Leveling the Playing Field
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The discovery rocked the sports world. The Food
and Drug Administration promptly declared THG an illegal substance.
Using the UCLA-created test, international sports organizations
re-examined hundreds of urine samples still in storage. Four NFL
players, four U.S. track-and-field athletes and one British sprinter
tested positive for the drug. In February, the top executives at
the Bay Area nutritional-supplements lab suspected of distributing
THG — along with a track coach and the personal trainer of San Francisco
Giants slugger Barry Bonds — pleaded innocent to charges in a 42-count
federal indictment that they illegally supplied performance-enhancing
drugs to dozens of athletes. They could face prison terms as well
as thousands of dollars in fines if convicted.
There is tremendous variation in how the governing bodies of each
sport handle positive tests. The IOC imposes a two-year ban on anyone
caught using steroids, so the track athletes who tested positive
for THG will be excluded from participating in this summer's Olympic
Games. Britain has gone further; UK Athletics, the British track-and-field
federation, banned sprinter Dwain Chambers for life from participating
in the Olympics after it was determined he had taken THG. And retesting
of specimens means champions cannot consider themselves home free
if they evade detection the first time around. Some athletes — and
their lawyers — try to fight these penalties by contesting the results.
But the ramifications of Catlin's breakthrough extend beyond sanctions.
They threaten the very credibility of athletic achievement. Now,
sports feats are tainted by the specter of athletes using undiscovered
substances to make themselves stronger and faster, simultaneously
risking their health and cheating their competitors and fans. The
seeming ubiquity of drug use may also entice millions of adolescent
athletes, influenced by the behavior of their sports idols, to conclude
that drugs are a necessary element of competition. President Bush,
in his January State of the Union address, went so far as to call
for a halt to the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.