Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

How Leagues Learned To Stop Loving And Worry About Steroids

Illustration for article titled How Leagues Learned To Stop Loving And Worry About Steroids

The peril of steroids, like the Internet, wasn't apparent 40 years ago when Sports Illustrated published a prescient story about PEDs. In retrospect now, with steroids as dangerous as the Internet is real, professional sports appear more oblivious than ever.

Back in the 1960s, there were already rumblings about how steroids could fundamentally impact sports. Horse racing banned doping, but other major sports ignored the growing epidemic; steroids were the least of anyone's drug concerns. The sporting folks of 1969 pretended "the most stimulating thing you got at a drugstore was a soda," but the truth was that athletes were "popping pills for more purposes than are dreamt in almost anybody's philosophy — or pharmacy." Remember: 1969, not 1998.

The sports magazine of record, therefore, refused to let sporting organizations spew their peace and love and happiness drivel. What followed was Bil Gilbert's 4,500-word lesson in persuasion. He didn't have to depict the league owners in tie-dye. They did that without any artificial help.


• Warren Giles, president of the National Baseball League, says that there is nothing in the rules about prohibition of drug use. "Nothing has ever come to my attention that would require a special ruling. It never has come up, and I don't think it ever will." (He would do well to check the locker rooms of a few of his teams before a game and watch who swallows what.)

• "The American League has no rules regarding pep pills, painkillers, etc. Baseball players don't use those types of things," says the league's executive assistant, Bob Holbrook.

• Professional football: "We have rules on gambling, etc., but none on medical matters," says NFL-AFL Publicity Director Don Weiss. "These are left to the club physicians and the club trainers in both leagues."

• Says the American Basketball Association: "A player should not do anything which is detrimental to the best interests of the club, of the ABA or of pro sports. He must always remain in good condition."


• "We have no written rules on the subject of drugs," says Haskell Cohen, for 17 years the National Basketball Association publicity director. "The league does not interfere with individual club trainers."

• National Hockey League officials say they do not recall ever issuing any statement or laying down rules about the use of drugs. Ken McKenzie-now publisher of The Hockey News and longtime NHL publicity director-says, "I can honestly say that in my 17 years with the NHL, I never heard any talk about drugs."


• "Responding to your request for verbatim rules and policies of the NCAA and NAIA on the use of pep pills, weight builders, painkillers, etc., neither organization has any formal rules or stated policy on this matter. The NCAA says it relies on trainers and team physicians to protect the welfare of its athletes. The NAIA says no need has arisen for formal rules or policy statements," reports a Kansas City correspondent.

• Howard Grubbs, executive secretary of the Southwest Conference: "We don't have any regulations on drugs, alcoholic beverages or anything. That's up to the individual schools."


• William E. (Pinky) Newell, trainer at Purdue University and for 16 years the executive secretary of the National Athletic Trainers Association: "All trainers are very much opposed to the use of drugs, but as an association no policies have been made or initiated or directed to anyone at all because this is a medical problem."

• From the minutes of the May 20, 1967 meeting of the team physicians of the Pacific Eight Conference: "We recommend that the conference adopt a policy endorsing the American Medical Association Committee on the Medical Aspects of Sports" suggestions on drug usage in athletics, particularly with reference to banning the use of pep pills, anabolic steroids and any other artificial aids which hopefully and supposedly improve performance." The resolution was not acted upon.


• A letter dated Dec. 1, 1967 from Edwin J. Holman, director of the AMA's Department of Medical Ethics to a San Francisco physician: "I have your letter of November 29 asking if it is legal and ethical for you 'to prescribe moderate doses of anabolic agents to weight lifters for two or three weeks prior to competition, followed by intervals of three months or more without these agents.' No categorical answer can be made to your inquiry inasmuch as this is basically a medical question. The physician must exercise sound medical judgment in prescribing any drug. Sound medical judgment is not determined by the courts, but rather by fellow physicians...."

Or, if punchy prose is more of your thing:

Such remarks made about almost any sport are at the very least nonsense, and at worst deliberate lies.


Far out, dude.

High Time To Make Some Rules [SI Vault (Special H/T to Reader Michael)]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter