Steroids In Sports: The NFL

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The National Football League (NFL) is probably one of, if not the most, watched sports in the world right now. Although it is primarily based in the United States, the sport has developed a huge following off the back of their larger than life athletes. But it was not until 1987 that the sport started testing its athletes for performance enhancing drugs. They started issuing suspensions to players during the 1989 season.

 

The use of performance enhancing drugs dates back as late as the 1960’s in the NFL. The signs of usage stemmed from the case involving Lyle Aizado, a defensive linesman for the Denver Broncos. Later in his life Aizado suffered from a brain tumour and attributed this to the use of steroids early in his career. In an interview with sports illustrated he stated that:

I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I’m sick and I’m scared. 90% of athletes I know are on the stuff. We are not born to be 300 lbs or jump 30ft. But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better.” 

Former player and NFL coach Jim Haslett said in 2005 that during the 1980’s half the players in the league were using some form of performance enhancing drug or steroid. The BALCO scandal in 2003 revealed that many users of steroids were still active in the NFL. One of the players from the 1979 Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers team confessed to using steroids. He had blamed a heart condition on his usage but also claimed that his teammates refused to use such a dangerous drug. The BALCO scandal followed a US Federal government investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative into accusations of its supplying anabolic steroids to professional athletes.

The NFL banned substances policy has been praised by some and criticised by others. But the anti – drug policy is one of the longest running in professional sports. It has been in effect since 1987. A player who has tested positive would be suspended for one year and a suspension for a third offence was never fully specified.  In the later years, many players would ignore this policy. The NFLPA director, Gene Upshaw, sent out a letter to all the NFL players stating that:

“Over the past few years, we have made a special effort to educate and warn players about the risks involved in the use of “nutritional supplements.” Despite these efforts, several players have been suspended even though their positive test result may have been due to the use of nutritional supplements. Under the Policy, you and you alone are responsible for what goes into your body. As the Policy clearly warns, supplements are not regulated or monitored by the government. This means that, even if they are bought over-the-counter from a known establishment, there is simply no way to be sure that they:
(a) contain the ingredients listed on the packaging;
(b) have not been tainted with prohibited substances; or
(c) have the properties or effects claimed by the manufacturer or salesperson.

Therefore, if you take these products, you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK! The risk is at least a 4-game suspension without pay if a prohibited substance is detected in your system. For your own health and success in the League, we strongly encourage you to avoid the use of supplements altogether, or at the very least to be extremely careful about what you choose to take.”

American Football is a very physical sport and the recovery period is essential. Unlike other sports, which can play multiple nights in a row, the NFL usually have a full week to recover in between games. For example, when a game is played on a Sunday, teams are given the Monday off to recover.

Due to the physical damage that is done to the player’s bodies, human growth hormones is thought to be widely used. Meanwhile, such anabolic steroids as non-esterified trenbolone and testosterone are much more likely to give the players a boost, they are impossible to detect. Shawn Merriman was caught out using Nandrolone several years ago.

In general, the testing methods for performance enhancing drugs consists of giving the players a 2-day notice to show up at an NFL approved facility to be tested. This can be enforced at any point during the year and are carried out at least once per year. As many as 6 players will be tested per week on a randomly selected basis.

The issue of steroids in sports is still ever present and will continue to be present until testing becomes much more regular.

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