Is Mark McGwire a Hero?
THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE - VOL 26 - NO. 11 - NOVEMBER 98
As a child growing up in a small farming community, I played baseball. Roger Maris grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and he was my hero. I had a Roger Maris bat, ball, and glove. Today, some contend that positive role models have all but disappeared from sports—that the hope that comes through identification with a sports hero is something of the past, gone forever.
Mark McGwire established a new single-season record by hitting 70 home runs, four in his last two games against the Montreal Expos. Critics argue that because McGwire takes androstenedione, the record is tainted and his professional leadership image is devalued.
There is no denying that androstenedione is an anabolic steroid, and that its safety is in question (see "Androstenedione et al: Nonprescription Steroids"). Nor can the potential for imitative drug use by children and adolescents be ignored or minimized. What is equally troubling is that the FDA categorizes androstenedione as a dietary supplement, not a drug. And sadly, Major League Baseball has failed to develop any policy regarding drug use by players. Consequently androstenedione can, at present, be used freely in professional baseball.
There are those who will see McGwire's achievement as a product of pharmacologic rather than athletic prowess. It will also be argued that McGwire is an innocent victim of the circumstances outlined above—the absence of rules and the availability of an anabolic agent. Both arguments have some merit. What seems irrefutable is that the debate will continue well into the future.
But this incident may ultimately serve as a watershed in American sport. Major League Baseball now has a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership in developing a thoughtful drug policy. Physicians must lobby to change regulations concerning drugs that pass for nutritional supplements, scrutinize such supplements' effects and safety, and vigorously advocate banning them from sports if they harm athletes or skew the playing field. We must do everything possible to enforce current laws and rules—and to help young athletes learn to make good decisions in the absence of rules.
Children need heroes. McGwire spends hundreds of hours and millions of dollars in charitable work for children. Organized and professional sports can still generate inspiration, motivation, and dreams. Athletes can still give joy, excitement, and hope to millions of youngsters. If we learn the right lessons from recent events, we can help ensure that this will always be so.
Copyright (C) 1998. The McGraw-Hill Companies. All Rights Reserved