A National Baseball Hall of Fame- funded survey found 66 percent of Americans believe that hearing about steroid use by professional athletes encourages adolescents to take performance-enhancing drugs.
The Hall of Fame had one of its most scrutinized votes this year, with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds both snubbed, adding Major League Baseball’s two most-decorated players to the list of retired All-Stars bypassed because of links to doping. Cyclist Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year after acknowledging he used performance enhancers.
Results of the Hall of Fame’s study released today showed that while 94 percent of the public believes using steroids without a prescription to get ahead in sports is cheating, only 19 percent consider steroid use a “big problem” among those under the age of 18. That compares to 55 percent for alcohol use, 52 percent for bullying, 50 percent for obesity, 46 percent for marijuana use and 27 percent for eating disorders.
“In addition to believing that steroid use is about enhancing athletic performance, the public also believes that professional athletes play an important role in influencing adolescents’ decision to use steroids,” according to the study. “The majority of the public believe that hearing about professional athletes using steroids encourages use among adolescents; the public does not believe it discourages use.”
The Hall of Fame, the Taylor Hooton Foundation and the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society joined with the Center for Social Development and Education and the Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston on the study, which they said was the “most comprehensive national opinion survey to date to assess the public’s knowledge, perceptions and beliefs about the use of performance-enhancing drugs among adolescents.”
Of the 1,002 adults surveyed nationwide by telephone in an unspecified timeframe, 17 percent believe that steroid use is a big problem among high-school athletes, versus 46 percent among college athletes and 63 percent among professional athletes, according to the study.
The Hall of Fame said in its summary that it is “concerning” that little attention is paid in the media to steroid use among teenagers.
“Even if every single player in Major League Baseball used steroids, that would be approximately 1,300 users, when in contrast, considering that there are about 16 million private and public high-school students in the U.S., between 350,000 to almost a million are using steroids illegally,” the Hall of Fame said in its summary, citing statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hall of Fame officials said the study is important for educational efforts to try to solve the steroid problem among adolescents. Researchers called for more investigation of motivations and patterns for steroid use, when teenagers might start using steroids, and the awareness of negative health effects.
Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed said they believe there are negative health effects from using steroids.
Seventy-five percent of the public said they support mandatory testing of high-school athletes to reduce steroid use. When given a choice, however, 56 percent said they prefer educational programs over mandatory testing (44 percent).
The survey sample had an average age of 52.6 years, with 52 percent male.
This year was the first since 1996 that the Baseball Writers Association of America didn’t elect anyone to the Hall of Fame, with eligible candidates needing to receive at least 75 percent of the vote. Some baseball writers, fans, players and Hall of Fame members such as Reggie Jackson have argued that those tainted by performance-enhancing drug use should be kept out of the shrine in Cooperstown, New York, while others maintain the 1980s and 1990s was simply an era of widespread steroid use in baseball.
Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young Awards as the best pitcher in his league, was accused of using steroids and human growth hormone in a 2007 report by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. He was acquitted by a federal court jury in Washington of lying to Congress about steroid use. Bonds, a record seven-time Most Valuable Player and baseball’s all-time home run leader, was also identified by the Mitchell Report as a steroid user and was convicted of obstructing justice in a grand jury investigation of drug use in sports. Clemens received 37.6 percent of the vote this year, while Bonds was named on 36.2 percent of ballots from the BBWAA.
The BBWAA ballot includes the sentence: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”