones in baseball. But shortly after breaking the home run record, Mark McGwire quickly retired from the sport, leaving him relatively immune but hell had just begun to be raised on the sport itself concerning the topic of anabolic steroid use. It was only a few years later that other baseball players, one after the other, had come out and openly admitted to their anabolic steroid use and some players had even ‘ratted out’ their fellow players to the media. Ken Caminti was the first to come out and admit to the use of performance enhancing drugs to Sports Illustrated, and while he was admitting his own use, he also claimed that roughly 50% of players in the MLB had also been using various different anabolic steroids and performance enhancing substances. It was Caminti’s move in the media that had the largest and most influential impact concerning this issue, where literally hundreds of pieces were published in the mass media following his admissions. This had essentially opened the proverbial ‘can of worms’ on the sport of baseball, and it marked the beginning of the mass steroid hysteria surrounding use in the MLB. Jose Canseco was then the next major baseball player to make claims and admissions to anabolic steroid use when he wrote and published a book during the mass media frenzy of anabolic steroid use in the MLB, in which he had claimed that approximately 85% of baseball players had used anabolic steroids and performance enhancing drugs alongside his own confession of use.

The next MLB players up to bat would be Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, whom also would become the most famous concerning the whole issue of anabolic steroid use in baseball. Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) was a pharmaceutical company founded and owned by Victor Conte that had secretly produced an anabolic steroid that was unknown at the time, Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), and was therefore undetectable in steroid testing. THG was then provided and administered to various athletes ranging from MLB players to NFL players and to Olympic athletes. It was not until US sprinting coach Trevor Graham made an anonymous phone call to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in June of 2003, and had told them about various athletes that were using THG to undetectably enhance athletic performance as well as Victor Conte’s direct involvement. Trevor Graham also provided a sample of THG for the USADA to analyze and develop testing procedures for, and after a short period they had developed a method for testing for the anabolic steroid. Shortly afterwards, 550 existing urine samples from athletes were tested, of which 20 were identified as positive for THG. In September 3, 2003, an investigation of BALCO was conducted where it was discovered that a BALCO warehouse contained containers that had anabolic steroids and growth hormone within them. A list of names of athletes, large amounts of cash, and dosing plans were found as well. Among this list of names were Barry Bonds, Benito Santiago, Jeremy Giambi, Bobby Estalella, and Armando Rios – all MLB players. Other athletes were also listed, including various Olympic athletes, boxers, cyclists, several NFL players, and Olympic Judo teams.

Shortly afterwards, congressional investigations and hearings were held, during which Jason Giambi admitted to a US Grand Jury that he had used the undetectable anabolic steroid developed by BALCO, THG (also nicknamed ‘the clear’), as well as other undetectable anabolic steroids. Giambi’s personal trainer, Greg Anderson, had given Jason Giambi these anabolic steroids throughout 2003. It is important to note that in 2000, Victor Conte (the owner of BALCO), had contacted Barry Bonds through Greg Anderson in order to create a distributing line for THG and other BALCO-developed anabolic steroids. BALCO had provided the anabolic steroids to Greg Anderson, who then distributed them to the athletes he had been coaching – Jason Giambi and Barry bonds (among others). Upon testifying in congress, however, Barry Bonds had claimed that he was unknowingly administered the anabolic steroids by his trainer, who told Barry Bonds that they were nutritional supplements and arthritis pills. In a short time afterwards, however, Barry Bonds’ transcript of his Dec 4, 2003 testimony to congress had somehow leaked to the media where it was discovered that he admitted to using: THG, topical Testosterone cream, Human Growth Hormone, injectable Testosterone, insulin, and various masking agents in order to fool drug tests. It is important to note, however, that none of the substances listed thus far were on any banned substances lists by the MLB.

Prior to Mark McGwire’s home run record break and the massive anabolic steroid scandals and media coverage afterwards, it was a well-known fact that the sport of baseball was in dire straits. It had been losing money and general popularity and interest in the sport was at an all-time low, and dwindling even further. It was the anabolic steroid enhanced home run records, and the anabolic steroid mass media frenzy that had actually resulted in the benefit of baseball as popularity grew, more people bought tickets to watch their favorite players (enhanced on anabolic steroids) break more records and hit more home runs. The media attention, anabolic steroid use, and scandals did not hurt Major League Baseball one bit – it in fact benefitted greatly from it. With this being said, it must be understood that anabolic steroids are not the sole reason for the increase in home run records over the years. Anabolic steroids are known to simply enhance the training and nutrition that the athlete is already engaged in – they do not create massive muscular strongmen out of nowhere with no regular training or proper nutritional habits. With this having been established, anabolic steroids are not the sole reasoning behind the recent home run record breakings of the last decade or two, but they have certainly contributed and played a role in it.

