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Confessions of a Juicer: Reconsidering the War on Steroids


I’m coming clean: I use performance-enhancing drugs.

Indeed, I’ve had a serious testosterone problem.

Of course, unlike my fellow recovering politicians  (ahem…Mssrs. Spitzer, Weiner and Clinton), my body doesn’t produce enough of the über-manly hormone. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a free-testosterone level akin to an octogenarian eunuch. Who’d been dead for a decade.

The option of traditional testosterone therapy, however, frankly frightened me. I’d heard the woeful tales of back acne, hair in strange places, ’roid rage, the link to prostate cancer. I also remember vividly football superstar Lyle Alzado’s final days, his brutal death from brain cancer blamed on PED overuse. And as an ESPN Radio addict, I’d been bombarded for years by its omnipresent, perversely mixed messages: the screaming sports-host anti-steroid hysteria, interrupted every 20 minutes by snake-oily “Low T” elixir ads, using the kind of incredulous performance hype that would discomfit even Bernie Madoff.

So I tried an alternative route – medically sanctioned natural vitamins and minerals, prescribed by a well-respected medical doctor, whose practice focused on integrative health.

Nothing. And I was suffering.

While our sex-obsessed culture focuses on the libido-suppressing side effects of a “Low T” diagnosis, the ramifications for me were quite more significant. My immune system was shot; my body had become a petri dish for every new virus of the week. Worse, my mood and energy levels had plummeted: Despite enjoying perhaps the happiest and most successful years of my life, there were far too many mornings when I struggled simply to get out of bed.

So I bit the bullet.

Well, more accurately, I bite my lip: Every six months, I lie face down on an examination table in Dr. Lena Edwardsoffice in suburban Lexington as her medical assistant inserts nine bio-identical hormone pellets–each the size of a grain of rice—under my skin, near my glutes.

In return for the slightest, fleeting discomfort (I’m a baby; but the procedure is less painful than giving blood), I’m rewarded with a measurably higher quality of life. I’m a morning person again, and now have the energy both for a full day’s work and an aggressive exercise routine. I’ve lost a previously unshakable 15 pounds; I sleep better; I haven’t been sick in more than a year (a lifetime record); and most significantly, my frame of mind is sublimely serene–no Prozac-fueled euphoria, no Lithium-hazed mental dullness–just a rested, clear-headed self-satisfaction.

I’m me again.

My family and colleagues prefer the new me, and my personal trainer has noticed the difference: Josh Bowen, a nationally celebrated fitness guru (who recently opened a new personal training studio in Lexington), witnessed in me a “dramatic physical transformation, with markably increased energy levels and significant pain reduction in several areas.”

I’ve also been buoyed by my simple, myth-shattering research about this “father’s little helper.” The widely publicized steroid-poster-boy horror stories–teen deathsfemale athlete disfigurement, Barry Bonds’s gargantuan head: All were the result of PED misuse and overuse. Further, the link to prostate cancer has been vigorously disputed, and any connection to Alzado’s death is less scientifically reliable than Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine campaign.

Indeed, Penn State Professor Emeritus Charles Yesalis, an epidemiologist who’s one of the nation’s most-quoted PED experts, insists that there is “no way, shape or form” that anabolic steroids, even when misused, are “a major killer drug,” such as heroin and cocaine, or even alcohol or tobacco. As with most drugs–Yesalis cites as examples aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, and valium–“you put yourself at risk when you take steroids at high doses for protracted periods of use.” But when used as directed by a physician, schmoes like me, who aren’t naturally producing hormones critical to a healthy lifestyle, can see real benefits with few risks. “The logic of letting people get back to their natural level of testosterone,” Yesalis suggests, “makes common medical sense.”

The case for anabolic steroids becomes even more persuasive in the cases of men who are recuperating from muscle-skeletal surgery or debilitating diseases. Josh Bowen credits judicious anabolic steroid therapy for the healthy recovery of several other of his personal training clients: “It speeds the injury process and allows them to get back to normal activities quicker.” And my fellow juicer/blogger Andrew Sullivan has written powerfully about the dramatic quality-of-life enhancements provided by steroids for men like him who are struggling with HIV.

