Dr. Lawrence A. Golding was one of the first academic voices in the discourse of drugs in sports. Golding, now retired, owned the title of “Distinguished Professor” at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’s Department of Kinesiology. Before that, from 1958 through 1976, Golding was at Kent State University, where he became Director of the Applied Physiology Research Laboratory and performed a number of experiments and interviews aimed at figuring out exactly what drugs — like amphetamines and steroids — do to an athlete’s body.
Golding was a pioneer. Steroids and performance enhancing drugs were a peripheral issue at best in the sports world at this team, and most of the focus was on international competitions like the Olympics. Few had thought about the issue at all, much less applied scientific principles to it.
Consider the May 1973 headline “Physicians Differ On Use Of Cocaine For Injuries,” part of a series on sports and drugs by Newsday’s Sandy Padwe. “Some doctors say it would be a good drug for an athlete to use if he were competing with minor injuries,” Padwe wrote. “Other physicians say an athlete using cocaine wouldn’t have the body control he needs.” It seems safe to say our drug discourse has changed over the past 40 years.
Golding was one of the experts interviewed for the series. By this time, he had “interviewed hundreds of athletes for several studies on amphetamine and steroid usage.” Golding was interested not just in research, but prevention. Steroid side effects were not widely known yet, but cocaine and amphetamines and similar upper-type drugs can result in overdoses, and Golding wanted to avoid this in athletes, particularly at the amateur level.
“Athletes are undaunted by fears and threats,” Golding told Padwe. “The results of interviews… show that the desire to win is greater than either the fear of exposure or the possible harmful side effects. Too many athletes witness excellent performances by peers who take [amphetamines and steroids] and often credit the drug for these performances.”
In the Newsday piece, this quote is not given much context. Its presentation implies what many today fear with steroids: athletes will win with steroids, the kids who see them as role models will use steroids, and a horrible cycle will be in place. Although it’s certainly easy to read Golding’s statements this way, the presentation is misleading given the rest of his work.
Later in 1973, Wali Jones, a veteran guard formerly with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, testified to a United State Senate hearing on sports and drugs. Jones had started a group called “Concerned Athletes in Action Against Drug Abuse.” Although it sounds like a precursor to the World Anti-Drug Association, Jones’s viewpoint was far from the blame-the-athletes mindset that dominates at WADA. Jones was not advocating for strict drug tests or long suspensions for players who would test positive.
No, Jones’s case was simpler. Jones said the abuse of amphetamines, steroids and other drugs thought to improve performance were used as a result of what he called “the intolerable pressure to produce that is placed on college and professional athletes.” Jones, who also played with the Baltimore Bullets, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Stars and Detroit Pistons, testified that management pressures have resulted in injured players being given Novocaine to relieve the pain and enable them to play. “The young people are forcing themselves to become the best, and this is causing a lot of drugs in high schools and colleges.”
Enter Golding. He was brought in to testify on his research on both the efficacy of these drugs and potential prevention efforts. He testified that in the case of amphetamines, the drug was so widely used that athletes ignored evidence suggesting they didn’t help physical performance.
“As the bodies that control athletics become more dogmatic in their disapproval of drugs and more persistent in their efforts to curb their use, the athletes have become more certain that drugs must affect performance advantageously,” Golding said. At that time, scientific research on the drugs had produced mixed results, with “four major studies showing no changes and six reporting significant improvements in weight, strength and muscle size.”
As March 2014 closed, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association announced a change to its drug policy. A player’s first positive test will now cost him 80 games, not 50. His second will cost him 162 games, not 100. And in a move meant as nothing but a message sent to players like Jhonny Peralta and Nelson Cruz, players suspended for PEDs will not be eligible to play in the subsequent postseason, even if their suspension has run its course.
In a statement, MLB commissioner Bud Selig praised the players for the new step. “I want to express my appreciation to the players for being proactive and showing remarkable leadership in producing the new agreement. I commend them for both their foresight and their creativity throughout the process, and for strongly sharing our desire to improve what is already the toughest drug program in sports.” The program has been called “the most comprehensive in American sports history” by the commissioner.
Tony Clark, MLBPA executive director, hardly offered anything different. “I had an opportunity to play the first part of my career without drug testing, and the second half with it,” Clark said in a statement. “As a result of that drug world changing, there are certain considerations we need to make in an effort to put guys in a position where the ones who are doing it correctly aren’t being put in an adverse position.”
This move reflects frustration over the Biogenesis case. The Biogenesis case made the truth unavoidable. As Clark himself admitted, increasing penalties are clearly having little to no impact on steroid usage under Major League Baseball’s umbrella. Or, as Golding might have put it, the increasingly dogmatic policies of MLB’s drug testing have done nothing to curb their use. Athletes like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez have been nothing if not “undaunted by fears and threats.”
Ryan Braun returned to Major League Baseball on Monday to a standing ovation in Milwaukee. Brewers fans welcomed back their star, one of the best players to ever wear a Milwaukee uniform and the best since Robin Yount retired after the 1993 season. The fans made him feel welcome. After the game, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, said the ovation was helpful for Braun:
“He needed that. It was important for him to know that he’s still loved here and wanted. This isn’t New York. The fans here are pretty forgiving. He screwed up, acknowledged it, and that’s all you can do.”
ESPN’s Jim Caple wasn’t having any of it.
“On Opening Day in Milwaukee, Ryan Braun returned from last season’s 65-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs and received a loud standing ovation from the hometown crowd. On Tuesday night, a fan ran onto the field to try to high-five him. For those two games, Braun earned roughly $124,000 of a contract that guarantees him at least $117 million in pay.
So … that’ll really teach him not to do it again, huh?”
Caple’s suggests voiding the offending players’ contract, forcing him to sacrifice a year of free agency, and removing public address and walk-up batting music privileges for a year. Caple still stubbornly believes the right incentives will eradicate steroids from sport.
Lawrence Golding talked about his findings in more depth with a reporter from the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) for a story that ran in August 1973. He talked about why athletes continued to use amphetamines despite the lack of hard evidence that they increased performance. Why should an athlete bother?
“He finds himself prey to the needs to use them because his peers are doing it and he had better do it to keep up. It’s funny how athletes respond to official statements. When the IOC (International Olympic Committee) comes out against amphetamines, the athletes say, ‘If they didn’t do any good, why would the IOC be against it?’ There’s an epidemic among champions. They’re concerned and not in favor of what they’re doing but they do it because they feel they have to.”
Following his testimony at the Senate committee, Golding was concerned. Golding had previously worked with the Cleveland Indians, and his interviews and experiments covered what the NEA story called “champions at all levels of sports.” For his experiments, Golding kept extensive documentation of all interviews, and had amassed a healthy file by 1973.
“I’ve thought of burning the names,” Golding said, “because I don’t want to ever have to identify any of my athlete sources.”
Bud Selig, 41 years later, is presiding over the strictest drug program Major League Baseball has ever had. Punishments are harder than ever. Loopholes are closed. Tests will be more often and with supposedly better technology. “I am committed,” Selig said in a statement, “to constantly finding ways to improve the Program in order to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs from the game and for MLB to serve as a model for other drug programs.”
New threats. New fears. The athletes remain undaunted.