WE ARE A JUICEDNATION. WE ARE A NATION ON DOPE. WE ARE A NATION LOOKING for enhancement, a wayto age gracefully, perform better and longer, and, at the outer edge, vanquishwhat was once considered that alltime undefeated opponent known as aging. We dothat by Botoxing our wrinkles, lifting our faces, reconstructing our noses,despidering our veins, tucking our tummies, augmenting our breasts and taking alittle pill to make sure we're ready when, you know, the right time presentsitself. We also do it by injecting human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone,America's new golden pharmaceutical couple.
This is an article from the March 17, 2008 issue
Numbers are hard tocome by because much of the flow of these drugs is illegal, but Dr. MarkGordon, one of 20,000 members of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine,cites a 2004 study that found that more than $1 billion was spent annually onlegal HGH. "And it's safe to assume it's gone up in the last fouryears," Gordon says. The Mayo Clinic reports that 2.4 million testosteroneprescriptions were filled by U.S. pharmacies in 2004, more than twice thenumber filled in 2000. Mayo also estimates that three million people in theU.S. use anabolic steroids, the synthetic versions of testosterone that areillegal when they are used for nonmedical reasons such as building animpressive physique and increasing endurance for training. John Romano, senioreditor at Muscular Development, the top seller among the dozens of magazinesthat cover powerlifting and bodybuilding, estimates that 15 million Americansuse performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Yet to judge by theblanket coverage given the bizarre Roger Clemens-Brian McNamee pas de deux;Congress's incessant (and in many cases politically motivated) effort to ferretout drug cheats among athletes; the table-pounding vows of various politiciansto get drugs out of sports!; and the never-ending BALCO-Barry saga, one mightconclude that PEDs are the exclusive province of professional athletes. WhenGeorge Bush mentioned steroids in his January 2004 State of the Union speech,he set the societal agenda. "The use of performance-enhancing drugs likesteroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous," thunderedthe President. "It sends the wrong message that there are shortcuts toaccomplishment and that performance is more important than character. Sotonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players totake the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid ofsteroids now." Massive applause followed.
O.K.,performance-enhancing drugs ... bad. Athletes who use them ... bad. Influencingkids to use them ... bad. On to the next problem.
That politicianshave locked in on sports is understandable at one level (beyond the obviousfact that a nationally televised Clemens hearing will draw more attention than,say, an antitrust debate on C-Span). Athletic achievement is made to bemeasured and is available for instant analysis when performances improve, evenincrementally. Athletes stand on pedestals, and pedestals are made to betoppled. A kind of moral ceiling hangs over sports, as degraded as that ceilingmight've become in the 3,000 years since a bunch of Greeks began throwingjavelins and racing chariots. Play by the rules. Play fair. Level playingfield.
But what's happenedis that the subject of PEDs has been conveniently compressed and poured into asmall airtight bottle at which politicians and society at large can throwstones. We did roughly the same thing with cocaine in the '80s, when youmight've thought that baseball players and an unfortunate 22-year-old named LenBias were the only ones snorting the drug, along with a godless Hollywoodelite, of course.
THE TRUTH IS,sports do not define the culture—they reflect it. Society's image of the idealbody is shaped largely by forces outside the chalked lines. And the belief thatlife can be improved, even extended, by drugs comes not from sports but fromthe burgeoning field known as antiaging medicine.
The music industry,hip-hop in particular, has glamorized the bad and buff body, which many kidsembrace as a model. We didn't need the well-publicized probe into HGH andsteroid prescriptions allegedly sent by an Orlando pharmacy to rappers tonotice that Timbaland and 50 Cent are among the many rappers who are aspowerfully muscled as blocking backs. Or as NBA superstars. "In the rapbusiness," says one well-placed music-industry source, "guys look at anathlete like LeBron James, who's built like a tank, and they say, 'I want tolook like LeBron.'" And that's how the record companies want them to look.The source confirms that steroid and HGH use "is absolutely happening inthe [rap] industry" and puts the percentage of users—an educated guess, headmits—at "about one third." (Among the rappers named in the Orlandoprobe, Timbaland declined comment and 50 Cent did not return calls; as ofMonday none had been charged with a crime.)
PED use in thehip-hop world is as much about preparing for the job as simply trying to lookgood. The beast is a ripped physique, one that plays well in music videos, andthe beast must be fed. The source describes one artist whom MTV would notfeature because he was overweight. He was told to get in the gym. And, if he'slike many other artists, he'll get in the gym, but he'll also get on the juice.It's a cycle of narcissistic necessity.
