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Probe Ministries > Archives > The Mitchell Report: Christian Response to Steroids in Sports


The Mitchell Report: Christian Response to Steroids in Sports Print E-mail

Written by Heather Zeiger

Heather Zeiger considers the question of how Christians should respond to the revelations regarding steroid use in sports.  The Mitchell report is one example accompanied by many others such as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report on cyclist, Lance Armstrong.  Heather takes a biblical worldview perspective on this issue taking into consideration their impact on our bodies, our perception of the world, and the perception of young people on what is acceptable in our society.  As a Christian, their are numerous reasons not to take steroids and not to glorify the accomplishments of those who do.

Former Senator George Mitchell was charged to investigate and document the prevalence of steroid and human growth hormone use in Major League Baseball. The objective of the report was not only to bring to light the steroid problem, but to offer solutions to help eradicate its use and abuse. Senator Mitchell specifically wanted "the media to focus less on names and more on central conclusions and recommendations of the report."{1}

Later this month and in February, hearings before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will be held to determine if stronger penalties for steroid use and more rigorous testing are appropriate. The committee will also investigate whether certain athletes are guilty of using performance enhancing drugs. This has brought the topic of steroid abuse in sports to the forefront of the media, providing an excellent opportunity for discussion.

Sport is an important part of life. The Apostle Paul wrote about running and boxing, and used it as an analogy for the Christian walk.{2} And unlike the Gnostics who despise the body, we honor it as part of our imago dei or being created in God's image (for more information see Bodybuilding: Edifying Thoughts About Our Bodies by Michael Gleghorn). So as Christians, we embrace playing sports and exercise. But like so many things, there is a way to play sports that is consistent with a Christian worldview and a way that is not. There are both physical and biblical reasons why steroid use is dangerous and unethical.

What are Steroids?

The first reported use of performance enhancers was in 776 B.C.{3} when athletes would eat sheep testicles to increase their testosterone levels. Today athletes don't use sheep, but the intention is still to increase their testosterone beyond natural levels. Steroids are chemicals that are either a form of testosterone or a testosterone precursor. Anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS){4} increase muscle mass and muscle recovery by producing five to thirty times the testosterone that the typical male body produces.{5} Athletes who abuse steroids do see an increase in muscle mass and/or speed, and at first, will see improvements in their performance. ESPN's The Dope on Steroids reports that steroids can make the body as much as 50 percent more muscular than is possible without them.{6}

Using steroids to increase muscle strength is illegal, but there are many forms of steroids that remain undetectable in drug tests making it difficult to regulate their use. Furthermore, players have also abused another illegal, undetectable drug called human growth hormone, which is not a steroid, but is often used in conjunction with steroids to make a player bigger and to speed injury recovery.{7} Random drug testing creates controversy over privacy violations, and announced tests are easy to beat. By using water-based steroids, it only takes a couple of weeks for players' bodies to dilute the chemicals to undetectable levels.

While steroids do produce short-term results, the side effects and long-term effects can be devastating.

The Problem

Side-Effects

Physical side-effects from steroid use include increases in cholesterol, acne on arms and back, increase in blood pressure, stiffening of heart tissue, increased production of body hair yet decreased production of scalp hair, stunted growth, hypogonadism (diminished hormonal or reproductive functioning in the testes or the ovaries), sexual dysfunction, and increased risks for both strokes and heart attacks. Psychological side effects include aggressiveness, depression, and addiction/dependence. See Dangers of Steroid Abuse for a more detailed look at these and other possible side-effects to steroid abuse.

Influence on Teens

Athletes are role models for kids, and some studies indicate that athletes are second only to parents in their influence on teen choices. I remember watching track and field as a child and later as a teenager and being captivated by the runners. They had this combination of grace and strength that I admired, so I eventually took up running.

Kids turn to athletes for inspiration all the time, but the problem is they also believe that the athletes are successful because they use steroids. Take this testimonial from www.steroidabuse.com as an example:

For me, taking steroids was a natural move. I was an athlete in high school and got a college scholarship to play football at a major university. Between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college I started my first cycle because I thought I needed to be faster. I took injectable testosterone and winstrol. I figured that winstrol must be good because it's what Ben Johnson got busted using. I wanted to be fast like him.

