Steroid Information


For as long as athletic competition has existed men have experimented with food products, herbs, medications and just about everything they could think of that might provide a performance enhancing edge. Finally, after much trial and error they eventually hit upon a synthetic version of the male sex hormone testosterone, the pituitary gland produced chemical messengers at the core of what makes men manly. Although the popular media is wrong about anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) being primarily used by athletes, as illustrated by historic and contemporary headlines, these drugs were and are still very much a part of the wide world of sports. From football to track & field, baseball to cycling and apparently everywhere in between performance enhancement via AAS usage seems here to stay. This section will expand on these topics by providing historical background, contemporary factual information, and an individual look at some of the sports that have more prominently featured AAS in recent history. The following is a small informational component of a larger educational website designed to raise awareness. More specifically, it is NOT intended to encourage readers to use AAS for performance enhancement or recreational use, but rather to equip them with the truth about anabolic steroids regarding their past and present roles in athletic performance enhancement.


The story of steroid use in sports began just before the World Weightlifting Championships of 1954. The Soviets had made their Olympic debut in Helsinki in 1952, and made quite an impact, but nothing compared to the show they put on in ‘54. That year they easily dominated most of the weight classes. As the story goes, John Ziegler (team physician for the United States) questioned the Soviet team's doctor who openly stated (as it wasn't against the rules) that his team had been receiving testosterone injections. According to some unconfirmed sources, testosterone preparations were also used by Germany's Olympic team in 1936 during the Berlin Olympics. At that time, there were rumors that an Olympic medal winner had previously used oral testosterone preparations, but benefits from such administration (due to the technology at the time regarding oral testosterone) would have been minor. In the case of the Soviets however, rumors of discarded syringes in their dressing rooms made it clear that they were not using oral steroids, they were using something very different. And everyone wanted to know what it was.

That wasn't the first time anabolic performance enhancement had been attempted. As far back as the original Olympic Games in ancient Greece, athletes ingested various herbs and foods with the hopes of improving their performance. Attempts to increase testosterone were documented as early as 776 BC by Olympic athletes who ingested sheep testicles, which they knew to be a source of Testosterone production (3). The big winner in the 480 B.C. Olympic Games said he ate nothing but meat for 10 months prior to the games. Few people back then knew that meat is especially high in B-vitamins and Creatine, both of which can enhance performance. Although eating a meat only diet for ten straight months, and ingesting sheep testicles might seem extreme to us now, it was a small price to pay for the prize money offered back then. Some records state that up to 1,200 days pay was the reward for winning a single event. Back then there were no participation medals, and they didn't compete for the love of the game, to give it their best shot, or even for pride. They competed for large amounts of both money and prestige (1), which is why they sought out performance enhancers.

That story may sound familiar, like perhaps one you?ve heard on TV or in magazines concerning modern-day AAS use in sports. Today's athletes, especially professional ones, have very lucrative contracts and sponsorship deals. Since steroids are known to enhance performance, reduce and repair injuries, and lengthen careers, using them seems like a no-brainer. So it should be no surprise to most people that when Dr. Ziegler returned to the US, he immediately began researching testosterone and trying to develop something better for his athletes. What he developed, with the help of the Ciba pharmaceutical company was the AAS called Methandrostenolone, more widely known as Dianabol. This late1956 development marked the invention of the first anabolic steroid that wasn't simply testosterone. By the time the early 1960s rolled around, Ziegler's weightlifters were dominating the American weightlifting circuit. Since then, many different steroids, each with their own distinct set of characteristics have been developed. By the late 1960's the East Germans had also entered the fray, and were giving steroids to all athletes as part of a state sponsored program to bolster national pride. In 1968, Dr. Manfred Hoeppner, East Germany's Chief Medical Officer, wrote and submitted a report to the government in which he recommended the total collective administration of steroids to the entire East German Olympic team (2). In the couple of decades that followed this report, the East Germans? presence was felt at every major world-wide sporting event. From the Olympics to World Championships, they took home both medals and new world records.