Perhaps the mostprominent name in the Orlando investigation was that of Mary J. Blige, aneight-time Grammy winner. Through a spokesman, Blige has denied steroid or HGHuse. She did sing backup on a new Jay-Z song, You're Welcome, in which headdresses PEDs. Sort of. ("You would think I was on 'roids, I been hittin'so long, and I'm a big-headed boy/Nah we ain't on HGH, though I might pick upsome weight when I'm runnin' through your state.") The 37-year-old Bligehas the chiseled look that began taking over music back in the '80s. That'swhen rockers started showing up in tight-fitting T-shirts with buff bodies andarms of steel, and the Sweet Baby James paradigm, soulful and skinny, waspretty much chased off the stage.
FEW SEGMENTS ofsociety depend as heavily on physical appearance as Hollywood, and it turns outthat Sylvester Stallone, who may one day give us Rambo: The Assisted-LivingYears, needed more than one-handed pushups and raw eggs at dawn to stay cut.Last May in Australia the 61-year-old Stallone paid $10,600 to settle a chargeof criminal drug possession after he was found to have 48 vials of HGH andseveral vials of testosterone. Stallone has since acknowledged that he takesHGH and testosterone regularly, and legally. "Everyone over 40 years oldwould be wise to investigate it [HGH and testosterone use] because it increasesthe quality of your life," Stallone told TIME last month.
Adds a prominentHollywood plastic surgeon, who requested anonymity because he has many clientsin the industry, "If you're an actor in Hollywood and you're over 40, youare doing HGH. Period. Why wouldn't you? It makes your skin look better, yourhair, your fingernails, everything."
Chuck Zito—formerHells Angel, former bodyguard to the stars, former Hollywood stuntman andbeefcake extra, former sinister presence on HBO's Oz—was an enthusiasticsteroid and HGH user for three years during his acting days earlier thisdecade. "It's just something everybody did," says Zito, "andthey're still doing it. It's ridiculous that we only talk about it in sports.You think these actors who suddenly get big for a movie, then go back to normalget like that by accident? You put 30 pounds of muscle on and you expecteverybody to believe that just happened?"
While we affectthat same "I'm shocked, shocked" response to steroid and HGH use thatCaptain Renault did to reports of gambling in Casablanca, steroids are all overthe culture. Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, a documentary about steroid use, waswell received at this year's Sundance Film Festival. You might suspect that afootball player on NBC's Friday Night Lights would dip into the steroidpool—Smash, the star running back, turned to them after a bad game in a 2006episode—but if you watched the Lifetime movie Love Thy Neighbor, you also saw ayoung soccer-playing girl accused of using Winstrol, a popular anabolicsteroid. In 1994 Ben Affleck starred in a made-for-TV movie called A Body toDie For: The Aaron Henry Story. After taking PEDs in an effort to bulk up andmake his high school football team, Affleck/Aaron suffers a bad case of 'roidrage, losing his hair and developing acne. Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn in theSpider-Man movies brought 'roid rage to a new level when he transmogrified intothe Green Goblin. Search for steroids and HGH on the Internet Movie Databasewebsite and dozens of movies and TV episodes pop up.
It's uncertainwhether hip-hop artists will find the irony amusing, but PEDs seem to be a partof life among the police as well. In a 2007 probe the names of 27 New York Cityofficers and at least two dozen from the Jersey City force were found amongthose who purchased HGH or steroids. (None has been charged.) The prosecutor'soffice in Mercer County, New Jersey, is investigating a group of officers,mostly from Trenton, who are accused of illegally buying HGH. The investigationprompted the Trenton department to draft a policy to follow when it suspects anofficer of using PEDs.
Gene Sanders, apolice psychologist in Spokane, has estimated that 25% of officers in urbansettings take steroids, many as a defense against street criminals. "How doI deal with people who are in better shape than me and want to kill me?"Sanders told ABC News as a way of explaining steroid use by the thin blueline.
Steroids may alsobe a major part of prison culture. And not just on one side of the bars. In astory that would be humorous if it weren't so ugly, Florida's then secretary ofprisons, over a two-year period beginning in 2006 fired 90 people, most of themguards, for infractions that included the importation and sale of steroids forthe primary purpose of beefing up for interdepartmental softball games. Therewere also postgame orgies. All in all, it sounds like the makings of a Cinemaxmovie.