Then take the much more broadly applicable case of Ryan Braun. The baseball player admitted to using banned products to facilitate his rehabilitation from a “nagging injury.” While Braun may not be the most trustworthy witness, no one argues that he’s bulked up obscenely like the sluggers of the 1990s, when ’roids were all the rage. And the argument for denying testosterone therapy treatment for injury recovery, while allowing most every other widely accepted treatment, is medically illogical.

First, there are many cases in which a doctor could conclude that hormone therapy–which helps a person rebuild muscle–is preferable to sport-sanctioned painkillers which might place the athlete at risk of further injury. In his “The Ethicist” column for The New York Times’ Magazine, Chuck Klosterman argues that “it’s difficult to explain why we’ve collectively agreed it’s O.K. for an injured football player to take a shot of Toradol to help ignore an injury, but not a shot of testosterone to help that injury heal faster.”

More significantly, PEDs, when administered appropriately, impose significantly fewer health risks than many sports-legal PESs (performance enhancing surgeries). Celebrated author Malcolm Gladwell illustrated the strikingly convoluted sports construct that forbids some athletes from overcoming genetic disadvantage through noninvasive, natural treatment, while permitting others to undergo laser eye surgery —  which imposes a small chance of blindness — or Tommy John elbow repair, which raises dangers from infection as well as permanent nerve irritation and numbness.

Ultimately, however, the case against the War on Steroids rests less on debunking the perverse parsing of medical treatments, and more on a simple, indisputable notion: PED testing just doesn’t work.

As the high-profile BALCO and Biogenesis scandals clearly revealed, the underground illegal steroid industry is perpetually a step ahead of state-of-the-art drug testing techniques. It’s no wonder that so many the highest profile violators–Armstrong, Braun, Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, yadda, yadda, yadda…were outed by testimony, not testing. As Dr. Yesalis concludes, “if you and I had performed our jobs as well as drug testing has, we’d have been fired long ago. All it has done…is provide plausible deniability to journalists and fans who think they are watching clean sports because of drug testing.”

And that’s where we are left. As Klosterman posits, “the motive [of PED bans] is to create a world–or at least the illusion of a world–where everyone is playing the same game in the same way.” And that illusion, of a level playing field, is as fanciful as Kevin Costner’s field of dreams.

So, in the end, the consequences of Big Sport’s War on Steroids are morally antithetical to any notion of fairness, and ethically antithetical to its own purported justification, the long-term health of its athletes. Beneficial testosterone therapy is unavailable to men in precisely those professions that could most take advantage of the recuperative benefits, while the drug misuse and overuse continues, in shady, nefarious settings, enriching illegal suppliers and endangering the health of desperate athletes.

An earlier version of this article appeared previously at The Daily Beast.

Article written by Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller, The Recovering Politician (Twitter: @RecoveringPol), writes about the politics of sport and the sport of politics...and sometimes about bourbon. Jonathan has been elected twice as Kentucky's State Treasurer; practices as a crisis management attorney; authored three books on faith, public policy and crisis management; serves as a Contributor to The Daily Beast, played straight man on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; reached the final table of the World Series of Poker; and with his summer camp sweetheart, raised two remarkable twenty-something daughters.

15 Comments for Confessions of a Juicer: Reconsidering the War on Steroids

  1. BIgBlueShane
    9:24 pm December 14, 2014 Permalink

    Sorry to hear about your condition. You are an exception to the rule when it comes to using steroids. But by in large the medical community is against using steroids. The cons are very well documented and supported by medical FACT. In addition they have no place in sports outside of medical use.

    • theWilkman
      9:32 am December 15, 2014 Permalink

      The same medical community that has pushed the Standard American Diet for 30 years?

      Jonathan links to several studies, i.e. “medical FACTs” that say you’re wrong. Do yourself a favor and actually read this article.

    • sonnyg333
      1:39 pm December 15, 2014 Permalink

      BBS,The facts have determined what was stated and your facts are based on scare tactics from lawyer based commercials. The internet can be dangerous when you don’t consider whom is writing only their opinions instead of facts from resent studies.

  2. Juan4UK
    10:51 pm December 14, 2014 Permalink

    Sorry about your condition, truly. Its good you’ve found what you hoped for, I assume.. But TMI.

