Steroids in Sports: The Rise and Fall of Great Athletes

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Steroids in Sports: The Rise and Fall of Great Athletes
(Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Steroids have often been at the center of the rise, and subsequent fall, of some of the most promising names in sport.

While baseball remains the poster child for athletes shamed by their use of performance enhancing drugs, many other sports have fallen victim to the negative press and increased scrutiny that accompanies the outing of a steroid user.

The following is a list of some of the sports world's most notorious steroid users.

While some have either tested positive or openly admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, others still fall in the "alleged" category.

Either way, every one of these athletes have had their lives and careers permanently changed thanks to their involvement or implication in steroid use.

 

Honorable Mention: Arnold Schwarzenegger

The governor of California has admitted to past steroid use, however, he maintains that he only used the drugs while they were legal.

In 1999, Schwarzenegger successfully sued German doctor Willi Heepe, who publicly predicted an early death for the actor-turned-politician. Schwarzenegger was awarded $12,000 USD in damages.

 

No. 10: Floyd Landis

After only seven years as a professional cycler, Landis won the 2006 Tour de France. He was considered a dark horse contender, with the assumption being that either Ivan Basso or Jans Ullrich would take the top prize.

However, after the two cyclists were forced to withdraw from the Tour, Landis emerged as the front runner. Although Landis got off to a disappointing start, his unbelievable 20 KM solo breakaway on stage 17 helped to pave the way for his eventual victory.

Landis was stripped of that victory when it was announced that a urine test taken after his epic performance in stage 17 had come back positive with an unusually high ratio of the hormone testosterone to the hormone epitestosterone (T/E ratio).

Though Landis' camp claimed there were inconsistencies with the way the urine was tested, the International Cycling Union (UCI) upheld WADA's (World Anti-Doping Agency) ruling, and Landis was banned from professional cycling for two years.

The two-year ban ended in early 2009, and Landis is scheduled to participate in the Battenkill Professional Invitational on Apr. 19.

 

No. 9: Roger Clemens

When Jose Canseco published his book Juiced, he named Clemens as one of his many baseball colleagues who had expert steroid knowledge. This lead Canseco to assume that Clemens' improved performance post-Red Sox was thanks to steroid use.

While Clemens dismissed this claim, steroid rumors continue to dog the famed pitcher.

Clemens' name was mentioned 82 times in the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball. It was alleged that he obtained amphetamines, anabolic steroids, and human growth hormone from someone recommended to him by former Yankees trainer Brian McNamee, who was a personal strength coach for Clemens.

In the Mitchell Report, McNamee states that he injected Clemens with Winstrol throughout the 1998, 2000, and 2001 baseball seasons.

In 2008, Clemens appeared before a House committee to deny any use of performance enhancing drugs. Citing inconsistencies with his testimony, the committee recommended that the Justice Department conduct further investigations to see whether Clemens lied under oath.

A federal grand jury convened in January 2009 to follow up on these allegations.

Clemens' name has been removed from various charitable organizations, and his Hall of Fame future remains in jeopardy.

 

No. 8: Mark McGwire

McGwire became a household name in 1998 when he faced off against Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa as they both battled it out for the MLB home run record. McGwire prevailed, hitting 70 home runs in a single season.

Despite this accomplishment, McGwire's name continues to be mired by the ongoing investigations into steroid use in professional baseball.

Though McGwire has never admitted to steroid use, nor has he ever tested positive, many of his accomplishments have been questioned due to his inclusion in Jose Canseco's book Juiced.

Pointedly, when McGwire testified before the House Government Reform Committee, he refused to answer several questions while under oath, saying "My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, and myself."

While no legal action has been taken against McGwire, he has suffered in the court of public opinion. In his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, he received less than a quarter of possible votes.

 

No. 7: Rafael Palmeiro

Palmeiro is another baseball player to have been apparently "outed" by Jose Canseco, who claimed that he personally injected Palmeiro with steroids.

In March 2005, Palmeiro appeared before a Congressional hearing to defend himself against allegations of steroid use. Under oath, Palmeiro vehemently denied ever having used performance enhancing drugs, saying "I have never used steroids, period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never."

Despite his denial, Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August of that same year after testing positive for stanozolol, a banned substance. Palmeiro continues to deny ever knowingly taking steroids, claiming that his positive test in August came from a B12 injection.

Palmeiro was named in the 2007 Mitchell Report, but no new evidence was introduced. The report only reiterated Canseco's allegations and Palmeiro's failed drug test.

 

No. 6: Chris Benoit

A two-time World Heavyweight Champion, Benoit was a decorated wrestler, having competed in both the ECW, WCW, and WWE. Tragically, Benoit's life ended in June 2007, when police discovered his body, along with the bodies of his wife Nancy and son Daniel, in what police later ruled as a murder-suicide.

Though the coroner found elevated levels of testosterone in Benoit's system at the time of his death, it was ruled that the murders were not the result of "roid rage," as the media was widely reporting. The coroner attributed these elevated levels to a treatment program designed to treat deficiencies caused by years of steroid use.

Later tests revealed that Benoit suffered from severe brain damage, a result of years of trauma to the head.

According to his neurosurgeon, Benoit suffered from an advanced form of dementia caused by repeated concussions. This, in turn, can contribute to severe behavioural problems where, tragically, patients will harm either themselves or others.

