shutterstock_226132561In 1889, James Francis “Pud” Galvin, Major League Baseball’s first 300-game winner and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, became the earliest documented user of performance enhancing drugs when he openly consumed an elixir made of dog testosterone.

Since Galvin drank his “Elixir of Life” more than 125 years ago in an effort to improve his athletic performance, doping has become as much a part of professional and amateur sports as winning championships. But the cost, both to the athletes and to the sports, comes at a steep price.

The Physiological and Psychological Cost

Performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) come in a variety of options, from anabolic steroids to peptide hormones to diuretics, with some of the more popular PEDs used today being stanozolol, testosterone, boldenone, and clenbuterol. While these drugs can help build muscle, reduce fatigue, increase endurance, and improve recovery time from injuries, the potential side effects from these drugs can far outweigh the benefits.

Some of the more serious physiological side effects of many of these drugs can include:

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney disease
  • Loss of vision
  • Hypertension
  • Blood cancers/leukemia
  • Anemia
  • Diabetes and tumors
  • Crippling arthritis
  • Thyroid problems
  • Acromegaly (protruding or enlarged jaw, brow, skull, hands, and feet)
  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • High blood pressure and heart failure

These are in addition to the gender-specific side effects that can range from impotence in male athletes to abnormal menstrual cycles in female athletes. Meanwhile, the possible psychological side effects are more limited to the use of anabolic steroids and can include:

  • Increased aggressiveness and sexual appetite
  • Severe rage and violence
  • Depression and suicide

The Financial Cost

In addition to the potential physiological and psychological cost of doping, amateur and professional athletes who are caught taking PEDs end up taking a big hit to their bank accounts, from lost salaries via suspensions to cancelled sponsorship contracts.

Manny Ramirez lost $6.5 million in salary after being suspended for 50 games in 2009, while Alex Rodriguez, who was caught up in the Biogenesis scandal, lost more than $22 million in salary due to his yearlong suspension from baseball in 2014 (Sports Newsday – MLB Drug Suspensions). But that doesn’t factor in the loss of any endorsement contracts. More often than not, that ends up being a much more significant loss of income to the athlete. And sometimes, the suspensions, or even the controversy surrounding the athlete, can be career ending.

After becoming one of the key figures in Major League Baseball’s steroids scandal, Barry Bonds, the all-time homerun leader, lost an estimated $28 million a year in contract endorsements. While Bonds was never suspended for using PEDs, when his contract with the San Francisco Giants ended in 2007,  no other teams showed any interest in signing him. He officially retired from baseball in 2010.

Along with Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, the Olympic and world track and field champion, was implicated in the BALCO scandal. In 2007, after pleading guilty to lying to a grand jury about her use of PEDs, Jones was stripped of her five Olympic medals, banned from the sport for two years, and sentenced to six months in prison and two years of probation.

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Arguably the most famous, or infamous, fall from grace belongs to Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles plus his Olympic bronze medal and banned for life from bicycle racing in 2012 when a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation found that he’d used PEDs during his cycling career through retrospective testing. On top of being banned from the sport, Armstrong reportedly lost sponsorship contracts worth $75 million, not to mention the support that Nike gave to his Livestrong charity.

The Cost to the Sports

Athletes aren’t the only ones who stand to lose millions of dollars in potential revenue due to doping. Corporate sponsorships and TV rights for the sports themselves can get pulled once the stigma of performance-enhancing drugs becomes an issue, as companies don’t want to be associated with teams or sports where there’s a history of doping.

While Major League Baseball’s proactive drug-testing policy may have helped the league to prevent the loss of corporate sponsors due to the Biogenesis scandal (The Future of Players’ Endorsements), the Tour de France took a hit on its reputation in the wake of multiple doping scandals. Corporate sponsors of both the tour and of various teams pulled the plug once it was revealed that there appeared to be an issue of systemic doping in the sport. At the end of 2007, T-Mobile withdrew its backing for the tour. In that same year, German truck maker, Man, backed out as a sponsor and two separate German television stations dropped their coverage of the Tour. (The Real Cost of Doping in Sports).

Human Athletes Aren’t the Only Ones at Risk

Equine doping in horse racing has been prevalent for the past century. But unlike human athletes, who have a choice when it comes to taking PEDs, horses aren’t afforded that option. While American horse racing banned steroids in 2010, laboratories struggle to detect the newest performance-enhancing drugs that trainers experiment with to give them an edge, including cobra venom, Viagra, stimulants, and cancer drugs (Death and Disarray at America’s Racetracks).

But even legal drugs pose a risk to horses. Therapeutic pain medications can mask injuries, potentially causing horses to run harder than they otherwise would. According to California researchers, as many as 90 percent of horses that break down have pre-existing injuries. At racetracks across America, an average of 24 horses die each week.

One of the most common (and legal) medications administered to horses at American racetracks is furosemide (Lasix), a powerful diuretic that causes the kidneys to increase urine production above the normal limit, removing water from the blood. Lasix reduces the volume of plasma and helps to counteract bleeding by lowering blood pressure in the aorta and pulmonary artery, reducing Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (Horse Racing – The Chemical Horse).

Because Lasix prevents bleeding in the lungs, it technically adds a competitive advantage and therefore could be considered a performance enhancing drug. The use of Lasix on a regular basis can cause dehydration, weight loss, and electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to an irregular heartbeat and sudden death. Even low doses of the drug in a dehydrated horse can cause “thickened blood” or circulatory collapse.

Ultimately the horses are at the mercy of their owners, trainers and veterinarians, who have to find a balance between the health of the horse and the horse’s performance on the track while attempting to maximize their financial investment.

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