February 18, 2022

The Steroid Era

By Thomas Calhoun

Anyone who follows sports know’s the term steroids, PED’s or “juicing”, but what does that really mean? According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, anabolic steroids are drugs that help the growth and repair of muscle tissue. They are synthetic hormones that imitate male sex hormones, specifically testosterone. Medically, the drug is sometimes used for treatments all the way from hormonal issues to battling cancer. But in sports, the word steroids carries a completely different meaning. 

Steroids in the sports world were first recorded in the 1950’s when Russian weightlifters were given high levels of testosterone to improve performance and recovery time. The drug is meant to help your muscle tissue recover faster so that you can get back in the gym and continue to build on your progress. The problem is, this was not usually by choice for athletes at the time. It is documented that in the 70’s and 80’s, East German female swimmers were given anabolic steroids and other drugs by their coaches and trainers. Girls as young as 11 years old were given these drugs without consent from themselves or their parents. Another recurring issue was that there were no set rules on what was legal and illegal, so many teams and individuals tried to walk the fine line. There were many allegations throughout these decades, but never any action taken. Finally in the late 90’s, the IOC took organized action to create anti-doping rules and regulations. They began testing all Olympic athletes and catching many of them in the 2000 Summer games and the 2002 Winter games. Several medals that were awarded in cross country skiing and weightlifting were stripped from contestants after tests coming back positive. It was a real unfair advantage that finally was being brought to bay, or so we thought. 

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive at the beginning of the 2022 Winter games for a banned substance and has refueled tensions between Russia and the rest of the sports world. The Russians athletes are representing the country under The Russian Olympic Committee because of past doping violations. At just 16 years of age, Valieva is unable to obtain the drug Trimetazidine which again falls on her trainers and team. The Olympics are allowing her to continue to compete because she is protected under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by virtue that she is 16 or younger. Despite being allowed to continue, it is uncertain whether Valieva and her team will be able to receive medals as ruled by the International Olympic Committee. This is just the most recent accusation to come from Russia and their athletes since the country was banned in 2014 for major doping violations. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Olympic and U.S. Paralympic Committee’s Sarah Hirshland said, “this appears to be another chapter in the systematic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia ''. It is clear that we have still not reached a level playing field in the Olympic games, but hopefully this instance will continue to push the world towards higher ground.

This brings us to the American stage of the steroid battle, baseball. There is no defined steroid era in baseball either, but it is considered to be the late 80’s through the mid 2000’s. Although steroids were illegal in the sport of baseball, testing for these drugs did not begin until 2003, which leaves a large gap of uncertainty regarding many of the game's greats. Names like Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa were headliners year after year not only for their incredible seasons but also for their skeptical habits. This age made for what some say to be the most exciting time in baseball history, but at what cost? Many superstars had their integrity stripped, and so did the game of baseball. Hundreds of baseball players tested positive for some form of anabolic steroids, but many others did not despite speculation. 

On January 25th, baseball legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens missed out on their last year of Hall of Fame eligibility because of steroid accusations after being on the ballot for a decade. The hall of fame is voted on by baseball writers, and they felt that these players did not deserve to get in because of suspicions regarding PED’s. This ruling came with many mixed emotions as many feel both players should be inducted as there is a lack of evidence in the investigations and the fact that both players dominated the game well before any accusations were made. 

The talk continues to move to making sports clean from any and all performance enhancing drugs to make every sport an even playing field. I think the only way to eliminate doping from all sports is to test every player, multiple times a year no matter what. Furthermore, if an athlete gets caught, make the penalty worse. This would be a very case by case basis, but if the punishment is only a slap on the wrist like it was in the Olympics, then why would anyone stop. More testing and harsher punishments are the only answer to this continuing problem. This is a war that may never be won, but everyone involved has to at least try. 


  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/what-history-anabolic-steroid-use#:~:text=Professional%20athletes%20began%20misusing%20anabolic,Russian%20weightlifters%20were%20given%20testosterone.&text=Other%20countries%2C%20such%20as%20Mexico,smuggled%20into%20the%20United%20States.
  2. https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/steroids/
  3. https://www.espn.com/mlb/topics/_/page/the-steroids-era#:~:text=Unlike%20other%20MLB%20%22eras%2C%22,leaguewide%20PED%20testing%20until%202003.
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christianred/2020/12/03/former-feds-say-barry-bonds-and-roger-clemens-steroid-evidence-indisputable/?sh=1909c1187baa
  5. https://www.espn.com/mlb/news/story?id=3112982
  6. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christianred/2020/12/03/former-feds-say-barry-bonds-and-roger-clemens-steroid-evidence-indisputable/?sh=1909c1187baa

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