Today, Major League Baseball suspended the Los Angeles Dodgers' star slugger Manny Ramirez for 50 games for violating the league's drug prevention and treatment policy.
Ramirez waived his right to challenge that suspension and issued the following statement through the Players Association.
"Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy… L.A. is a special place to me and I know everybody is disappointed. So am I. I'm sorry about this whole situation."
Here's a thought that will be sure to anger many people: Ramirez says he didn't take a steroid, but there's no good reason we shouldn't let athletes, or any adults, take performance-enhancing drugs.
Experts like Dr. Gary Wadler at the World Anti-Doping Agency have testified before Congress, saying steroids pose a serious problem because the "threat is dying, the threat is suicide." And at a congressional hearing in March 2005 Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., called steroid use "a serious public health problem."
That's what we're often told by the media, too, in stories warning about "'roid rage" and supposed deaths by steroids. CNN's Nancy Grace once said steroids cause an "almost superhuman rage." But University of Wisconsin bioethicist Norman Fost says "the horror stories about the medical claims, some of them are just frankly made up."
Yet steroids have been blamed for professional wrestler Chris Benoit killing himself and his family and NFL legend Lyle Alzado's fatal brain tumor. Fost says it's all nonsense, and that there is actually no documented correlation between steroid use and brain tumors.
Surprisingly, Wadler admits that's true. And he's not even certain about other claims like the steroids causing strokes.
"I certainly think it's on a possible list, if not the probable list," he says.
And what about the claim that steroids cause heart attacks?
"I believe the likelihood of anabolic steroid abuse being associated with heart disease is real," says Wadler.
Wadler has to use words like "possible" and "I believe" because, unlike the well-documented relationship between smoking and lung cancer, there are no long-term epidemiological studies that show steroids cause those diseases.
It's not that steroids are perfectly safe, but neither are your everyday over-the-counter medications. Advil, for example, is associated with ulcers, asthma, blisters and shock. It seems as if every drug has some side effects.
"That's right," Wadler agrees. "And we have to make a decision as to what the risks versus benefits are."
Then why single out steroids? People take unnecessary risks all the time: smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, eating fatty foods, even engaging in extreme sports.
"We don't stop people from eating lemon meringue pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner," says Fost. "People everywhere take enormous risks way greater than even the hyped-up risks of steroids."
In many American gyms, you can easily find oversize people like bodybuilders George Smalley, owner of BodiesbyMrG.com, and John Romano, co-founder of RXmuscle.com. They freely admit they've taken steroids and are well aware of the known side effects such as hair loss, acne or the growing of male breasts.