More than softballis at stake in an ongoing civil case against Blackwater, the controversialsecurity firm that supplies private guards to protect U.S. officials in Iraq. Alawsuit filed in November alleges that one quarter of Blackwater's guards takesteroids and that the use of such "judgment-altering substances" was afactor in at least two incidents in which Iraqi civilians were killed. "Notto belittle the importance of steroid abuse in sports," says Susan Burke,the lead counsel for family members of civilians who were killed, "but thisis an instance in which it may have led to death. It's obvious that when peoplehave guns and their jobs involve being armed, it's critical to ensure that theyare not on steroids." Blackwater says that steroids are not tolerated amongits personnel. Meanwhile, a 2007 U.S. military police raid of the livingquarters of a similar firm in Iraq, Crescent Security Group, turned upsteroids.
AT THE HEART of theincessant hunt for PEDs in sports is the message that the President wasconveying in his State of the Union speech: Kids who hear about pro athletesusing performance-enhancing drugs will use them too. It is always about ournation's youth, as if that were one heterogeneous group that marches inlockstep, buying its steroids and its Will Ferrell movie tickets in bulk.
The assumption thatkids blindly emulate their sports stars is not just simplistic, it's alsowrong. In a poll of teenagers commissioned by SI last month, 99% of therespondents said they would not use steroids just because a pro athlete does.Other studies have consistently shown that the majority of kids who use PEDs doso to enhance their looks, not to bowl over a free safety at the goal line orget something extra on their fastball.
If there is someknuckle-dragging musclehead out there who advocates unlimited PED use byminors, he has not yet surfaced. Zito is an unapologetic past user—"There'sno difference between someone taking a steroid and someone having their facelifted"—but draws the line with teenagers. "Your body is stillgrowing," he says, "and you should let it grow without drugs." DanDuchaine was an anabolic-steroid pioneer who in 1982 wrote the UndergroundSteroid Handbook, a tract that offered a detailed breakdown of every PED knownat the time as well as a guide on how to use the drugs. In the book's secondedition he wrote, "I don't think children (teenagers included) should takesteroids because all but one or two of the drugs can stop bone growthprematurely." Muscular Development's Romano, who says that he has "notone single regret" from a steroid-loaded past and would entertain thenotion of adding anabolic steroids to his HGH and testosterone regimen, says hewould not consider giving his eight-year-old son HGH or steroids until the boyhas reached adulthood.
That, of course,doesn't mean large numbers of kids aren't using them, though it's difficult todetermine how many. In the SI poll, 0.3% admitted taking steroids, and 0.3%said they took HGH. But Dr. Charles Yesalis, a retired Penn State professor anda recognized authority on steroids, estimates that "at least half a millionand probably closer to three quarters of a million children in this countryhave used these drugs in their lifetime." Adds Yesalis, "The teens I'vetalked to say [steroids and HGH] are as easy to get as marijuana." The MayoClinic has published information that one tenth of U.S. steroid users areteenagers, which by its estimate would put the figure at 300,000.
A major concernabout kids and PEDs is the manner in which the youngsters procure the drugs."Because steroids and growth hormone have been pushed underground,"says Romano, "kids are buying them off the Internet. Or from their olderbrother, or the guy at the gym. And the stuff they're getting is the importedjunk from Mexico, the rejected veterinary crap. If they were using the best ofthe best stuff, that would be bad enough, but it's worse because they're usingthe bad stuff." Harrison G. Pope Jr., a professor of psychiatry at HarvardMedical School, an avid weightlifter and a coauthor of The Adonis Complex: TheSecret Crisis of Male Body Obsession, doesn't believe that steroid use amongteenagers is epidemic. But he agrees that the street purchase of PEDs is amajor problem, ascribing it to what he calls "the most secret culture ofany drug."
Indeed, steroidsevolved through clandestine experimentation in dark gyms by men who, even asthey displayed their freakish musculature, rarely talked publicly about howthey got that way. Zito still kicks himself for having lied on the Howard SternShow several years ago when asked if he was juicing. "I never lie to myfriends," he says, "but I lied that day. When you were asked aboutsteroids back then, you lied."
Predictably, whenathletes in mainstream sports discovered PEDs, they too kept the secrets withinthe confines of the locker room, if not to themselves. Workout buddiessometimes exchanged stories—what did Roger tell Andy?—but often it didn't goany further than that. Steroid use was strictly "Don't ask, don'ttell", even when averaged-sized players began to mysteriously inflate.Athletes had a lot more to lose than Zito, and their secrets got out only whenpublicity hounds like Jose Canseco started singing or subpoenas started flying.Even within the bodybuilding industry, outspoken PED proponents like Romano arerare. He says that the physician who prescribes his testosterone and growthhormone has made him swear that he will never utter his name in an interview,even though the prescriptions are dispensed lawfully.