Lastly, it must be understood that anabolic steroid use does not enhance form, hand-eye coordination, or the ability to swing a bat (or bitch a ball) more precisely. Anabolic steroids simply serve to enhance strength and muscular size, provided that it is facilitated with proper nutritional and training habits. With this being said, the majority of anabolic steroid and growth hormone use among baseball players both past and current is more so for the purpose of injury recovery, and the ability to be able to get back into the game quicker rather than performance enhancement within the game itself. The fact of the matter is that baseball is not a sport that the direct performance enhancing effects of anabolic steroids are very beneficial for in comparison to weight lifting, for example. The majority of baseball players that were implicated in the anabolic steroid use and scandal have admitted that their use was due to recovery purposes and injury related.

Anabolic Steroid Use In Football

The National Football League had implemented anti-drug and testing policies long before Major League Baseball did, as it has been previously mentioned that this first occurred in 1987. It is understandable that football is one sport that would attract anabolic steroid use more so than most other sports, aside from strongman competitions, powerlifting, and professional/Olympic weight lifting. Of course, many can say that football is a far more popular sport than any of those 3 and as such, football would be one typical major sport that would attract vast amounts of anabolic steroid use considering the fact that players have a higher necessity to be bigger, faster, and to be able to take more physical punishment. In order to see the trends of anabolic steroid use where football is concerned, one must look back in time shortly after anabolic steroid use first began in sports in the 1950s. Therefore, we are most concerned with the 1960s where the beginning of anabolic steroid use in football is concerned. When one engages in anabolic steroid use, there is almost always (not all of the time, but most of the time) an increase in body mass associated with it, especially where strength gains are concerned.

Anabolic steroid usage in football

What must be observed are the trends beginning in high school football, and when we examine the 1963 – 1971 Parade Magazine´s High School All-American Football Teams, there is no observed significant differences in the weight and size (Body Mass Index) of those high school football players over those years (and in comparison to years prior). If 1972 – 1989 is then examined, there is a noticeable difference in Body Mass Index of the football players compared to years prior which favor a significant increase in BMI[12]. When the university level is observed, this pattern shows up once again. For example, in Michigan State University in 1975, the average football player weighed approximately 213 lbs. Now, when compared to Michigan State University’s average football player in 2005, the average weight jumps all the way to 236 lbs.[13].

When it comes to anabolic steroid “education” in high schools, it makes sense that the majority of it is directed towards the football portion of the athletics department. This is because the group of students in high schools most likely to use anabolic steroids is of course the football teams. Just as anabolic steroid education has resulted in failure on the general topic and aspect of high school; it too has also been a failure where football is concerned. For example, there have been several studies conducted on anabolic steroid use at the high school level of football. In one particular study, a lecture on anabolic steroids (along with a four page handout) was given to two football teams. Two other teams were given the handouts only, and another following two teams were not given any educational material at all on anabolic steroids (this is known in a study as the control group). All of the educational material provided focused on the negative effects of anabolic steroid use, and the result of the study concluded that by the end there were in fact no differences between all of the teams’ attitudes towards anabolic steroid use in comparison to the control group (the group that was given zero educational material)[14].

The result of the attempted “steroid education” imposed upon high school football teams is that this education is not changing high school football players’ decisions as to whether or not to use anabolic steroids. It is pretty evident by the trends of football players becoming dramatically bigger and stronger than they once were twenty or more years ago that anabolic steroid use among football players is in fact very prevalent. When it comes to what lies beyond the high school and university level, the fact is that statistical data demonstrates that approximately a quarter of a century (25 years) ago, the average NFL lineman weighed about 250 lbs., whereas today they average NFL lineman weighs approximately 300 lbs.14.

Now we will examine perhaps the NFL’s most popular story where anabolic steroids are concerned – the story of Lyle Alzado. It is a well-known fact that Lyle Alzado in 1992 died as a result of brain lymphoma, a form of brain cancer that is relatively rare. During the year in which he battled his brain cancer, he became a face to the media-promoted “ravages of steroid abuse” and was promoted as the poster child for the anti-steroid hysteria that had swept the United States at the time. Lyle Alzado himself had told the media and the press that anabolic steroids were to blame for his brain cancer, and the public believed it. However, things could not be farther from the truth – anabolic steroids had no link to Lyle Alzado’s brain cancer, and in fact there exists no links medically what so ever between anabolic steroids and brain cancer. Furthermore, Lyle Alzado’s own personal physician himself stated in his own words that “there is no know association between Alzado’s death and his use of steroids”. The fact of the matter is that the story of Lyle Alzado was a perverse media spin on his condition, twisted to suit the anti-steroid agenda movement of the time. The shocking truth is that Lyle Alzado’s form of brain cancer was that of T-cell lymphoma, which is an extremely rare form of brain cancer that is found extensively in AIDS patients, which is a complication that develops as a result of the AIDS virus wreaking havoc on the body’s immune system. The rumors regarding the truth of Alzado’s death is of course that the real cause was brain cancer as the result of AIDS, and that Alzado wished that this detail remain a secret. Instead, as a result, the blame was squarely shifted on anabolic steroids in an effort to draw attention away from HIV/AIDS infections. Rumors also include that Alzado had been known by some as being bisexual and frequently engaging in promiscuous sexual acts. In light of this, the most interesting detail was Alzado’s comeback attempt for the Raiders during the late 1980’s, which was well publicized. After his failed comeback attempt, Lyle claimed that injury was the reason as to why he promptly aborted the comeback, but sources (such as sports magazine and news articles) claim that a failed HIV test was the ultimate reason as to why Lyle Alzado quickly and quietly vanished shortly thereafter. In light of the rumors and the opinion of medical professionals regarding Alzado’s steroid use not having any link with brain cancer, it is safe to firmly assume that Lyle Alzado did not die as a result of anabolic steroid use.