    How about Bionics? (Which are now a reality) Are they ok? What about Pistoris? Is it ok if Nike adds a little extra spring in his step?
    The body is the body. The advantage allowed is the advantage one makes for themselves through training, study, weight lifting and any other method one can use to out work his/her competition.

    Not by man made manufactured cheats to short cut or amplify the process.
    Now, if you want to create a league where its wide open, then do that. But market it as such. Let everyone in on your rules. Great advances in cybernetics await.

  3. catdaddyd
    12:48 am December 15, 2014 Permalink

    I think I’m right there with you. I’ve been fatigued for about nine months, slept 13 hours Friday night. I wake up and I’m tired. I’ve tried iron tablets and vitamins and not helping at all.

    • 25OR624
      11:59 am December 15, 2014 Permalink

      catdadyd: You need to go see your MD. You may have a sleep disorder (such as sleep apnea). Call and make that appointment now.

  4. David
    1:57 am December 15, 2014 Permalink

    Bro, check out Testo Fuel. It was created by a British Company.

    It has been shown that the majority of American males are testosterone deficient. If you look at all of the skinny, shoulderless geeks running around America, you can see this anecdotally.

    I’m 6′ & 210lbs and work out regularly. I still take a testosterone booster and they work. I’ll be trying Testo Fuel when I get back from vacation. It’s supposedly the best on the market. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll be posting about it on my twitter account (but if you don’t like Politics or are a DNC/GOP Zombie, you’re probably not going to like what I have to say politically. lol).

    I’ve been using a testosterone booster and I can feel a difference and it does enhance weight loss efforts.

    America has poisoned it’s citizens by allowing Corporations to dump toxic waste everywhere and place toxic chemicals in our foods and, then, of course, there are the plastics that have been banned in Europe but are allowed to be foisted upon an unsuspecting and overly trusting American public.

    Corporations are out for profits. Your health is beside the point. This has been proven time and time again and is evidenced by the expanding waste lines of the average, couch potato American.

    I really wish Americans would wake up to the Corporate threat to their health. However, that’s asking too much I have found.

    Everything from the snacks Americans eat in excess to Obamacare are designed to soak Americans out of their well earned paychecks. I always have to laugh when people give Obama credit for the ACA when it was nothing but a way to ensure record profits for the industries which most heavily contributed to his campaign and other DNC coffers.

    The American government is not of the people, by the people and for the people. It is a government of the Corporations, by the Corporations and for the Corporations.

    And this is why Americans are walking zombies and why American men are turning into estrogen vessels.

    • sonnyg333
      1:43 pm December 15, 2014 Permalink

      “America has poisoned it’s citizens by allowing Corporations to dump toxic waste everywhere and place toxic chemicals in our foods and, then, of course, there are the plastics that have been banned in Europe but are allowed to be foisted upon an unsuspecting and overly trusting American public.”

      You could not be more right about this…The FDA has allowed known poisons in our food and containers. Our government has been for sale for years to the highest bidder and we all lose.

  5. msnthrop
    6:47 am December 15, 2014 Permalink

    Other names you might have referenced…Foley, Gingrich, Sanford, and my all time favorite Larry Craig. You gave me a chuckle mentioning Andrew Sullivan, not sure how much overlap between KSR and the Dish there is…

    • Jonathan Miller
      12:59 pm December 15, 2014 Permalink

      Thanks, I stuck to my fellow Democrats so as not to be accused of partisanship. If you get a chance, read the Sullivan piece on steroids. Much more powerful than mine.

  6. fairplay
    8:16 am December 15, 2014 Permalink

    Sure grateful that Jonathan shared this with us. But then, it probably wasn’t very hard for him to do.

  7. buttercup
    8:48 am December 15, 2014 Permalink

    I’m pretty sure I just read an infomercial. “This editorial sponsored by….”

    • David
      5:47 am December 16, 2014 Permalink

      lol If you’re talking about me, I haven’t received the testofuel yet. ; )

  8. Piedma Schwartz
    9:25 am December 15, 2014 Permalink

    America. You can legally buy weed, tobacco products that kill you, alcohol, and synthetic drugs. But if you want to improve your physique/health and quality of life by taking testosterone.. you’re a felon