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Staring down steroids: some sports stars now admit to taking steroids. What about the teens who look up to them?

A news article in the San Francisco Chronicle last December finally confirmed what many sports fans had suspected. According to the paper, Jason Giambi, a one-time MVP and New York Yankees all-star, earlier told a California grand jury that he had taken steroids. The same investigation revealed that slugger Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants and other top athletes may also have gotten an unfair advantage from using steroids.

"It's starting to hit home that steroid use may be common among our sports heroes," says Bruce Svare, the author of Reforming Sports Before the Clock Runs Out. "For people who love honest competition and admire the talent and hard work of athletes, this scandal is [unacceptable]."

Perhaps more troubling than the uncertainty clouding professional sports are the accounts of widespread steroid use among teens. According to a recent article in Newsweek magazine, more than 300,000 8th- to 12th-graders experimented with steroids in 2003. Svare thinks the number is even higher. "I've seen studies that put the figure closer to a million," he told JS.

Anabolic Steroids and Side Effects

What exactly are steroids, and why are they so dangerous?

Steroids are hormones, natural chemicals in our body that affect growth and other functions. An anabolic steroid--an artificial form of the male hormone testosterone (tes-TAHS-tah-rone)--tricks cells into producing more muscle proteins. The drug may be injected, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin.

While doctors can legally prescribe steroids to treat certain illnesses, some athletes use them to improve on-field performance. Steroid abusers can exercise for much longer periods without tiring, enabling them to rapidly gain strength, weight, and muscle tone.

But steroid use often comes with serious side effects. In teen bodies, anabolic steroids can actually stunt growth. The chemicals signal the bones to slow or permanently shut down development. This happens at a time when kids are sprouting toward their adult height. Over time, steroid abusers face an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, infertility, liver failure, and other ailments.

Steroid abusers often undergo negative personality changes as well. At times, many feel uncontrollable anger. They can become more aggressive and violent. Some experience intense depression.

Tragedy in Texas

That's apparently what happened to Taylor Hooton, a talented high school pitcher from Plano, Texas. In 2002, he secretly used steroids. After going off the drugs, Taylor suffered a withdrawal-induced depression. In July 2003, a month after his 17th birthday, he committed suicide.

In response to Taylor's death, his family created a foundation to raise awareness about steroids and their dangers. "I don't think most people realize how widespread steroid use is becoming," Don Hooton, Taylor's dad, told JS. "Coaches, teachers, friends, and parents need to know what to look for and who to talk to."

Fair Play?

Beyond the health risks, steroid abuse destroys fair play. "It would change my view of the other team if I knew they were using [steroids]," says Ian Sandier, 17, a third baseman at Emporia High School in Emporia, Kansas. "They're using something besides their natural ability and hard work. Basically, it's cheating."

Many people agree. Baseball fans now question whether the homerun records of Barry Bonds, a seven-time MVP, should be honored if he has indeed used anabolic steroids.

"Strong Steps"

Athletic success is often why teammates, coaches, and parents have been only too willing to ignore steroid abuse among teens. But efforts are being made to address the problem. Oregon Health and Science University in Portland has developed programs designed to educate young athletes--both male and female--about anabolic steroids and other drugs. "We show kids other ways to achieve their athletic and fitness goals through nutrition and training," says Linn Goldberg, who founded the programs.

Many people are calling for another remedy: testing high school athletes for steroids. "We could clean this up real quick if we devoted more money to testing," insists Svare. But most schools are unable or unwilling to pay for the tests, which are expensive.

Major League Baseball finally seems ready to set an example. In January, the league announced tougher penalties for players who test positive for steroid use. (A previous testing program was widely attacked as too lenient.)

"This is something for everybody's sake," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said about the new standards. "The sport, the players, the clubs, the fans, everybody."


Students should understand

* an investigation has revealed that well-known athletes have used anabolic steroids in an effort to gain a competitive edge;

* many teens have admitted to abusing steroids, exposing themselves to possible health and emotional risks associated with the drugs.


Ask students: "What are anabolic steroids? What physical changes would a person who uses steroids hope to gain?"


For females, steroid abuse can bring about masculinelike physical changes, such as increased facial hair and a deepening of the voice. For males, abuse of the drugs can lead to headaches, development of breasts, and infertility.


MAIN IDEA: What are some of the side effects associated with anabolic steroid abuse? (Steroids can stunt growth and increase the likelihood of developing a serious illness such as cancer, heart disease, or liver failure. The drug can also lead abusers to experience violent mood swings and severe depression.)

MAKING INFERENCES: Why do some people believe that athletes who abuse anabolic steroids are cheating? (Anabolic steroids can help an athlete improve his or her on-field performance and physical stamina. Some people view this as a form of cheating because steroid abusers are gaining an advantage that is not the result of their natural abilities or effort.)


STEROIDS AND OTHER DRUGS: What performance-enhancing drugs, besides anabolic steroids, do some athletes use to help elevate their on-field performance and prolong their playing careers? Students should write a research paper on such drugs, concluding whether achievements and records set by drug-abusing athletes are tainted.



* Individuals, groups, and institutions: How teenagers, as well as famous athletes, are abusing anabolic steroids to improve their on-field performance, despite the health risks associated with the drugs.

* Culture: How the validity and integrity of some athletes and leagues are being questioned because of the steroid scandal.



* Monroe, Judy, Steroids, Sports, and Body Image (Enslow Pub., 2004). Grades 7-8.

* Miklowitz, Gloria D., Anything to Win (Dell Pub., 1989). Grades 5-8.


* InfoFacts: Steroids /Steroids.html

* American Academy of Pediatrics: Steroids

* Select the letter of the word, phrase, or number that best completes each sentence.

--6. Doctors legally prescribe anabolic steroids to --.

A. treat certain illnesses

B. help athletes improve their performance

C. trick the body into producing more cells

--7. The testing policy of--was recently revised to include tougher penalties for steroid abuse.

A. the National Collegiate Athletic Association

B. the National Football League

C. Major League Baseball

--8. People who abuse steroids face an increased risk of --.

A. cancer, heart disease, and infertility

B. liver failure, depression, and mood swings

C. Both A and B are correct.

--9. Some people believe athletes who abuse steroids are cheating because --.

A. those athletes are gaining an unfair advantage over others

B. only well-paid athletes can afford to purchase steroids

C. the drug is only sold in the U.S.

--10. One proposed remedy to curb steroid abuse among teens involves --.

A. drug testing for high school athletes

B. charging higher taxes for sales of steroids

C. having Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi talk to teens about the dangers of drug abuse


6. A

7. C

8. C

9. A

10. A
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Article Details
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Author:McCollum, Sean
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 7, 2005
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