Baseball player Alex Rodriguez finally came clean Monday, admitting he took performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-2003 while he played with the Texas Rangers.
The admission follows a Sports Illustrated report that Rodriguez was one of 104 players who tested positive for such drugs in a 2003 survey.
It’s important to note that at the time Major League Baseball had no policy banning such substances. It conducted the tests to determine how widespread such use was and whether a policy was necessary. Baseball officials, in order to get more players to agree to the voluntary tests, promised confidentiality and no repercussions for positive tests.
After he was “outed,” Rodriguez and MLB both tried to defer comment, but even without any verification the topic dominated sports radio, television and blog chatter. In the end, the three-time American League Most Valuable Player succumbed to the pressure and admitted to using substances.
Rodriguez said he took them because he felt pressure to prove he was worth the millions he was getting as the highest-paid player in baseball.
The fact this information was leaked will certainly be remembered the next time sports authorities try to conduct voluntary surveys that would require confidentiality.
Steroid use and abuse among athletes raises concerns on several levels. Sports purists say “performance enhancing drugs” give users an unfair advantage against those who don’t use them. More significant are concerns that heavy use can cause medical problems including elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure and liver problems. They also are linked to psychological problems ranging from depression to aggression.
Long-term clinical studies haven’t been completed, however.
People worry that high school athletes will take steroids in order to perform like their heroes. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that more than half a million eighth- and 10th-grade students take steroids.
Recent high school drug testing has not supported the high estimates, however.
Like other elements in our national War on Drugs, the panic over steroids has had its own negative effects. Steroids help muscles develop, making them a valuable, and valid, treatment when athletes suffer muscle strains, tears and other injuries. It should be an option in their treatment.
It’s like the blindness that has developed over other controlled substances, including marijuana and many drugs that originally were developed and used for valid medical purposes.
Often the only difference between a bad drug and good medicine is how the same substance is used. That’s why a more reasonable way to deal with drug abuse is not with outright bans, which don’t work anyway, but with education so that people know what various chemical compounds do to the body, and the risks involved.
Overblown fears of abuse should not get in the way of real benefits medicinal substances can bring, especially since most Americans are smart enough to weigh the benefits and dangers themselves.