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Steelers Steelers' Washington: Baseball should ban steroids

Monday, June 03, 2002

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Steroids have been banned for the past 13 years in the National Football League, and at least one Steelers player believes it's time for baseball to follow.

"I don't see why not," cornerback Dewayne Washington said. "We're all professional sports. Why not baseball? Why not professional soccer? I think all should be tested, so you're on an even playing field with all professional sports."

While baseball does not test for steroids, NFL players are subject to year-round random steroids testing. A positive test can bring a four-game suspension.

 
 
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WHO IS TESTED?

All players in the preseason.

Weekly preseason, regular season and postseason tests, and periodic off-season tests with players selected by computer on a coded or "blind" basis.

Reasonable cause testing for players with prior steroid involvement or where medical or behavior evidence warrants.

Source: nflmedia.com

   
 

Pete Rozelle, the late commissioner of the NFL, unilaterally adopted steroids testing in 1987 for all NFL players, but no punishment was meted out until 1989. Current Commissioner Paul Tagliabue began year-round random testing in 1990 and the NFL Players Association gave its approval for all the league's substance-abuse testing in 1994.

Most recently, the NFL -- with approval from the union -- has banned the use of ephedra and other energy-boosting stimulants including high levels of caffeine and will include the newly banned substances in their random tests. Many believe the impetus for these new bans came with the death of Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer from heat exhaustion in training camp last summer. No ephedra was found in his system, but he was known to take the substance.

"It's probably waking them up to say maybe this is not a good substance for guys to take," Washington said.

While the Steelers and other NFL players must now worry about how much caffeine or ginseng they swallow, baseball players have a free hand to virtually ingest anything. Some even keep substances that would be banned in the NFL in their open lockers in the clubhouses.

Washington and some of his teammates, though, don't blame baseball players for taking steroids.

"It's not illegal in their sport, so I don't blame them at all for trying to get an edge because that's what it's all about," Washington said. "We're out here to try to win games, and guys are going to do whatever it takes."

Tackle Wayne Gandy sees it as making a level playing field one way or the other.

"If you ban steroids in baseball, then ban it. It's different if they were testing and guys were getting away with it. But if everybody has the same opportunity for everything, then whatever's banned is banned.

"If we're in track and field and something's banned and you took it to win, then you lose. But if I have the chance, that's human nature. Until you tell me not to do it, it's like raising a kid, he's going to keep doing it until you tell him not to. Actually, is it the players or the league that has let this happen? It's like anything else. If you told these guys right now there's no longer any steroids, what's going to happen?"

Generally, football players are grateful that steroids are banned in the NFL. Gandy said he's glad they've banned them. It has removed the pressure to take them and eased the health risks associated with the substances.

Football has a history of steroids use because the substance builds muscle and no other major team sport valued extra muscle the way football did. There was rampant use of it in the 1970s and 1980s in the NFL.

"Each sport is different," Gandy said. "Steroids use in a sport in which you're running a lot more is more dangerous, probably. There's more standing in baseball so there's probably less risk of heart failure. I don't know."

Gandy empathizes with modern baseball players whose records have come into question, such as the recent surge of home runs. Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds have, in recent years, obliterated Roger Maris' long-standing home run record of 61 in 1961. Bonds crushed 72 last season.

"I wouldn't want people to diminish what Sosa and McGwire have done on the field," Gandy said. "If there's no testing now [in baseball], that means there's never been testing, so that means that all your greats could have been on something at some point to heal an injury. You go back 50 years ago, there were certain things you probably could take to get over swelling and things like that. Actually breaking a couple records probably has pulled a couple more fans back to the game."

Steelers trainer John Norwig hailed the ban of all stimulants in the NFL.

"Stimulants affect your cardiovascular system, make you more alert and, some claim, more aggressive. It dehydrates you. There's a concern that someone would take a stimulant and it would be an unfair advantage, so they're trying to make a level playing field."

Jerome Bettis will be permitted to keep on using ephedra because it is contained in the inhaler and medication he uses as an asthmatic. "As long as you report it and have the paperwork that follows through," Norwig noted.

What bothers many NFL players is not only that some banned substances can be purchased over the counter, but that the banned substance might be in the supplement and not appear on the list of ingredients on the bottle or can.

"The unfortunate thing about it is guys are taking stuff they can buy at nutrition stores or health food stores, and the ingredients they list on the bottle are not accurate to what's actually inside the bottle," said tight end Mark Bruener, the Steelers player representative. "That's how players get into trouble."

Paul Wiggins, a former Steelers lineman, was suspended in 1997 after testing positive for Androstenedione, or Andro, the same substance Mark McGwire admitted to using the same year he hit 70 home runs. Wiggins claimed he did not know he even took a banned substance.

"That's what's frustrating for us as NFL players," Bruener said. "Here we're trying to condition our bodies into the best possible shape we can be and we read articles about things you can take, and you take these things believing that you're doing something good for your body. However, because of the ingredients on some of these things that aren't listed on the outside of the bottle, you're harming yourself."

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