With the return of baseball and a new book on Alex Rodriguez released
this week, a fresh round of congressional posturing about steroids is
Why is it Congress's business?
I asked U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.,
about that for my next TV special, "Don't Even Think about Saying
That!," which will air this Friday on ABC.
"This is part of our duty," Cummings says, "to protect the American
people." Steroids are "a serious public-health problem."
Stearns added, "Teenagers commit suicide."
And Congress will fix it all.
Of course, people like Dr. Gary Wadler testify in Congress that steroids
do horrible things.
"The threat is dying! The threat is suicide!" Wadler told me.
I'd heard such scary claims for years. Death by steroids. "Roid rage"
worthy of after-school specials.
Years ago, when a pro wrestler beat me up, I was told that steroids
drove him to do it. Steroids were blamed for wrestler Chris Benoit
killing himself and his family, and teenage baseball star Taylor
But Dr. Norman Fost, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin, says
it's all bunk. The anti-steroid movement, he says, is filled with
hysteria and hype.
"The horror stories about the medical claims . . . some of them are just
frankly made up."
Fost insists there's no correlation between injectable steroids and
To my surprise, Wadler admits that's true. And he's not so certain about
other claims. When I asked him if steroids cause strokes, he said, "It's
on a possible list."
"The likelihood of anabolic steroid abuse being associated with heart
disease is real."
Note the waffle words like "possible" and "associated." He uses them
because unlike smoking and cancer there are no long-term epidemiological studies that show steroids
cause those diseases.
Every drug is "associated" with side effects.
Advil is associated with ulcers and shock.
It's not that steroids are perfectly safe. But why single them out?
"We don't stop Natasha Richardson from skiing," Fost notes. "We don't
stop people from eating lemon meringue pie ... People everywhere take
enormous risks way greater than even the hyped-up risks of steroids."
Yes, steroids use is associated with hair loss, acne, testicular atrophy
and even growing male breasts. But Fost says those side effects would be
minimized if steroids were legal.
"If athletes are going to use these things, it would be better to have
them on the table where informed doctors can help them get the right
drug with the right dose and fewer side effects.
That's not good enough for Wadler. "I don't think you supervise ... the
abuse of a drug."
For Wadler, "abuse" is any use that's not medically necessary. But
entire fields of medicine are devoted to "unnecessary" procedures
breast enhancement, hair replacement, etc. Consenting adults should be
free to do pretty much whatever they like to their own bodies.
If steroids are such a terrible threat, there must be lots of
high-profile deaths. But Wadler couldn't cite any.
The Chris Benoit 'roid-rage murders and suicide? The medical examiner
later said there was no evidence proving the testosterone he was taking
caused the crimes. There's evidence that steroids can increase
aggression in some people, but, Fost says, "The overwhelming examples of
criminal behavior by professional athletes has nothing to do with
Taylor Hooton's suicide?
"There's no evidence of steroids producing suicidal behavior."
Hooton was taking other risky drugs like Lexapro,
which has been shown to cause suicidal thinking.
That wrestler who hit me later said he did it because his boss told him to.
Health issues aside, what about sportsmanship?
"I don't know why you would think this is cheating any more than the
hundred of other things athletes do to enhance their performance," Fost
Tiger Woods improved his eyesight with surgery. "Janet Evans won a gold
medal in swimming," Fost noted, "and bragged about a greasy swimsuit
that she was sure had a lot to do with her victory."
Wadler defends the anti-steroid rule because "abuse represents a
significant risk to health and, in fact, enhances a criminal element."
But there's only a criminal element because zealots like Wadler insist
on making steroid use illegal!