Abstinence Approach Preferred Over Honest Approach for Sex and Steroids
Former Boston Red Sox player Lou Merloni recently described a meeting during Red Sox spring training when a physician advised baseball players how to properly use anabolic steroids while minimizing the side effects. The doctor made a distinction between steroid use and abuse with a harm reduction approach to steroid education. Merloni emphasized that the physician was not advocating or endorsing steroid use but simply explaining how to minimize harm from the performance-enhancing drugs. The former Red Sox infielder compared the steroid education lecture to high school sex education.
"It was like teaching your teenage daughter about sex education," Lou Merloni told the Boston Globe. "The organization acknowledged that there were likely players using steroids, and basically, 'If you're going to use them, this is how you use them so you don't abuse them.'"
The alleged meeting occurred when Lou Merloni was still an active player with the Red Sox. Merloni and his teammates were expecting the usual lecture demonizing anabolic steroids where the doctor would overstate and exaggerate the adverse side effects of steroids.
“I'm sitting in the meeting. There's a doctor up there and he's talking about steroids, and everyone was like, 'Here we go, we're going to sit here and get the whole thing: They're bad for you,'” according to Merloni. But the MLB players were shocked when the doctor proceeded with an open and honest discussion of steroids emphasizing harm reduction.
"If you're going to take steroids, one cycle won't hurt you; abusing steroids it will.' He sat there for one hour and told us how to properly use steroids while I'm with the Boston Red Sox, sitting there with the rest of the organization, and after this I said, 'What the heck was that?' And everybody on the team was like, 'What was that?' And the response we got was, 'Well, we know guys are taking it, so we want to make sure they're taking it the right way.'"
Merloni believed that the doctor was hired by the Red Sox organization and not the MLB Players’ Association (MLBPA). Former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette strongly denied the allegation.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s totally unfounded,” said Duquette. “Who was the doctor? Tell me who the doctor is? If there was such a doctor he wasn’t in the employ of the Red Sox. We brought in doctors to educate the players on the major league drug policy at the time at the recommendation of major league baseball. This is so ridiculous I hate to even respond to it.”
Former MLB pitcher John Rocker claimed the MLBPA once hired a doctor who told him, Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Rafael Palmeiro how to safely use steroids. "If you do it responsibly, it's not going to hurt you," the doctor allegedly told them.
Such discussion of “responsible” steroid use completely contradicts the message promoted by the media. The steroid hysteria has made it impossible for most people to acknowledge that steroids can ever be used safely or with minimal side effects. Even among those that agree that steroid dangers are overstated, anything other than a steroid abstinence approach only proves that the MLBPA and/or MLB owners and organizations encouraged or were complicit in the rise of baseball’s steroid era.
Nonetheless, Lou Merloni’s analogy between steroid education and sex education is an interesting one. Hopefully, it stimulates discussion about the best way to approach baseball’s “steroid problem”. A harm reduction approach remains extremely controversial with little popular support. Most people would prefer that professional athletes “abstain” from anabolic steroids much like they would prefer that teenagers “abstain” from sexual intercourse. The abstinence approach tends to be morally-based often accompanied with scare tactics to discourage involvement. This approach is clearly a “feel good” approach but preaching abstinence and using scare tactics have not been particularly effective methods from decreasing either teenager sexual activity or performance enhancing drug use amongst professional athletes. Perhaps a scientifically-based harm reduction approach is the most realistic and pragmatic approach to such problems especially if the health of the individuals affected is the overriding concern.
“Merloni tells of PED advice from doctor,” May 11, 2009
“Let's end the silent treatment,” May 11, 2009
“John Rocker: Union doctor told A-Rod, me how to use steroids,” February 12, 2008
By Millard Baker