On the Supposed Doping Epidemic

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Nina Burik
The NCAA describes doping, the use of prohibited performance-enhancing drugs, as “a part of sport; whenever there is a combination of competition and rules of engagement, there are competitors who seek an unfair competitive advantage.” This statement would suggest an irrevocable culture of illegal drug use in college, and even high school, athletics. Instances such as the Clemson University doping scandal only bolster this idea. Yet many student athletes believe the issue is far less severe than how it is depicted in the media. 
Lewis Burik, a former member of the Stanford football team, believed the so-called “epidemic” was being blown out of proportion. When asked about performance-enhancing drugs throughout his college and high school athletic career, he said, “To my knowledge, no one I know has ever used steroids.” Although this may come as a surprise to many, Burik noted the NCAA’s preventative measures. Athletes are subject to random urine testing for said drugs at any point. Burik said, “A lot of my teammates have gotten tested, but none of my teammates have tested positive for these illegal drugs.” In performing spontaneous checks, the NCAA has created a culture where the fear of getting caught outweighs the desire to use performance enhancing drugs. The majority of athletes know if they do engage in doping, they will likely be caught and subsequently suspended.
When asked about the Clemson doping scandal, Burik was under the impression that the whole incident was a simple mistake. “There was a protein shake that they gave all the players that contained a banned substance, but they didn’t know it was banned” Burik explained. Although it was the nutrition staff who gave them the shakes, three Clemson players failed the NCAA’s tests. As a result, they were suspended from playing in the Cotton Bowl and their national championship game later that season. Burik said, “It goes to show how ambiguous the word steroid is.” If the coaching and nutritional staff are unaware of what substances are banned or not, there is significant room for miscommunication, and an underlying uncertainty of the word steroid’s true meaning. “I mean, is a protein shake a steroid?” Burik questioned. In many respects, by the NCAA’s strict policies, it could be considered as one. “It boosts your performance, you recover faster, it’s all very fine lines,” he argued. 
Several of Latin’s athletes looking to play a sport in college agreed with Burik’s claims. Sophomore Alanna Madry, said, “I have never known someone that has done performance-enhancing drugs, or even heard of anyone in my sport doing it.” Although she is only a sophomore, Madry is a highly competitive lacrosse player, and is actively involved with college coaches and recruiting staff. But despite the intensity of her travel team and the college recruitment process, she has never even heard of any of her teammates abusing illegal drugs for athletic rewards. With regards to the benefits of doping, Madry added, “For team sports like lacrosse, it would just make you faster or stronger, but wouldn’t improve say your stick skills, hand eye coordination, or shot placement.” Perhaps this is the reason why both Burik and Madry, athletes of larger teams, are so oblivious to the ‘epidemic’. For this exact argument, Madry said, “I think that doping is more prevalent in individual sports like boxing, cycling, tennis, swimming, gymnastics, running, etc.”
Sophomore Lucy Mitchell, a varsity tennis player, seemed to corroborate Madry’s claim about the prevalence of steroids in individual sports. She said, “I definitely haven’t encountered them in my own experiences in junior tennis, however several times over the past few years there have been reports of doping in the professional world.” She used professional tennis player Maria Sharapova as an example. Sharapova was banned from the sport for almost two years after being found guilty of performance-enhancing drug use. Mitchell detailed the danger that comes with the professional use of illegal drugs. “Players that use performance-enhancing drugs affect not only the integrity of the sport that they’re playing, but also the kids that are growing up with them as their role models,” Mitchell said. In this respect, professional doping can directly affect drug abuse at the college and high school levels. In contrast to the perspectives of Madry and Burik, Mitchell’s does feel that steroid use is a problem in her sport.
Although the use of performance-enhancing drugs is present in various single-person sports, it is safe to say that they are far less prevalent than it may seem. In both Burik’s and Madry’s experiences in team sports, doping has not been an issue. Not only has this “epidemic” been exaggerated in the media, but its meaning as a whole is rather ambiguous. What truly is a steroid? As brought up by Burik, there cannot be a steroid-free athletic world, until the term itself is more clearly defined by the NCAA. The abuse of performance-enhancing drugs, in Burik’s words, “Certainly exists, but it’s a very small minority of people who play the sport; it’s not what I would call an epidemic.”