Even though former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds broke the all-time major-league home run record last year, he may well be remembered for a different record: most denials of steroid use by a professional athlete.
According to ESPN.com's Mark Fainaru-Wada, who chronicled Bonds' involvement with the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) in Game of Shadows, problems with performance-enhancing drugs in sports go beyond Bonds. They're now common at the minor league, collegiate and even high-school level.
"The average size of an offensive lineman on recent Mater Dei High School football teams is greater than the average size of an offensive lineman on the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins," Fainaru-Wada said.
The fact that teenage athletes physically overshadow adult athletes from previous generations suggests something more at work than simply better nutrition and workout routines. Steroids are a temptation for elite young athletes looking to score the enormous payday that comes with a professional contract.
"The minimum major-league baseball salary is $390,000 and the average salary is $3 million," Fainaru-Wada noted. "That's a big difference from being a minor-league player in Visalia who has to work in the off-season as a driver for UPS."
Fainaru-Wada's remarks came during a panel discussion at the Kinesiology Department's annual summer colloquium, where the program's graduate students discuss health and ethical issues around human performance in sport.
The former San Francisco Chronicle reporter was joined on the June 12 panel by SMC kinesiology professor Derek Marks and former West Coast Conference Commissioner Mark Gilleran, who oversaw the league as it emerged as an elite-level competitor in basketball and soccer.
All three panelists advised the kinesiology graduate students, many of whom are high school and college coaches, to be prepared to confront players who use or are tempted to use illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
"There's a strict liability for coaches - the NCAA keeps score and coaches will lose jobs," Gilleran said.
Marks cited survey data that up to 9 percent of college athletes use steroids, but both he and Fainaru-Wada said the number could be higher. While athletic integrity is a major consideration, there are public health issues when high-school athletes succumb to the temptation to use steroids.
"The last thing we need are 13-year-old boys running around with more testosterone in their bodies," Fainaru-Wada said.
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