The status and money that professional athletes seize by doing what they love is an inspiration to many students. However, sometimes morals are tested in the journey to get there. An athlete can train all their life and still not become the strongest or fastest. So, what is the difference between a world-class athlete and one who is not? One might hope that it is the age-old concoction of blood, sweat and tears – wanting it more than anyone else and training every day to get there. Lately, however, other theories have proven to be true.
Performance enhancing drugs, or ergogenic drugs, are being used by some athletes to enhance their physical abilities. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, some ergogenic drugs that are commonly used by student athletes include anabolic-androgenic steroids, growth hormone and creatine. With professional athletes such as Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and seven-time-consecutive-winner of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong, both being involved with inquiries about PED usage, the question of how far one will go to succeed comes up.
LIU Post men’s basketball coach, Christopher Casey agrees that professional athletes can influence student athletes. “I’m not saying it’s right because it definitely isn’t but you can give a tiny bit of credence to the argument,” he says. Athletes have big egos and a competitive nature, according to Casey, and are always thinking about moving up. If players are doing it and moving up, others might start to think “How can I get away with it too?”
LIU Post is a Division II school and the home of many dedicated athletes. To keep athletes on the right path during their personal athletic journey, Post imposes many drug testing regulations. Drug tests at Post, whether given by the Athletic Department or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) include tests for both recreational and performance enhancing drugs. Due to their expense (a regular drug test goes for about $25.00 and a PED test goes for about $150.00 a pop), PEDs are generally only tested for at the institutional level if a trainer or coach has a “suspicion”, however, the NCAA tests for everything, every time.
According to head athletic trainer Shawn McNamara, “Our regulations stipulate that when a student athlete comes in and will play on one of our sports teams, the student and their parents have to sign a consent form that they can be drug tested at any time.” However, unless a coach or trainer is suspicious of a particular player using illegal substances, the athletes who are tested are chosen at random by an outside drug testing company. About 15 athletes are selected every two weeks and tested for an array of about 8-10 of the most highly used recreational drugs. “We are more concerned about a person driving drunk, harming themselves or others, and representing the college well, than the enhancement,” said McNamara. “The NCAA is worried about everything else in the conglomerate.”
Once a year, the NCAA also randomly chooses athletes to drug test. They test for recreational and performance enhancing drugs. Unlike Post, which in the case of a first positive drug test takes steps to educate the player and help them understand the consequences of drug use, the NCAA suspends the athlete for an entire season after the first positive. If an athlete wants to challenge a test, they can do so at their own expense. “No one has ever denied that they have done something though,” said McNamara.
Eirik Bjorno, senior Journalism student and captain of the men’s soccer team, said that it doesn’t matter if you take PEDs when you are working out at the gym or in the Olympics; the moment you take away fair competition from the sport there is no point in competing. For Bjorno, growing up and watching Armstrong race in cycling was remarkable and finding out that it was all a lie, was devastating. “Athletes are – and should be – held to higher standards,” says Casey, “They represent not only themselves but their institution as well.”
“As a coach it is not only my job to coach them [athletes] in the sport but to coach them off the court too, so they are good quality people in everyday life,” added Casey. It is a common practice for Post coaches to speak to their players about the penalties that come with a positive drug test. “We want to keep the integrity of the Athletic Department and we want to have athletes who are drug free and trying to get better every day, without drugs,” said Athletic Director and head football coach, Bryan Collins.
Unfortunately though, drug testing is random among the athletes and there are some players who have gone all four years without being tested once. “I have personally heard athletes talking about how easy it is to get it [PEDs]. You can get both anabolic steroids and drugs like EPO on the internet,” said Bjorno.
Celebrities often influence our style, attitudes, wants and needs. If you are looking to reach a certain level of success it surely is common to look up to someone who has already reached it. Junior broadcasting major Vaughn Allen, a member of the Post men’s basketball team, also agrees that professional athletes influence student athletes. “If you see a professional taking drugs to better themselves, you might do the same.” It’s not just athletics, Casey reminds us, for example, it can be seen in the financial world too, “Someone will step out of line and benefit from it and others will think, ‘What can I do to get there too?’”
The bottom line is that everyone looks up to someone. Whether you are a world-class athlete or the captain of your college soccer team, you are a leader that others view as a role model. Lance Armstrong’s athletic career is seen as a sham to many these days, but who knows what kind of influence his unethical behavior will have on other athletes. “Professional athletes need to understand the responsibility they have over the younger athletes and their fans,” said Bjorno, “Their actions mirror down in younger ages and the culture is formed by their actions.”