Increased use of anabolic steroids has caused dramatic changes in the National Football League, from draft decisions to actual strategy on the field.
Despite the league's declaration to get tough on steroid use, there is little evidence that the NFL can or will do anything to eliminate the drug. In fact, the NFL did not get reliable test results from examinations taken at the beginning of training camp.Part of the problem is the complexity of the test and numbers of players tested. But an even bigger obstacle is that players have learned numerous ways to foil such scheduled tests.
The San Francisco Examiner learned that several players on one team flew in an expert from another state the day they knew they would be tested. He catheterized the players, drained the urine from their bladders and replaced it with so-called clean urine he brought with him.
"As bizarre as it sounds, that is what we hear happened," said Bill Walsh, coach of the 49ers. "The NFL authorities have been notified, but this obviously shows that we are not going to be able to solve the steroid problem very easily.
"The way I understand it, the steroid test results we got back probably aren't valid. . . . They are of questionable value because we didn't get them quick enough."
There are no verifiable statistics on how many players in the NFL use anabolic steroids to add size and strength. But players estimate from 40 to 70 percent use the drug, most of them linemen.
The NFL says it wants to get rid of steroids because of the increased health risk to players who use them and the players they compete against. Players say they want to get rid of steroids because they are giving the unfair advantage to the other guy - always the "other guy."
But the reality is that tests are so costly and difficult that management cannot even find the users. Meanwhile, the number of users continues to grow because nobody wants to lose that competitive edge over "the other guy."
Dr. Thomas D. Fahey, director of exercise physiology at Chico State and author of several books on steroids, says the NFL's announced intention to rid the league of anabolic steroids is almost laughable.
"First, they are going to find that it is almost impossible to find the users reliably," said Fahey, who wasn't surprised to hear how players cleaned up their urine in preparation for a test.
"I've honestly not heard of that method before, but it's certainly feasible and not very difficult. They are taking a chance of getting a bladder infection, but they obviously aren't concerned about taking a few chances."
Fahey, who has been involved in Olympic drug testing, says players don't even have to use such exotic and dangerous methods to avoid detection.
"One of the biggest businesses out there right now is making drugs to mask the presence of other drugs and there are already drugs that mask anabolics. I know guys in the Los Angeles Olympics who took oral anabolics as recently as 14 days before they were tested and they had no problems passing.
"I can't believe that the NFL is really serious in its effort to get rid of steroids. It would change the nature of the game. Sure they have to say they are attacking the steroid problem because of public relations reasons, but it isn't in the best interest of each team to detect its steroid users because that would be taking the chance of falling behind the rest of the league competitively.
"In order to seriously address steroid use in the NFL, the league would have to use a year-round program of random testing."
Walsh says that's what he would like to see and, surprisingly, so would some players.
"First, we have to get a test that works, of course," said Walsh. "Then, we would have to institute a system of random testing. It's the only way we will find steroids. They have ways of hiding that stuff in their system so they won't show up when they know there will be a test."
Center Randy Cross, who has watched players become bigger and bigger every year, agrees that something must be done.
"I'm just a little guy now compared to the monsters that have been coming into the NFL the past few years," Cross said. "If you want to think they are getting that big and strong on vitamins, that's your prerogative. But the fact is, steroids are illegal and it's not fair to those who don't use it that others can."
If players want to use steroids so much, why not just let them? The side effects - which range from loss of hair to the risk of stroke or heart attack - are well documented and explained to all NFL players.
If they still want to use steroids, then who are they hurting besides themselves?
The answer is management and other players. The use of steroids increases chances of injury because tendons and bones are not made to cope with added muscle and strength. Other players are more susceptible to injuries because steroid users are bigger, stronger and more aggressive.
The infusion of steroid-bulked players has even changed the way the game is played on the field.
"Defenses have been using the four-man lines more and more the last couple of years," noted Fahnhorst. "For years, the predominant defense was the 3-4, where the inside linebackers usually take on the guards. But guards have gotten so big that inside linebackers can't deal with them. So, they are getting big defensive tackles to play against those big guards."