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  -- Teen Sports Drug Abuse

Kids and Community: Performance Enhancing Drugs
By Judy Shepps Battle

Given the American League award for Most Valuable Player in 2000, he signed with the New York Yankees for a reported seven-year, $120 million contract the following baseball season. Hitting 155 home runs and batting over .300 each season from 1999 to 2002, he earned the reputation of being a super-slugger and was a hero to kids of all ages.

Unfortunately, according to recent headlines, his heroics on the ball diamond always will be clouded by the means he chose to achieve them.

Cheating With hGH
Jason Giambi is the latest athlete to come clean with regard to use of variety of performance-enhancing substances -- including self-injecting human growth hormone (hGH) and testosterone -- in pursuit of athletic fame and fortune. Faced with testifying before a grand jury, he reversed earlier denials that he cheated chemically for at least three seasons.

Giambi is certainly not the only athlete to use hGH. The hormone has been around for decades and is considered to be one of the most widely used banned substances in the sports world.

It is purported to increase muscle mass, allow faster recovery times after workouts, and -- until recently -- has been virtually undetectable in standard drug-screening tests given to athletes. The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens marked the first use of a blood test for hGH in competitors.

When used with testosterone, as Jason Giambi knows, hGH purportedly improves agility, strength and performance.

Dangerous for Teens
What is less widely known is that abuse of hGH can cause high blood pressure, numbness in the fingers, fluid retention and an increase in blood sugar. A person's liver, thyroid and heart may be damaged, and acromegaly (a disease that causes bones in the hands, jaw, brow and feet to enlarge) may develop.

Teens whose bodies are still producing natural human growth hormone are at an even greater risk of harmful consequences from taking the substance. Instead of pumping up and growing stronger, taking hGH actually may cause a youth to shrink, as the excessive dose may cause joints to close.

In the athletic world of "more is better" it is difficult to make these cautions heard. The reward of increased performance is immediate, while those "possible" nasty side effects and "possible" legal consequences are in the future.

Great Expectations
As enticing as it is for some athletes, hGH is not the problem. By the time the sports world adjusts to the negative consequences of this particular drug, yet another performance-enhancer will have made the news, and a more sophisticated method of avoiding detection with standard screening tests will have been created.

Nor is the problem the athletes who misuse hGH and testosterone. It is highly unlikely that future athletes will be deterred from taking these drugs simply because users are banned from participating in sports. If the pressure to perform is great enough, the risk of getting caught will be ignored.

We, the adult audience, are the true problem.

We, who have a seemingly insatiable desire to be entertained by these modern-day gladiators, are the real issue. We want thrills -- slam-dunks, crushing tackles, perfect dives, Jason Giambi home runs -- in exchange for our hefty admission fees.

Enhanced Entertainment
The reality is that in our society, enhanced entertainment is the norm, and it's in more than just the sports arena.

In a world where digital technology allows even the most mediocre musical performance to become outstanding or where "ordinary" people compete for million-dollar prizes by becoming island castaways, few are satisfied with watching athletes who are anything less than spectacular. This type of enhanced entertainment, however, can easily become confused with reality.

In the case of sports, the line between reality (genuine athletic prowess) and unreality (the enhanced performance of someone on hGH, for example) easily becomes blurred. 

Unfortunately, our minds and muscles atrophy as we compulsively watch this type of "reality." In our demand for higher and higher standards of strength and athletic ability, we have less compassion for ordinary human performance that is a result of hard work and training, without the addition of hormones and other chemicals.

One consequence is that we lose a visceral connection to the power of determination and hard work that is deep within each of us. And, as the saying goes, "use it or lose it."

Our Kids are Watching Us
Most importantly, our children learn from our reaction to artificially enhanced entertainment. They quickly understand the contradictory message -- drugs are bad, but superhuman performance is good -- and they are understandably confused when confronted with making personal decisions regarding use of performance enhancers. Too many youngsters opt for the immediate gratification of being stronger and faster than their real physical bodies in order to please family and friends.

The real question is how we, as adults, can wean ourselves from a need for witnessing and supporting enhanced "reality" and show our kids that in real life, everyone is not a stellar athlete; that it really is more about how you play the game than whether you win.

Personally, I would love to see our new societal role models become those non-enhanced professional baseball players who struggle to hit 35 homers a year, or amateur runners who rejoice in completing a non-chemically assisted four-minute mile.

That's really what sports -- and life -- are all about.

Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at writeaction@aol.com. Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her website at http://www.writeaction.com/

Copyright 2007 Judy Shepps Battle





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