I was getting stronger at every workout and feeling great. I had heard that steroids can make your joints weaker but I figured Ben Johnson didn't have that problem, so it was probably just a rumor.{8}

Another testimonial discusses how a parent's obsession with his son, Corey, and his athletic success eventually lead him to administering steroids to Corey when he was only 13. He thought this was how the pros compete. In the end, Corey, now 18, comments about his steroid experience:

As Corey tries to scrounge together enough money to get his own place, one point still gnaws at him: He firmly believes he could have been a champion without pharmacological enhancement.

Soft-spoken and reserved, Corey wavers among embarrassment, regret and awe when he reflects on his fractured teenage years and his experiment with steroids. "People make it sound like these medications are only performance-enhancing, but they have a huge mental impact as well," he says. "By the time I was done, I was a wreck…."{9}

And as the Mitchell Report stated, "After the Associated Press reported Mark McGwire was using androstenedione (a testosterone precursor)…sales of that substance increased by over 1000%."{10} Athletes have a strong influence on people, especially teens.

The Christian Worldview

When the news of Barry Bonds' alleged steroid use broke last summer, Newsweek commentator George Will observed that "Athletes who are chemically propelled to victory do not merely overvalue winning, they misunderstand why winning is properly valued.... In fact, it becomes a display of some chemists' virtuosity and some athlete's bad character." He later adds that "the athlete's proper goal is to perform unusually well, not unnaturally well."{11} We have a moral foundation for these points in God's word.

First of all, steroids cause the body to be enhanced beyond what it was designed to do. We believe that God has designed us with his purposes in mind, and he has gifted people with different talents and abilities. From an engineering perspective, he put the parts together with a particular design in mind, so when a steroid user becomes stronger than that for which he was designed, the rest of the parts, his joints, tendons, and ligaments, become damaged.{12}

Secondly, steroids are often taken for cosmetic reasons—usually by men obsessed with acquiring a certain physique. As we see from Scripture, this is a disproportionate view of the human body. The Bible tells us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.{13} And as we see in Luke 12:22-34, Jesus tells us not to worry over what we will eat or drink and what to wear, that He will provide what is necessary. This puts the body in its proper perspective as something to care for, but not something to obsess over.

Lastly, there is a character issue here. Consider the Apostle Paul's view of weakness, which we could apply to physical weakness as well:

So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, and that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV).

As Christians, we believe in being good stewards of our health, but there is a difference between "therapeutic" and "enhancement." Therapeutic medical advancements alleviate the effects of the fall of man, such as death and suffering. Enhancements involve man trying to become what he deems as "better" than how God made him, which essentially was the very cause of the fall. Obviously, there is gray area here, but this helps us make some distinctions. As we see from Paul's statements, the human idea of weakness is not necessarily God's idea of weakness. God's view is that in our weakness Christ is glorified.

Notes

1. Mitchell, George L. "Report to the Commissioner of baseball of an independent investigation into the illegal use of steroids and other performance enhancing substances by players in major league baseball," Dec. 13, 2007, Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, pg. SR 35-37.
2. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)
3. www.steroidabuse.com
4. Anabolic = metabolic process of building larger muscles from smaller ones, Androgenic = production of male traits
5. Mitchell, pg. 7. The complete Mitchell report can be viewed at Major League Baseball's official site: mlb.mlb.com/mlb/news/mitchell/index.jsp
6. sports.espn.go.com/specialdesign/steroids/window.html
7. Both Anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) are legal when used for prescribed medical reasons. Muscle growth or cosmetics is not an FDA approved medical use for either of these drugs.
8. www.steroidabuse.com/true-stories-of-steroid-abuse.html
9. sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/magazine/01/15/sins.of.a.father0121/index.html
10. Mitchell, pg. 16.
11. George Will, Newsweek , May 21, 2007, www.newsweek.com/id/34762
12. Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139:13-16, Proverbs 16:4 (ESV)
13. Romans 12:1,2 (ESV)

© 2008 Probe Ministries


About the Author

Heather Zeiger is a former Research Associate with Probe. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Texas at Dallas with a B.S. in chemistry and a minor in government and politics. She received her M.S. in chemistry, also from UTD; her research was in organic synthesis and materials. She is currently working part-time on a M.A. in bioethics from Trinity International University while teaching and tutoring SAT prep classes. She is a regular contributor to Evolution News and Views and works with the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. Her interests include science and culture issues, running, art and literature, and working with teens. She is married to David, another former Probe intern and teacher at Trinity Christian Academy. Heather can be contacted at hkzeiger@sbcglobal.net.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

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