Steroids Are Forever

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As Americans anxiously follow Congress' ongoing efforts to solve what our solons apprarently believe is our leading domestic crisis—steroid use among baseball players—news from science says it's too late.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

In the study, which was completed in October 2006 by the Department of Integrative Medical Biology at Sweden's Umea University, researchers took muscle biopsies from 26 elite powerlifters who have competed at the sport's highest levels. Ten of the volunteers said they were not steroid users, but the other 16 had either admitted using these drugs in the past or said they were currently using them. Not only is it unusual for scientists to study elite athletes of any kind, it's almost impossible to study top athletes who are using steroids in competition.

When the researchers looked at the subjects' muscles through a microscope, they made a surprising discovery: Rather than returning to their original proportions, the muscles of the steroid users who'd stopped taking the drug looked remarkably similar to those of the subjects who were still using. They also had larger muscle fibers and more growth-inducing "myonuclei" in their muscle cells than the nonsteroid users…

When the career statistics of 52 hitters who were cited in Sen. Mitchell's report (or have been alleged to be steroids users by other sources) are measured against the average career statistics for all hitters, there are some substantial differences. For the alleged steroid users, there was a 5.4% improvement in production from ages 28 to 34 based on OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) while the average for all players between 1921-2004 who played at least 10 seasons in the majors was a 2.6% decline over that period.

So should former users be banned for life from sports? Or maybe we should just relax and change the rules so that everybody can enjoy the benefits of scientific progress.

Whole WSJ article here.

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  1. Ban ’em for life. In fact, they should be crucified. And left out for all to see until their bodies completely decompose. That should send the appropriate message to our children.

  2. All professional athletes should be free to choose.

    Choice A: use a drug whose health effects you are concerned about.

    Choice B: find a different job.

    The arms race dynamic is a nagging problem for libertarianism.

  3. joe:

    Nothing wrong with the league enforcing its own regulations. If they want to make an XFL for baseball (XLB?) that allows steroid use, that should be fine too.

  4. the muscles of the steroid users who’d stopped taking the drug looked remarkably similar to those of the subjects who were still using

    This doesn’t explain how a lot of suspects’ bodies started shrinking back to normal size the past couple years as they started feeling the heat.

  5. Ron Bailey continues to miss the point. Lots of people in baseball and lots of people who read Reason have a problem with Congress sticking their nose into the steroid issue. But one can surely condemn Congress without endorsing steroids. Unless you’re Vince McMahon, it’s ridiculous to call steroid use in sports a “benefit of scientific progress”. It distorts the game by crowding out players who value their long-term health. If Ron Bailey wants to start his own baseball league with the likes of Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, he should feel free to do so. He can invite every wild-eyed, back-acned freak he can find to join. He can allow teams to draft gene-spliced gorilla men or robots if he likes. I would hope that Congress would leave him well enough alone. There’s nothing crazy about an MLB patron wanting MLB to ban and renounce steroid use.

  6. Piece of cake:

    1. Become a professional baseball player.
    2. After socking away some savings to live on, take a year or two “sabbatical”, during which juice like a mofo.
    3. Stop taking steroids, and return to playing professional baseball.
    4. Profit!

    Now you get the (according to the study) continuing benefit of the steroid use, while avoiding breaking any pro ball rules against them by only taking them when you were not a pro ball player.

  7. Steroids killed the blogosphere star.

  8. Frankly those results make wanna juice. I do not have a future as a pro athlete but the cosmetic effects are enticing.

  9. Were the OPS comparisons adjusted? Any baseball fan can tell you that the game as it’s played in the 21st century is a lot more slugging-oriented than the game played in the 1920s, steroids or no steroids. Changes to the rules, or to the equipment, or to the typical baseball park have made long-term differences in the game’s statistics which need to be compensated for to make any meaningful comparison.

    Not only that, but how much of that increase in performance is attributable to advances in medical science unrelated to steroids? Modern training techniques and nutritional regimens, to say nothing of the array of surgeries which allow older hitters to recover from what may have been crippling injuries several generations ago.

    Not only that, but why is an increase in offense prima facie evidence of steroid abuse? Last I checked, pitchers as well as hitters can and do frequently take advantage of illicit performance-enhancing drugs.

  10. It distorts the game by crowding out players who value their long-term health.

    The only guy I knew from school days who made it into the pros played with the great Steelers teams of the 70s. Steroids or not, and in his case the answer is almost certainly not, when I saw him at a high school reunion several years ago he was hobbled, walking like a man some twenty or thirty years older, his knees probably shot from his high school, college and half dozen pro years. Oh, and in those days the NFL salaries and pension benefits were peanuts.

    So let’s cut the crap about players who value their long term health, huh?

  11. What Bingo said. It would be amusing when the anything goes leagues become more popular than the puritan kiddie leagues. I want Nascar style advertising too. Well, maybe not that much – more like Jim McMahon tried to get away with.

  12. So let’s cut the crap about players who value their long term health, huh?

    Does anybody believe that Muhammed Ali’s medical problems are unrelated to those three wars with Joe Frazier? A survey of Olympic hopefuls I came across years ago, asked [paraphrasing here] “If you could take a drug that got you a gold medal, but you knew would kill you at age 50, would you”? More that 50% said yes.

  13. He can allow teams to draft gene-spliced gorilla men or robots if he likes.

    Is this too much to hope for? But seriously, I agree with phil.

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