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News

Steroid use linked to fans

Duke University Pratt School Of Engineering : 27 December, 2006  (Technical Article)
The ongoing furor over the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs by top athletes, stirred most recently by Jose Canseco
'All of the incentives in sports are directed at accomplishing extraordinary results,' says Coleman, senior associate dean of the Duke Law School and professor of the practice of law. 'The implication is that world records, home run records and gold medals can be accomplished every day by any of the people competing. We have lost the sense that records are special; rather they are portrayed as everyday occurrences.'

Athletes snare high-paying contracts and endorsement deals based on their ability to meet those standards.

'Huge bonuses are given for gold medals and world records,' Coleman notes. 'Silver and bronze medals and making the team do not generate corporate sponsorships or media attention. The structure of bonuses and endorsement contracts provide incentives for ordinary athletes to do whatever it takes to perform in extraordinary fashion.'

Consider Marion Jones. Once considered the top female track-and-field athlete in the world, Jones was labeled a 'failure' in the 2000 Olympics because although she won five medals, but only three were gold, Coleman says. She competed in the 2004 Olympics under a cloud of suspicion about possible steroid use.

'The only reason for her or other gifted athletes to use steroids would be to level the playing field, to maintain their edge over their competitors by doing what the so-called ‘regular’ athletes are doing,' he says. 'In effect, you restore a level playing field by cheating.'

Coleman, who, along with his wife, Duke Law Professor Doriane Coleman, and several world-class athletes, developed an out-of-competition drug testing program for U.S. track athletes, says the message is equally inconsistent when it comes to stating why steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs should be banned.

'Are we doing it because of the danger to health, or for some other reason?' he asks. 'What are the performance-enhancing techniques that are unlawful and why? The fact that it comes out of a bottle is not the answer. Vitamins and other supplements are allowed. Surgery to repair or replace torn ligaments is okay.'

Athletic officials and medical researchers have not made a convincing case for why steroids should be prohibited, Coleman says.

'Until we do, and it is consistently communicated, we’re not going to get a handle on this issue,' he says. 'We’ve got to make that case, and make it convincingly. Obviously, young athletes, and middle-aged athletes, don’t believe it right now.'
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