Of course, there have been other documented instances of athletes taking various drugs and other substances in an attempt to enhance their performance. Thomas Hicks, an American marathoner who won the gold medal in the 1904 Olympics, had to be revived after he drank Brandy lased with cocaine and strychnine. A couple of decades later American sprinters attempted to use nitroglycerine to dilate (expand) their coronary arteries, they later switched to experimenting with the amphetamine Benzidrine. Many such compounds have been used, but none are as powerful (provided such rapid increases in strength) as AAS. For this reason, Dianabol was quickly made available to anyone looking for that extra edge. It helped many bodybuilders, weightlifters, football players, and Olympic athletes train harder, longer and more efficiently and is still the most popular form of AAS today. As all steroids can do, it enhances protein synthesis allowing new muscle to be built at a rate that far exceeds normalcy. Athletes soon realized that the increased muscle power and strength from AAS translated into large financial rewards, and the sports industry has never looked back. If you were an athlete looking to take your career farther, Dianabol was going to be an indispensible part of your dietary intake. At this point, the "steroid arms-race" was in full swing. Athletes all over the world wanted to know where to get them and how to use them, and countries were scrambling to develop the latest forms. Then, oddly, in 1968 there was an official complaint about steroids made by the World Health Organization (WHO). This complaint wasn't placed by sports authorities, or even professional league officials, it came straight from the WHO, and is significant because it laid the foundation for future controls. Steroids were being over produced by the major pharmaceutical firms, and were subsequently shipped to certain third world countries, where doctors would receive a kickback for prescribing large amounts of them. Kenya and Jamaica were the main countries where this was happening, and they (predictably) did very well for themselves at the Olympics that year.

Suddenly, a ban on AAS was issued by the International Olympic Council (IOC), and in the coming decades most professional sports organizations would follow suit. The original ban on anabolic steroids was allegedly enacted for ethical and moral concerns, not safety (as is often thought). Shortly after the first ban on performance enhancers came the first athlete caught breaking that ban. In 1972, an American swimmer named Rick De Mont was found to be using a newly banned substance called ephedrine. At that time, ephedrine was an approved medication for asthma, and Mr. De Mont was an asthmatic with a prescription for it. Two years prior, Arnold Schwarzenegger won his first of seven Mr. Olympia titles, reportedly with the aid of Dr. Ziegler's little blue Dianabol pills. AAS use in the Olympics went on, for the next couple of decades, in a game of Cat & Mouse game between the athletes and the IOC. For the most part, the athletes were very successful in avoiding positive drug tests. The East Germans developed several novel compounds that masked detection, and were only caught when word of them somehow leaked out. The Russians and Americans were also very successful at hiding usage. In the background professional bodybuilding marched onward with competitors taking ever-increasing amounts of AAS and other drugs, pushing the limits and serving as guinea pigs for upper range testing. In 1987 the National Football League introduced its anti-steroid policy, but Major League Baseball was without such restrictions. By the 1990?s, steroids were fully assimilated into society and their use had penetrated every possible sport from the professional ranks down to the high school level. There were the occasional scandals here and there, but nothing really captured the general public's attention for very long.


It's no secret what's going on in baseball, at least half the guys are using steroids. They talk about it. They joke about it with each other. The guys who want to protect themselves or their image by lying have that right. Me? I'm at the point in my career where I've done just about every bad thing you can do. I try to walk with my head up. I don't have to hold my tongue…" (p.36)
- Ken Caminiti, Sports Illustrated, June 2002
steroid abuse in sports Major League Baseball (MLB) was the last professional sports organization in the United States to implement a comprehensive drug testing policy. This all started when an over-the-counter nutritional supplement bottle was seen in Mark McGwire's locker. The bottle in question contained the prohormone Androstendione, a compound which can convert into testosterone once inside the body. Unfortunately, McGwire was en route to breaking a decades' long standing home-run record that season, a fact which punctuated the bottle's discovery. McGwire retired shortly after breaking that record, but the story of steroids in baseball went ahead at full speed. Just a few short years later, Ken Caminiti revealed to Sports Illustrated that he used anabolic steroids, and further estimated that roughly fifty percent of the players in the league were using them as well. This admission opened the floodgates for the media to begin their full scale assault on MLB. Jose Canseco, in a book published during the height of the steroids in baseball media coverage, estimated that 85% of all players in MLB used steroids, and also admitted using them. That's two All-Star big leaguers with two very conflicting percentages. Not only was Caminiti?s story the earliest major media admission of steroid use, but it was also one of the most influential. This chart illustrates the media attention given to AAS in baseball for the weeks preceding and following the Sports Illustrated piece on Caminiti. Week fourteen is when the piece was published. As you can see, his story was followed by hundreds of mainstream media publications.


number of articles to weeks The most famous AAS story in the in sports is that of Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds. Both of those players were suspected of using anabolic steroids when the BALCO scandal was exposed. Giambi told a U.S. grand jury that he used a duo of undetectable steroids known respectively as "the cream" and "the clear," both of which he received from personal trainer Greg Anderson during the 2003 season. Bonds, on the other hand claimed that his trainer told him the substances were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a pain-relieving balm for his arthritis. There were also claims that a transcript of Bonds? entire testimony was leaked to the press, and that according to a transcript of Bonds? Dec. 4, 2003 testimony he admitted to using the following substances: the cream; the clear; human growth hormone; Depot-Testosterone; insulin and; a drug for female infertility that can be used to mask steroid use. Bonds? attorney, Michael Rains, said the leak of the testimony was simply engineered to discredit Mr. Bonds. It is also important to note that none of these substances were banned by MLB at that time.