 

No. 5: Marion Jones

One of the most decorated and well-known female track and field athletes, Jones admitted to steroid use in October 2007. Though steroid rumors dogged the athlete for years, Jones routinely denied any involvement with doping, even testifying before two grand juries that she had always been steroid-free.

Jones competed in her first Olympics in Sydney in 2000. Though she was aiming for five gold medals, Jones came home with three gold and two bronze, a feat that had never been achieved by a female athlete.

Following the Sydney games, doping allegations continued to follow the Olympic star. For starters, her ex-husband C.J. Hunter had tested positive numerous times for steroid use.

Then, when the BALCO scandal broke, Jones was again implicated as having been one of the many athletes to use "the Clear," a steroid that at the time was undetectable through urine tests.

Ironically, it was Jones' coach Trevor Graham who first exposed BALCO by anonymously sending a used syringe containing Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) to the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

In a 2004 interview, BALCO founder Victor Conte told 20/20 that he had personally given Jones five different types of performance enhancing drugs before, after, and during the Sydney Olympics.

However, Jones had never failed a drug test using the testing procedures of the time, and there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against the athletes.

In October 2007, Jones admitted to lying to federal prosecutors investigating the BALCO affair. She was stripped of her five Olympic medals, sentenced to six months in prison, and 200 hours of community service.

 

No. 4: Ben Johnson

After winning a bronze medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Canadian Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson was poised to improve on that result when he arrived in Seoul, Korea for the 1988 Summer Olympics.

Though injuries rattled the sprinter throughout the 1987 season, he was still considered a medal contender.

Facing off against longtime rival Carl Lewis, Johnson breezed through the 100m final, setting a world record time at 9.79 seconds. Subsequent urine tests revealed the sprinter had taken Stanozolol, and he was disqualified three days later.

After testing positive in Seoul, the Canadian government opened an inquiry into drug abuse. Although he initially denied any doping, before the inquiry Johnson admitted that he had indeed been taking performance-enhancing drugs.

His coach, Charlie Francis, also testified that Johnson had been using steroids since 1981.

Johnson remains a controversial figure in Canadian sports. Ordinary Canadians were embarrassed to have one of their athletes shamed on the international stage, and many feel that their country's track and field reputation was only improved when Donovan Bailey won the 100m gold medal in Atlanta eight years later.

Recently, Johnson appeared in an advertisement for the energy drink Cheetah. In the television spot, Johnson promotes the beverage by saying: "I Cheetah all the time."

 

No. 3: Alex Rodriguez

Rodriguez is considered one of the best all-around baseball players of all time. He is the youngest player to break the 500 home run mark, and in 2007 signed the largest contract in baseball history, agreeing to a 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees.

In February 2009, Rodriguez admitted to steroid use from 2001-2003, citing enormous amounts of pressure on him to perform. His admission came after Sports Illustrated named Rodriguez as one of the 104 Major League players to test positive after a 2003 drug survey.

This survey, approved by the Players' union on the condition of anonymity, was designed to help determine whether mandatory drug testing was necessary.

Though these results were supposed to be destroyed, a master list was seized during the BALCO investigation and later subpoenaed by federal authorities.

At a Tampa press conference in February 2009, Rodriguez addressed the media and answered questions, telling those present that from 2001-2003, for six months of the year, he would inject himself twice monthly.

He said that the last time he used steroids was after a preseason injury in 2003.

Rodriguez currently employs a large team of PR professionals and image consultants tasked with ensuring that his image remains as unscathed as possible. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is currently in the process of deciding what, if any, punishment should be handed down.

 

No. 2: Jose Canseco

In 2005, Canseco published his tell-all book titled Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big.

In his book, Canseco admitted to his own steroid use while also specifically naming teammates who had taken performance-enhancing drugs, claiming to have personally injected many of them.

Canseco's book became a New York Times bestseller and led many of his former teammates to be called to testify before various House committees.

Canseco's post-baseball life has become something of a sideshow. He fought former child star Danny Bonaduce in January 2009, with the fight ending in a draw.

He has been arrested twice, once for aggravated assault following a brawl outside a Miami Beach nightclub, the other time for attempting to bring a fertility drug across the U.S.-Mexican border.

In May 2008, his house was put into foreclosure. Canseco says that his two divorces cost him between $7 or $8 million dollars each.

 

No. 1: Barry Bonds

In 2003, Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson, was indicted by a grand jury and charged with supplying anabolic steroids to athletes. Immediately, Barry Bonds was swept up in the controversy.

During his testimony before the grand jury in 2003, Bonds said that he used a clear substance and cream given to him by Anderson, who told him that the products were flaxseed oil and a topical arthritic cream.

In 2007, Bonds was indicted on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice relating to his testimony surround the BALCO affair.

Once considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Bonds' career is now one giant asterisk. Though he holds the record of 73 home runs in a season, many wonder whether this is a fair crown to place on the head of such a controversial player.

Sadly, these days Mark McGwire's 70 home runs seem equally ambiguous.

Sadly, the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports will only continue to proliferate. New technologies are developed daily, only to feed the increasing demand for near-perfect results.

Increased pressure to perform, coupled with their own high expectations, continue to weigh down on high-performance athletes.

Hopefully, the rise and subsequent fall of so many former superstars will serve as a cautionary tale to anyone tempted to artificially improve their chances of winning through steroids.

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