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Brent Musburger: with proper supervision steroids "could be used at the professional level"

Oct 7, 2010, 2:35 PM EDT

Usually, when a venerable member of our nation’s sporting media says something in public about steroids, the message is pretty clear: steroids are awful, only evil cheaters use them and unless we test people to within a hair’s breadth of their life, they will be a scourge upon the land.

Or words to that effect.

ESPN/ABC’s Brent Musburger spoke to students at the University of Montana recently, and he didn’t take that route:

“Here’s the truth about steroids: They work . . .I’ve had somebody say that, you know, steroids should be banned
because they’re not healthy for you. Let’s go find out. What do the doctors actually think about anabolic
steroids and the use by athletes? Don’t have a preconceived notion that
this is right or this is wrong.”

He went on to say that while anabolic steroids have no place in high school athletics, “I think
under the proper care and doctor’s advice, they could be used at the
professional level,”

This will likely have a lot of you fuming, but after reading the whole story I think he makes a lot of sense.  It is undisputed that steroids do, in certain situations, bring with them medical benefits. The biggest problem with steroids — aside from the fact that using them violates the rules — is that they can be dangerous if abused or overused.

But what if we had good evidence that, if taken in X dosage by someone in good health, they weren’t harmful at all?  What if, under proper medical supervision, they proved to be no different than cortisone shots and vitamin regimens and things like that? Or, if you want to get right down to it, what if they posed risks, but risks that were reasonable enough to where weighing them against the potential to make millions playing sports made taking them worth it?

We don’t have good enough information on this because there haven’t — at least as far as I know — been comprehensive studies in which the effects were tested on healthy, athletic adults. A lot of the reason there hasn’t been such tests, I bet, is because there’s such a stigma and hysteria attached to them.

I tend to think that the stigma is irrational, but I’d really like to know how irrational it is, if at all. And if it’s not irrational — i.e. if there was a safe dosage or use pattern of PEDs that athletes and trainers and/or doctors could adhere to and which could be monitored — what then is the problem?

So no matter how much controversy Musburger has caused — and I sense that he’s caused a fair bit — I think he’s simply making sense here. 

Even more sense are his comments about being wary of journalists who seem so darn certain about steroids, one way or the other. How there can be such certainty that the stuff is the devil’s doing without there being much evidence about it never ceases to amaze me. 

Anyway, just more food for thought on a topic that I find rather nourishing on an intellectual and ethical level.

  1. Simon DelMonte - Oct 7, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    I have been saying this for years.
    Or rather, I have been thinking this for years. Anytime I have suggested to almost anyone that steroids might not be a bad thing in themselves, I tend to get shot down. So I have rarely posted about it or talked about it. It’s sort of interesting to see that slowly but surely, people are backing away from knee-jerk reactions, even if they still oppose steroids after considering the evidence (or lack thereof).
    It’s just weird that Brent Musberger is the one to broach the topic. It’s been a long, long time since I took him seriously as a broadcaster. I may have to rethink that.

  2. Steve C - Oct 7, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    I’m a big fan of a full disclosure policy. Have the players disclose every supplement and drug they take to MLB along with dosage.

  3. Reflex - Oct 7, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    I am not certain why people like you continually assert that steroids have not been widely tested. They are currently used in medicine and have been for decades. I have had to take them at multiple points in my life for my asthma(prednisone primarily). They have benefits and drawbacks like any other drug.
    Of course under proper supervision they could be used ‘safely’, after all I have used them that way for more than a decade. Almost any drug under proper supervision could be used safely. Thats really not the question here. Amphetemines could be used safely as well, in fact the military, especially the Air Force, has used them for decades ‘safely’ and under supervision.
    The real question here is whether or not the consequences of these drugs being used long term are worth subjecting atheletes to for what is essentially a form of entertainment. Furthermore, there is the question of fairness, if this were legitimized it would give a serious edge to athletes willing to use vs those who wish not to. Do we want to make it only possible for our children to compete at a professional level if they are willing to abuse thier body this way? Its a legitimate question to ask and honestly arguments could be made either way.
    But at the end of the day there is no great mystery about the short and long term effects of steroids. The media may be prone to hyperbole, but the medical science is fairly concrete on this issue regardless of whether or not reporters take the time to understand it.

  4. The Dangerous Mabry - Oct 7, 2010 at 3:13 PM

    Reflex: There’s a big difference between Corticosteroids (like you took for your asthma, as well as things like cortisone, which is perfectly acceptable in sports medicine) and anabolic steroids (which is what people are talking about when they say “steroids” in reference to sports).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corticosteroid
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anabolic_steroid
    There have been studies of Anabolic steroids, but most of the adverse effects are linked to overuse and abuse, and not to “proper” use.

  5. tomahawkmike - Oct 7, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    That it has become more or less acceptable to stuff yourself with all kinds of chemicals, does not make it beneficial. Needlessly altering the hormonal levels of any leaving creature is never a good idea. That goes for people and for what people eat too.

  6. Jonny5 - Oct 7, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    But it’s still a PED. No matter what.

  7. BasicInstinct - Oct 7, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    I take steroids !!! Its the truth…..everytime I get poison ivy. If I don’t get a steroid shot, I am miserable for a week….highly allergic to poison ivy. Steroids have prevented massive suffering for me over the course of my lifetime. Praise god for steroids….absolutely nothing else works to settle the rashes.
    So why shouldn’t steroids be used to treat other forms of swelling, to speed healing….especially with athletes.

  8. The Dangerous Mabry - Oct 7, 2010 at 5:23 PM

    BasicInstinct: See my post above about the difference between Corticosteroids and Anabolic Steroids.

  9. Paper Lions - Oct 7, 2010 at 6:11 PM

    Water is a performance enhancer, corticosteroids are a performance enhancer for someone with a great deal of inflammation, aspirin and naproxin are performance enhancers for people with a little inflammation or soreness.
    Anabolic steroids have been studied extensively, the negative effects of reasonable use are small and temporary. Every medical association was against making them illegal when politicians decided to grand stand about the issue.
    Next thing you know, researchers will conclude for the 4 billionth time that second hand smoke does not increase cancer risk, but the media and public will ignore the facts because they already reached their hysterical conclusion (not a conclusion that is funny, but one that is reached amid hysterics).

  10. Megary - Oct 7, 2010 at 6:44 PM

    While Musburger may have a point, did he ever address what is inherently wrong with current professional sports in general, and baseball in particular, that permitting steroids will cure?
    And who will be the one to clearly define, and then govern, “under the proper care and doctor’s advice”? Not all doctor’s will agree what is proper treatment for a sore toe let alone safe usage of anabolic steroids.

  11. adam - Oct 7, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    Did Musburger also admit that he’s the biggest problem with watching College Football on TV? That man is horrendous.

  12. Jonny5 - Oct 8, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    Ummm, that’s not evidence that anabolic steroids are not a PED. Steroids are not legal because they will always be abused by people seeking the benefits they provide. That’s the problem. There will always be people that cheat with them in sports as well if they were to be allowed. Sure it get’s the healing process speeded up, but it also can make people into more than they ever were before in the realm of sports. It is proven to make people stronger and faster than they ever would be without it. I can’t say they should be legal for anything unless it’s to save lives. They exist because people want to be stronger and faster, no other reason.

  13. Jonny5 - Oct 8, 2010 at 9:10 AM

    “Water is a performance enhancer, corticosteroids are a performance enhancer for someone with a great deal of inflammation, aspirin and naproxin are performance enhancers for people with a little inflammation or soreness.”
    And this makes no sense btw. These things don’t make people better or stronger than they normallly would be on their best day, like anabolic steroids do.

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