WITH SECRECY comeshypocrisy, and the hypocrisy surrounding PEDs is mind-boggling. Take therappers, for whom admitting acts of lawlessness, such as PED use, would seem tobe part of the drill. But Timbaland trumpets the bodybuilding and weightliftingregimen that turned him from a 300-pound blubber factory into a buffbodybuilder. The most intriguing part of 50 Cent's story is his transformationfrom 12-year-old Queens drug dealer Curtis James Jackson III to a 32-year-oldworkout freak. He even has his own flavor of Vitamin Water, and last yearCoca-Cola bought the company that manufactures his drink for $4.1 billion. Howwould all that jibe with performance-enhancing drugs? "You don't want to bea faker," says the industry source. "That's the game."
Or take Californiagovernor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who despite having used steroids to help himbecome a seven-time winner of the Mr. Olympia title, bodybuilding's top prize,was named by George H.W. Bush in 1990 to head the President's Council onPhysical Fitness and Sports. By all accounts Schwarzenegger (who says hestopped using steroids well before it became illegal to sell or possess themwithout a prescription, in '90) worked tirelessly and brought unprecedentedattention to the council, decrying steroid use all the while. But there was theovermuscled Ah-nold model for all to see. The governor continues to say thatPEDs have no place in sport, yet tacitly endorses their use with his annualArnold Sports Festival, a carnival of muscle porn in Columbus, Ohio, thatincludes bodybuilding contests and an expo featuring supplements pushed bycartoonishly sculpted hulks. "Even though performance-enhancing drugs havebeen part of his life," said one exhibitor at last week's festival whorequested anonymity, "what can Arnold do? He has to say he's againstthem."
To a large degree,that describes the position of many Americans, certainly those in Congress andwithin the sports establishment: They have to say that they're againstperformance enhancers; they have to bang the gavel and declare, as Delawaresenator Joe Biden did in 2004 during a hearing on drugs in sports, "Thereis something simply un-American about [using PEDs]!"
But it's notun-American. It's entirely American, that search for an edge, that effort to beall you can be, that willingness to push the envelope. That's what AndyPettitte was doing when he took HGH. That's what Debbie Clemens was doing whenshe took HGH. That's what male collegiate cheerleaders are doing when they bulkup on anabolic steroids so they can lift more weight, or more femalecheerleaders, according to author Kate Torgovnick in her new book, Cheer!That's what a rapper is doing when he receives a package of PEDs at his hotel.That's what Schwarzenegger was doing when he loaded himself with steroids yearsago. That's what Kevin and Peggy Hart (box) are doing in the privacy of theirbedroom with their HGH and their "test," now as familiar a morningritual as tea and toast.
We are entering abrave new world. A serious academic and research war rages between those whosay that HGH and testosterone are natural substances that need to bereplenished when the body's supply runs low and those who proclaim such aphilosophy as quackery. "There are very basic questions we're trying to getanswers to," says Gary Gaffney, associate professor of psychiatry at theUniversity of Iowa's College of Medicine. He is against doctors prescribing HGHand testosterone for antiaging reasons, and even dislikes the term. "Isaging a disease? Should it be treated?" Gaffney believes there hasn't beennearly enough testing on the potential long-term effects of HGH andtestosterone-replacement therapies. And his message is being heard. "If youcould prove to me that HGH is not harmful," says Dallas Mavericks ownerMark Cuban, "I'd be the first in line to get some. But I don't knowthat."
Dr. Gordon, who ina book promoted the phrase "interventional endocrinology," largelybecause he recognizes that antiaging raises so many eyebrows, comes from theopposite perspective. "Isn't my dispensing medication to lower bloodpressure an antiaging [effort]?" Gordon says. "Otherwise, you'll die,and I call that true antiaging. It's the same thing with testosterone andHGH."
Crucial medicalquestions are being debated by serious medical people, yet we seem determinedto hear them only in the limited context of Roger Clemens's injected buttocks.Pro sports shouldn't stand apart from discussions about performance-enhancingdrugs, but they shouldn't frame them either. Who is George Mitchell, a formerpolitician who conducted baseball's steroid investigation, to be asking forlegislation to make HGH a controlled substance on par with anabolic steroids,as he did recently? Has he been spending secret time in a research lab allthese years? We need to realize that someday, perhaps not far down the road,the names of Clemens, Bonds, Mitchell and Rep. Henry Waxman will be merefootnotes in a story that goes far beyond baseball clubhouses and congressionalhearing rooms.
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