This past Monday, a good handful of our school’s varsity athletes were informed by a gentleman named Steve Chouinard that they would have to report to the Reed Athletic Center at appointed times between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning for an NCAA-sanctioned drug test. Up to this point, steroids were never an issue in my life: I’ve never taken them, I don’t know anyone who has (or has been caught for using them, anyway) and I didn’t really pay any attention to the whole baseball-steroid controversy, yet there I was, taking my just-woke-up leak into a plastic “beaker”.
The whole process was bizarre. I had to set my alarm for 6 a.m. – a mere four hours after falling asleep, at which time I clumsily fell out of bed, threw on a pair of sweatpants and a jacket over my sleep clothes and made my way down the hill to the athletic center with the instructions, “Do your best not to urinate when you wake up; hold it and come down to make it easiest on yourself,” ringing in my head. Before I left my dorm room I must have checked my pocket seven times for my I.D. card – apparently, showing up at the testing site without one was the ultimate sin. Bladder straining to contain the flow, I arrived fifteen minutes ahead of my scheduled appointment and, because I was the first one there, went unimpeded through the grotto of vending machines, into the club sport locker room where the NCAA had apparently set up camp.
The process resembled an airport security check more than a doctor’s visit, with an overall lack of any sort of cheerfulness or personality, so it was no wonder that I didn’t feel immediately “inspired” to produce a sample. Noticing that I was having trouble, what with him standing three feet away, the man in charge of “monitoring” our progress and making sure we didn’t have a counterfeit sample up our shirts or between our legs, kindly turned on the water. After a few seconds of listening to the trickle of water on composite and metal grate, I closed my eyes and, twinkle, twinkle, I had accomplished the mission – up to the red line. I half-embarrassed, half-proudly carried my sample out of the bathroom and back into the locker room where one of my teammates and two football players waited, their eyes tracing my steps as their fates rested on a single, six ounce sample of urine. After more flamboyant protocol and an amusing distribution of the sample into two plastic jars, I left, seriously intent on going back to sleep and returning to the real world.
Tennis has come a long way from the days of khakis and wooden racquets, but we are not so desperate to modernize that steroids have become an option. A urine test, seriously? Taking a brief glance at our team and you’d be able to tell right off that none of us have needle-jabbed ourselves in the gluteus maximus recently. We’re not scrawny, but we’re not exactly breaking lifting records in the weight room, if you know what I mean. Lest you think I’m going so far as to say that a lack of Hulk-Hogan-bulk makes us, or any other team, exempt from randomized drug testing, I realize that performance enhancers are widespread and very diverse in their application, effects and detectablility, and, yes, surprise testing does keep us honest, but something about the whole ritual made the effort insincere.
Debates about the legality of steroids have been around for years, and users are all around us – from the American Gladiators to WWE entertainers, Roger Clemens and Marion Jones to Mary J. Blige. Some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment have been linked to illegal use of performance enhancers. Exposing a celebrity’s mistake may, to a certain extent, influence his or her followers to stay on the straight and narrow, but all the stripping of medals in the world will not stop the overall problem, which is that steroid use has percolated into grade school. It used to be that accomplishing a goal without cheating was the only way to go, but the pervading idea nowadays has sadly shifted to “winning at any cost”. As each successive generation outdoes the next and more records are broken at a faster pace, an increase in the pressure on young performers – whether it be in school, sport or other-is obviously pushing stars of the future to resort to illegal drugs. In addition, it has become fairly apparent that our society is largely incapable of learning by example, so it is time that the crackdown stopped waiting for epiphanies that will never come, and started bringing an end to the strata where steroid use is first introduced as “ok”. Instead, the youth has to know that a shot in the arm is not worth a miniscule shot at the big leagues.
What I find so hypocritical about the whole issue is that we are able to publicly shun steroids as independent entities, yet at the same time; we don’t hesitate to worship athletes who may not have achieved their record-shattering performances through their own physicality. Steroid use is in a full fledged swing, yet we continue to act surprised and dismayed to hear about the fall of the latest alleged performance-enhancing drug user. This system of intentional ignorance keeps the sporting world going ’round but what are we all, then, but a bunch of pretenders, crossing our fingers that our heroes have not sunk so low as to prescribe themselves synthetic testosterone? I don’t see the steroid control issue coming to any sort of resolution, until each of us makes a commitment to be discriminatory against cheaters.
If any governing sporting institution expects me to take them seriously, I’d like to see action being taken where steroid use needs to be stopped – early. Sure, I’ll take any test the NCAA randomly selects me for, but until our society shifts its priorities from one-eye-blind worshipping of popular idols, to focus on honesty and integrity in sport, the whole process will continue to produce urine samples, ineffective modeling and allow a continued degradation of ethical action in sports worldwide.