So did all this media attention hurt baseball? The answer is a resounding "no". Baseball attendance was in a slump before McGwire was en route to his home-run record, but they've been climbing ever since. Are all the additional home runs a result of steroid use? Well, it's easy to say we need to put asterisks on every record set during the "steroid era" of baseball, but that would give too much credit to steroids alone. Of course training methods and nutrition are part of the puzzle, but the other piece is probably not as obvious. In the mid-?90s starting in the American League, and in the late ?90s starting in the National League, home runs started to become more and more common. Although AAS are often blamed, there could be another culprit. The construction of more "homer-friendly" ballparks also has something to do with it. Coors Field, a recent addition to the MLB stable of fields has become the most prolific run-scoring park in the history of MLB. Enron Field was also built (reincarnated into the more media friendly "Minute Maid Park"), actually has a very homer friendly left field line that was (and still may be) a violation of MLB rules. The Milwaukee Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers have also built friendlier fields in recent years, as have the Arizona Diamondbacks. For their part, the Cardinals, Orioles, and White Sox have pulled in the distance from home-plate to their outfield fences as well. Need I also add that the strike zone has become much more beneficial to hitters since the era of Roger Maris? Still, the questions remain, about AAS in Major League baseball. Do major league players use steroids? Of course they do! Can we say that steroids are the reason for the inflated home-run statistics of recent years? Of course not. With multi-million dollar contracts on the line every season, the only fact that we can be sure of is that steroids are being used in baseball, and they will continue to be used for as long as players can get away with it. Congress recently chimed in and pressured MLB into instituting a comprehensive testing policy for their athletes, but AAS use in baseball is unlikely to decline considerably as a result of this...there's just too much at stake!


steroids in football The steroid policy in the National Football League (NFL) began in 1987. But to understand the use of steroids in football, first we need to take a look at the emerging trends in the high school and collegiate ranks. So what's being learned in high school these days? Well, if we examine the heights and weights of members of the annual Parade Magazine's High School All-American Football Teams from 1963-1971, we see no significant changes in the Body Mass Index of these elite high-school athletes. Now, if we take another look and examine those same players? heights and weights but this time we compare 1972-1989, we see a clear trend towards an increase in Body Mass Index (11). These are interesting results, to say the least. If we further consider an elite collegiate program such as Michigan State University, we see this trend again. In 1975, the Spartans' average player weighed 213lbs, and by 2005 that weight had jumped to 236lbs (12).

With regards to football, it would seem that current educational efforts are not working well. High school level AAS education was studied on six different campuses. Two football teams received a lecture on steroids and a four-page handout, two of them were given just the handout, and two teams were controls (didn't receive any education on steroids). Also, at this level, the incidence of self-report of current steroid use was 1.1%. After the athletes received their educational interventions which focused on the possible adverse effects from AAS use, no significant difference in their attitudes toward the use of AAS occurred as compared to the control groups (13). So at least from the results of this study, we can conclude that education in its current form isn't changing the attitudes of elite level football players in high-school. That plus the fact that their getting progressively bigger, makes a strong case.

Using this starting point we can better assess AAS use in professional football. So what does the landscape of professional football look like anyway? This storyline is very similar to that of the high school and collegiate ranks. For example, today's NFL linemen are weighing (on average) well over 300lbs, when roughly 25 years ago they weighed a substantial 50lbs less (13). The most famous story of steroid use in the NFL is that of Lyle Alzado. In 1992 (seven years) after having a successful career in the NFL, Alzado at age 43 died from a very rare form of brain cancer called brain lymphoma. In the years preceding his death, Lyle became an often used symbol of the dangers of steroid abuse. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no medical link between AAS and brain lymphoma (a fact agreed upon by Lyle's primary physician), and there was absolutely no reason for Alzado to believe his condition could have been attributed to his steroid use. He could just as easily have made the exact same evidence-free claim about his Gatorade drinking.

The story of Bill Romanowski is probably the next most influential one concerning AAS in football. Although Romanowski wasn't indicted in the BALCO scandal, he later wrote a book in which he admits that Victor Conte introduced him to several performance enhancing compounds, most notably anabolic steroids (15). Although he was a very good linebacker before he used AAS, people often attribute his tackling ability to them. He is however, probably best remembered for his negative antics. He spit in J.J. Stokes? face, broke somebody's finger at the bottom of a pile up, kicked a downed player in the head several times in one incident, broke a quarterback's jaw with an illegal helmet to helmet hit, fought former boxer Charles Haley in training camp, often speared wide receivers illegally, broke another players? ocular cavity, and was always involved in various shoving matches and on-field altercations. Unfortunately, like Lyle, all of this has been attributed to his use of AAS. Of course, football players use steroids, and of course this occurs at the high-school, collegiate, and professional levels. It's a fact of the game that a very skilled smaller player will usually get beaten by a very skilled, but considerably larger player. And once again, as long as there is prestige and money to be earned from playing football, steroids will be present.


steroid injection As expressed earlier Olympians throughout history have been using performance enhancers, but probably the two most famous for having been discredited due to AAS use are World Class sprinters Ben Johnson of Canada, and more recently Marion Jones of the USA.