Bill Romanowski is another major name in football where anabolic steroids are concerned, and was one of the NFL athletes involved in the BALCO scandal. The BALCO records that the government had seized during the BALCO investigation had indicated that Bill Romanowski had used the anabolic steroid THG and a topical Testosterone cream – both supplied to him by BALCO since 2003. Furthermore, Bill Romanowski appeared on the TV show 60 minutes on October 16, 2005 where he admitted to the use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone provided to him by Victor Conte, the owner of BALCO[15]. Outside of his links to anabolic steroid use, Bill Romanowski was perhaps most popular for being a highly skilled linebacker and his incredible tackling ability (which people attributed the anabolic steroids to). His most popular behavior, however, was that of frequent dirty playing, starting fights and altercations with other players (both teammates and opponents), injuring other players intentionally during and outside of games, and generally having what is considered very mean and aggressive behavior that, of course, was attributed to his anabolic steroid use after the fact. For example, Romanowski attacked one of his fellow teammates, Marcus Williams and injured Williams so badly that he was forced to retire. After a play, Romanowski ripped Williams’ helmet off of his head and punched Williams in the eye, resulting in Williams’ eye socket being crushed. Williams sued Romanowski for $4.3 million in damages, and claimed that Romanowski had suffered from “roid rage” when he was attacked. This argument, however, was rejected by the judge due to the fact that there was no possible way Williams could prove that Romanowski had been using anabolic steroids on the same day of the attack[16].

Anabolic steroid use occurs at all levels of football (high school, collegiate, and professional) and it is a fact. Anabolic steroid use in football is here to stay and will continue to remain, given the fact that the nature of football favors the bigger, stronger, and faster player over the smaller one. But just like any sport, if there is a massive amount of money to be earned at the professional level, then anabolic steroids or any performance enhancing drugs will always be a part of it.


Athletes of all types, especially professional, throughout thousands upon thousands of years of human history have used substances in order to provide an athletic advantage and obtain an edge in order to win. The state of athletics and sports today in this regard is no different from the ancient period where the ancient Greek Olympians would use substances – anabolic steroids included – to enhance performance. The only difference is the general public attitude towards such a thing. Thousands of years ago, it was a culturally common and accepted practice to use performance enhancing substances – it was in fact promoted. Today, this seems to exist only among our modern athletes while the majority of our society seems to shun the use of substances for the purpose of enhancing athletic performance. There only exists a small percentage of our population that seems to have either a neutral stance towards it, or a pro-use stance. The fact of the matter is that there is no more fighting the issue and any fighting to be done against anabolic steroid use (or any performance enhancing drug use) is indeed a futile attempt. Anabolic steroids are here to stay, and they have become an integral part of athletics. To attempt to fight it is to be in denial, and anabolic steroids will certainly not be the last performance enhancing substances we will see our athletes use in the future. Think of what our athletes might be using 100 years from now. 200 years from now? Anabolic steroids are only the tip of the iceberg, and sooner or later the general public must accept the use of performance enhancing substances – especially if our sports fans cry out every day for their favourite athletes to continually break records and do perform greater than human feats.



Medical References:


[1] “A Brief History of Drugs in Sport” by Charlie Francis

[2] Neos Kosmos Newspaper English Edition, 23/8/2004, page 8

[3] Wm. Blake Tyrrell, “The Smell of Sweat: Greek Athletics, Olympics, and Culture,” Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Wauconda. 2004.

[4] “Hormonal Doping and Androgenization of Athletes: ” Franke et. al

[5] Hartgens and Kuipers (2004), p. 515

[6] JAMA 1988 Dec 16;260(23):3441-5.

[7] Am J Dis Child. 1990 Jan;144(1):99-103.

[8] J Sch Nurs. 2005 Dec;21(6):333-9.

[9] J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Nov;18(4):908-17.

[10] Monitoring the Future [MTF], n.d

[11] Journalism. 5(1). 51-68, 2004.

[12] Percept Mot Skills. 1993 Apr;76(2):379-83.

[13] Michigan State University Dept. of Athletics

[14] .J Adolesc Health Care. 1990 May;11(3):210-4.

[15] “BALCO investigation timeline”, USA Today, 11/27/2007

[16] “Battle lines drawn in Romanowski trial / A brutal punch, or a quest for ‘payday’?”, by Lance Williams, San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, March 2, 2005