If steroids make you strong, then what’s so bad about them?

By Hunter Ford

Children sometimes say the most profound things and ask the toughest questions don’t they? Recently my eight-year-old son asked me a question about baseball player Barry Bonds and the use of steroids.

The steroid scandal is one reason I don’t care about major league baseball. It just really turns me off. I know that there have been problems with steroid use in other sports, but the flap over steroids just gives me another reason to dislike an extremely boring game played by over-paid, crybaby cheaters.

I’m not un-American or anything. I like baseball as a game. I enjoyed playing as a kid, and there is nothing better than catching a live minor league game on a lazy summer evening. But unless you play the game, or attend in person with cold beer and hot dogs and the San Diego Chicken on hand, it has all the allure of watching paint dry. It is one of the worst spectator sports to watch on television.

But I digress. My original inspiration was the question my young son asked me and the discussion that followed his question.

“Dad?” “Yes, son.” “Dad, do you think Barry Bonds is wrong for taking steroids?”

“Well, son. I’m not a big baseball fan, and I haven’t followed the news that closely…so I don’t know if it has been proven that he used steroids. If he did, it is definitely against the rules, so then…yes, he would be wrong for using them because it is wrong to break the rules.”

“Yeah, but if a rule is dumb, then shouldn’t it be changed?”

“Sure…I believe that if a rule has no real justification, than it should be changed. But there is a process for that and until a bad rule is changed you still have to follow it. Why? Do you think it is a dumb rule for steroids to be illegal?”

“Well, if they help you play better, and they make you strong, then why is that bad?”

That was a good question, so I looked up some information about steroids on the Internet. Anabolic steroids build muscle quickly. It is anabolic steroids that are abused by athletes. They are illegal without a prescription and cannot be legally prescribed for the sole purpose of enhancing athletic performance. They can be used medically for people who have serious diseases or other medical conditions that inhibit muscle growth or cause muscle damage.

Other steroids, called corticosteroids are used as anti-inflammatory agents.

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Now, the side effects of anabolic steroids can cause men to develop female characteristics like enlarged breasts and for women to grow facial hair. In both sexes, abuse of anabolic steroids can cause heart attacks, mood swings and fits of rage.

“There are a lot of side effects of steroids,” Kenneth Mautner, MD of Emory University was quoted on WebMD. “They are not good for you. It is like Russian roulette. Five people may take them and have no long-term problem. The sixth may end up dead.”

Yet according to a few doctors and bioethicists, steroid use is not as dangerous as some want us to believe. The concern over steroids — and performance-enhancing drugs in general — is misplaced, they argue. According to Adrian Dobs, an endocrinologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, for most steroid users the likelihood of “something terrible or catastrophic” happening is “probably pretty low.” Moreover, argues Norman Fost, a pediatrician and head of the University of Wisconsin’s bioethics program, “the claim that there’s something immoral about using these drugs is based on very sloppy thinking or simple hypocrisy.”

After weighing the pro and cons of steroid use, I told my son I thought they should remain illegal.

“It looks like there is pretty good evidence to support the fact that steroids are very dangerous, at least for some people,” I reasoned. “If they make some people sick but help others, then I guess it’s not fair. It’s not fair if some people can benefit from them and others.”

My son looked at me and, with a puzzled expression, replied, “Well, I have a friend who is allergic to chocolate. Is it not fair for me to be able to eat chocolate?”

“Okay, let’s think of it this way,” I said. “It’s not fair for some people to work hard, eat right, exercise and practice really hard, and for others to try and use a medicine to make them play better.”

My son was contemplating that thought and was on the verge of asking me another impossible question.

“Hey! You want some chocolate?” I asked.

“Sure! You got some?”