Steroids should be allowed in MLB

Sports : Dope early

New York. His big year should have started in the summer of 1986. There was only one small step left to fame and fortune. Fresh from the University of Oregon, Greg Schwab toiled at the San Diego Chargers training camp. But before the season started, they sent him home. “I was lucky,” he says today. Otherwise he might have ended up like Lyle Alzado. The defensive man, feared at the time in the entire National Football League (NFL), died in 1992 at the age of 43 of a brain tumor, probably caused by 20 years of extensive doping.

Greg Schwab, on the other hand, is alive. He's 40 and the assistant principal of a high school near Seattle, Washington state. But he was like Alzado: 1.90 meters tall, over 150 kilos, a physically overpowering defender - thanks to the steroids. Today Schwab does what Alzado tried in the last months of his life: he preaches to his students to turn away from doping. "The wind always comes from the front," says the sports teacher, "always."

That is a glossing over description of a fight that seems long lost in the United States. The latest affair surrounding the designer drug Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) fits into the picture only too well. “We are a society that believes in chemistry,” says Schwab, “you can just get anything, be it on the Internet or in the drugstore around the corner. At GNC, 60 capsules of Androstenedione cost 34 dollars and 99 cents. ”GNC is a chain of stores with 5300 branches in the USA. Androstenedione made famous the baseball player Mark McGuire, who set a home run record in 1998 and boosted his punch with the anabolic steroid and the protein concentrate creatine. Both substances are allowed in Major League Baseball (MLB) to this day.

Androstenedione sales skyrocketed after McGuire's revelation. “A typical phenomenon,” says Charles Yesalis, doping expert at Penn State University, “The same thing happened after Ben Johnson was caught. The doping abuse among teenagers increased suddenly. ”Schwab confirms this from his practice as a football and wrestler coach. Doping offenders do not act as a deterrent, but encourage imitation: “Young people look up to their sports idols. When they take something that is forbidden, it works like a permit for them to do the same. "

Half a million teenagers in the US are turning to anabolic steroids, according to recent research. "The quota is two to three percent of high school students," says Yesalis. The first started in seventh grade, when they were twelve. The figures for the USA and Europe differ only slightly, the researcher emphasizes, and it is a global phenomenon. However, it is only in America that you can get to everything so easily. This is thanks, among other things, to Republican Senator Orrin G. Hatch from Utah. In 1994 he passed a law through Congress that exempts pharmaceutical companies from testing their dietary supplements for safety. Instead, the health authorities now have to prove that the substances are dangerous. The pharmaceutical companies, mostly based in Utah, thanked the senator with donations of millions for his election campaign.

Legal and illegal pick-me-ups are not only sold in the professional leagues, at the Olympics and in colleges. The US pharmaceutical industry has sales of nearly $ 18 billion annually with dietary supplements alone. It spends millions on advertising, and numerous universities have their teams sponsored by pharmaceutical manufacturers. An absurdity, says Schwab, “but college sport has long since ceased to be about being there, it's all about money. For incredible amounts of money. ”Good football or basketball teams can bring millions to universities, which are largely privately funded. In the more popular college arenas, an advertising tape costs around $ 40,000 a year. Many of them are equipped with pharmaceutical ads. “You shouldn't underestimate the impact of advertising,” says Yesalis. In contrast to the consumption of alcohol or other social drugs, sports offenders do not have to fear any sanctions.

Closer to the ideal of beauty

“Everyone only sees that you are getting stronger, that your muscles are better developed,” says Yesalis, “that brings you closer to the ideal of beauty of our time.” And in California, not even a former bodybuilder and self-confessed consumer of steroids made it to governor ?

In Schwab's experience, only education helps: “The difficult thing is that steroids really work. You get stronger, you feel better. And teenagers think in the short term. Side effects? Not with me. ”The former football player opposes this with merciless openness. When the boys ask about the side effects of the muscle builder, he tells them, "The testicles shrink and you become impotent." That helps sometimes. A little bit. Schwab cannot guarantee whether his students are really all clean: “We have no way of finding out what they are taking.” A single doping test costs 100 dollars. "Instead of controlling, we try to educate," he says.

The young athletes and the parents who often just look the other way. The parallels to the legal guardians of the victims of state doping in the GDR are striking. Even then, very few parents thought about what changed their underage girls so radically physically. Besides, there were big rewards for big victories: cars, apartments.

In America there is an education that is worth cash. Attending the right college will mark the path to prosperity and recognition, even if a great athletic career doesn't work out. Children who receive an athletic scholarship can save up to $ 120,000 on education costs. Here too, ignorance is paired with self-interest. "Many have no idea how dangerous the stuff that is next to the vitamins on the shelf is," says Schwab, "we have to fundamentally change our culture."

A long, arduous process. Incidentally, Lyle Alzado's son Justin is 21 today and works as a trainer at a gym in Roswell, Georgia. He shows his clients natural ways to physical fitness, without steroids and growth hormones. But when he looks at the NFL, he knows that nothing has changed: "I'm disappointed that my father's words went unheard."

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