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Saturday Morning Quarterback
Nov 21, 2006 12:00 am
Most of the news about steroids and other performance enhancing substances centers around the BALCO legal case and the tainting of records in baseball and track.
At least one local educator is more worried about the trickle-down effect to the youth in general and Wilson County in particular.
Steve Johnson has been on a crusade for months to rid performance enhancing substances from our schools where student/athletes may be tempted by the opportunities for more playing time or college scholarships to pop a pill or take a shot to build muscle, speed and endurance.
"I wasn't aware it had (moved) down to the high school level," said Johnson, a former Lebanon High assistant principal who now teaches at Gladeville Elementary. "I've seen what it did to baseball. People think baseball's like wrestling, it's not real.
"People have tried to make records dishonestly."
Johnson strongly believes Wilson County schools need a policy concerning steroids and the like. The fact the system already bans what are known as "street drugs" should apply to performance enhancers as well, he feels.
"We have screenings to make sure athletes are healthy," Johnson said. "You don't want anybody who is going to drop dead out there.
"Steroids can do that."
Johnson has taken his case to the school board and said "all five members are serious in favor of doing something."
One of those members is Greg Lasater, who has been involved in coaching at some level from youth league to middle school to high school ever since I returned to Lebanon 12 years ago. He agrees with much of what Johnson is saying.
"If we don't have (a policy) as it pertains to steroids, body-enhancing drugs, we need that," Lasater said. "We preach to our kids we don't need to do drugs, but if you're using any type of enhancement drugs that make you stronger, faster, we're sending the wrong message."
That's one of Johnson's points, noting athletes who use are making it unfair for their non-using teammates and opponents alike.
"What is the liability of a student who uses steroids and gets a scholarship opposed to a student who doesn't use steroids and doesn't get a scholarship," Johnson asked rhetorically. "What is the message you're sending that person? 'Don't be stupid, you got to cheat too'.
"All of the lessons of the good things about sports can get lost."
Steroids have been part of major-league sports long enough that we've seen some of the long-term consequences. The premature deaths of football star Lyle Alzado and baseball MVP Ken Caminiti should be at the top of the list. But that's easy for a middle-age person to say. It's harder for a 16-year-old with visions of athletic glory to look past his (or her) playing days and envision himself with health problems, which could start even while he's using.
"Suppose you're a mediocre athlete but you have a chance to take this pill or an injection and you get a shot to go to a $40,000 university," Johnson said. "I wouldn't do it. But I might have if I was 16."
Or even younger. Lasater coaches a football team of 7- and 8-year-olds in Mt. Juliet. At a recent practice, one of his 8-year-old players was struggling and said if he took steroids, it would help his game.
"At that point, I stopped practice and went to the sideline and talked to him and told him he would get better by practicing, by working hard, getting along, eating properly and doing what you're supposed to do to keep in physical shape the right way," Lasater said. "That sort of bothered me. As young as an 8-year-old mentioning it made me stop and think about it even more."
Lasater said he thinks the steroids issue will be on the board's "to-do" list for discussion at a workshop after the first of the year.
"We don't let kids take illegal drugs at school, we kick them out," Lasater said. "In my mind, we ought to do the same things with steroids. They're illegal unless they're prescribed."
Johnson said: "They keep talking about street drugs and steroids like they're two different things. But to me they are two drugs that are illegal."
To Johnson, the solution is simple.
"If you test right here and drop the hammer and give them a four-week suspension (from sports), you'll stop this right here," said Johnson, noting once it's taken care of locally, spread the program. "I urged (the board) to do something here and then doing something statewide.
"Our athletes will be at a disadvantage (against "bulked-up" outside competition) just like the ones who are clean now are."
But like everything else in this world, it comes down to money and who's going to pay for it. The school system has an agreement with University Medical Center which provides free testing of street drugs. But screening for steroids and other enhancers could cost $100 per test. I don't think taxpayers should pony up the money. But even $100 could break the bank of low-income families. They shouldn't have to pay to play.
Lasater said he would have to give that issue more thought.
Johnson indicated cleaning up our schools is worth whatever the cost. But he brought up another interesting point.
"For the kids who can't afford the tests, they couldn't afford to buy (steroids)," he said.
Money is no object for Barry Bonds and other pro athletes who can buy state-of-the-art human growth hormone or whatever it may be to bulk up and break records. The thought of Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's home-run record after producing numbers while supposedly being under the influence of the Cream and the Clear is disturbing.
Kids shooting up or popping pills to artificially bulk up their bodies to play a sport or win an athletic scholarship is frightening.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at email@example.com.