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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Can Sports Management Stop Steroid Use?

In the months prior to this fall, no one could browse through a newspaper sports section; tune a television set to ESPN; or listen to a sports talk radio station without being aware of facts, speculations and opinions regarding the recent revelations about the use of steroids in Major League Baseball.

We have been informed about parents who are outraged at the example steroid use sets for our youth. Journalists speculate about who has lied and what is the degree of alleged falsity in players’ statements. Hall of Fame induction potential of alleged and proven steroid users has been debated. Former players have commented on the implications of such behavior. When Rafael Palmeiro returned to the field after his 10-game suspension resulting from a positive test for steroid use, the initial reaction of fans was analyzed as to the ratio of cheering and booing.

The larger question is: What is the solution to stopping what is widely believed to be a dangerous and unethical practice in all of sports? The purpose of this article is to analyze the situation from a sports management standpoint and define the roles professionals have in slowing if not stopping the spread of steroid use in professional sports and, more importantly, collegiate and scholastic sports.

As all of us who have studied the discipline of sports management know, management has been defined in many ways. For the purpose of this essay, the most appropriate definition can be referenced in Francis J. Bridge and Libby L. Roquemore’s text Management for Athletics/Sport Administration Theory and Practice, fourth edition:”Management is defined as the achievement of predetermined objectives working through others.”

The predetermined objective here is the elimination of steroid use in sports. In order to work through others, a manager should know what responsibilities are designated to whom and what authority, power and expertise each person possesses. The expectation should be for each person to use his or her abilities and resources to the fullest capacity to carry out such responsibilities.

President Bush proclaimed his leadership position in this objective during his January 2004 State of the Union Address when he said:

“The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous…I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead…get rid of steroids now.”

Bush, the former managing general partner of the Texas Rangers, was accused by Jose Canseco of knowing about players using steroids during his time with the Rangers, and doing nothing. His authority over the situation is actually greater as President of the United States than it was as part owner of a baseball franchise. There is a difference between knowing a player is using steroids and having evidence to prove it. Tangible evidence comes in the form of a drug test, which could not be administered without a provision in the collective bargaining agreement players and owners. This was the case when Bush was in the Rangers’ front office.

However, the distribution of steroids as a performance-enhancing substance is illegal and the U.S. Department of Justice, a division of the Executive Branch of the federal government, has the authority to investigate and prosecute violators of such laws. It is not likely a coincidence that the federal prosecutors’ high-profile case against Balco laboratories and their alleged dealings with baseball players — and the subsequent revelations that followed — occurred just shortly after our nation’s chief executive made his January ‘04 statement.

Steroid use is also a concern for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). When steroid use becomes a culture in a professional sport, the competitive advantage it has makes nonuse a threat to a player’s career status. Therefore, not having strict rules and testing for steroid use creates an occupational hazard. This is a concern if the current steroid testing policy is not effective.

The professional athletes themselves have an obligation not to encourage steroid use to younger athletes, but this is not because they are perceived as role models. Their obligation is not to subsidize the steroid industry. The development of any unhealthy, performance-enhancing substance cannot occur without financial support. When professional athletes provide business to chemists who develop these substances, they could be enabling these people to mass-produce the products, making them affordable for college and high school athletes.

Most importantly, coaches and parents must realize their role in preventing the use of steroids in sports by remembering the true educational value of athletics. Many scholars have debated about how sports participation can and cannot be of educational value, but those coaches who consider themselves educators must realize where the education in sport is. The education is not in the victory, but in the quest for victory.

The quest for victory motivates an athlete to develop physically in a healthy manner; study his or her class work to maintain academic eligibility; work with others towards achieving a common goal; and keep a psychologically healthy perspective on success and failure.

Using performance-enhancing substances is like cheating on an exam. You may achieve the goal but you learn nothing in the quest for the goal, therefore the victory is meaningless in the long run. Coaches and parents of young athletes must emphasize this constantly in order for the sports experience to have true educational value. When everyone learns his or her role in stopping the use of performance-enhancing substances, only then will there be real success.