Ben Johnson was considered the fastest man in the world. After breaking the world sprinting record in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, he tested positive for the anabolic steroid Winstrol (Stanozolol). For anyone who has never heard his coach tell the story, Charlie Francis has provided ample evidence for the unreliability of the testing (3). Briefly he states that the accepted drug clearance time for Winstrol (at that time) was +/- three days for the oral form and +/- 14 days for the injectable. Ben had used the compound 28 days prior to the race, yet the parent compound was still found. This is especially odd, since the parent compound only lasts for 45 minutes after administration. The testers, therefore, must be making the claim that Ben ingested it just prior to the actual race. Both he and his coach, Mr. Francis, denied this. In fact, it was later discovered that someone as lean as Johnson may have even been clear (the drug would have left his body) in less than 3 days! Some oral steroids at that time (Oxandrolone, better known as Anavar) couldn't even be found on tests at that time. So even the test results remain very suspicious, Ben Johnson was suspended, and stripped of his Olympic Gold medal.

On Friday, October 5, 2007 the Washington Post reported, "Track star Marion Jones has acknowledged using steroids as she prepared for the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney and is scheduled to plead guilty today in New York to two counts of lying to federal agents about her drug use and an unrelated financial matter, according to a letter Jones sent to close family and friends. Jones, who won five medals at the Sydney Olympics, said she took the steroid known as "the clear" for two years beginning in 1999, according to the letter. A source familiar with Jones's legal situation who requested anonymity confirmed the relevant facts that were described in the letter." Marion has since very publically apologized, "I want to apologize to you all for all of this. I am sorry for disappointing you all in so many ways." She was released in September 2008 from a Texas federal prison after completing most of her six-month sentence for lying about doping, and for her role in a check-fraud scam. The New York Times first reported that Marion has been working on her basketball skills and conditioning in San Antonio since October ‘08. Jones told the newspaper she received a call in May from someone in the NBA asking if she might play in the WNBA. "I thought it would be an interesting journey if I decided to do this," Jones said. "It would give me an opportunity to share my message to young people on a bigger platform; it would give me an opportunity to get a second chance." She played college basketball at North Carolina, where she was the starting point guard on the Tar Heels' National Championship Team in 1994. She told the Times that she hopes to play in Europe this winter and in the WNBA next season. I for one believe she deserves that second chance and I'll wish her well, though I hardly think the woman once considered the best female athlete on the planet will need it.

So where does that leave us? Well, the world of sports has certainly embraced the use of AAS, or at least the athletes have. The use of steroids in sports is definitely visible, but no one can properly estimate how widespread a problem it is, though this often precisely what the media claims to do. Statistically speaking it's a very elusive topic, and as cited above, even insider sources often present very conflicting data. One thing however, remains true regardless of the statistics, congressional hearings, or admissions of guilt. Although some athletes still compete for the love of the game, prestige often accompanies success. And today, just as two millennia ago, athletes are often given the opportunity to compete for the whole ball of wax (prestige, success & money). This is why they first sought out performance enhancers in the ancient Greece, and this is why athletes are using steroids in sports today…and of course tomorrow!


  1. Wm. Blake Tyrrell, "The Smell of Sweat: Greek Athletics, Olympics, and Culture," Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Wauconda. 2004.
  2. "Hormonal Doping and Androgenization of Athletes: " Franke et. al
  3. "A Brief History of Drugs in Sport" by Charlie Francis
  4. "Speed Trap" by Charlie Francis
  5. JAMA 1988 Dec 16;260(23):3441-5.
  6. Am J Dis Child. 1990 Jan;144(1):99-103.
  7. J Sch Nurs. 2005 Dec;21(6):333-9.
  8. J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Nov;18(4):908-17.
  9. Monitoring the Future [MTF], n.d
  10. Journalism. 5(1). 51-68, 2004.
  11. Percept Mot Skills. 1993 Apr;76(2):379-83.
  12. (Michigan State University Dept. of Athletics)
  13. J Adolesc Health Care. 1990 May;11(3):210-4.
  14. (National Football League Statistics)
  15. "Romo My Life on the Edge: Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons."by Bill Romanowski et al. William Morrow Publishing co. 2005.