In recent weeks, events in Major League Baseball, the NFL and elsewhere have given us a vivid reminder that performance-enhancing drugs are pervasive in the sports world. Quite simply, they are a problem that must be dealt with.
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has recognized this problem for some time, and has policies that prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). But if anyone else wondered if concern is really necessary, their doubts should have been erased with news accounts indicating that the Biogenesis scandal wasn’t limited to just professional and collegiate athletes. South Florida high school athletes have also been implicated among the clinic’s possible customers, and there is no reason to believe the problem is limited to that clinic or that part of the state.
Under existing FHSAA sportsmanship bylaws and policies, student-athletes can be suspended from competing if they have used PEDs, until medical evidence proves they are clean. But now, in light of everything happening in the sports world, I have grown concerned that the existing policies may not be enough.
We must be sure our policies and procedures – which are in place, after all, to protect the well-being of our student-athletes and the integrity of the games they play – truly deter ambitious and misguided athletes, coaches and even parents who think it’s okay to cheat in order to tilt the playing field to their own advantage. This win-at-all-costs mentality is not what high school sports is supposed to be about.
That is why I asked FHSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to conduct a top-to-bottom review of existing policies to make sure they do everything possible to discourage, detect and penalize the use of performance-enhancing drugs and human growth hormone by high school student-athletes. The 16 members of this committee include physicians, professors, physical therapists, athletic trainers and coaches – experts who understand sports and young athletes, and can bring an incredible amount of expertise to this important task.
The FHSAA’s overriding priority is the safety, well-being and constructive development of young student-athletes, whose bodies and character are still forming. Performance-enhancing drugs undermine every aspect of this goal, and so it is imperative that our student-athletes adhere to a zero tolerance policy toward these inherently unfair and dangerous substances.
We must draw a line in the sand against performing-enhancing drugs and the inappropriate use of human growth hormone. School districts cannot tolerate coaches who encourage or look the other way when athletes use PEDs. These coaches cannot be allowed to keep their jobs or have anything to do with young athletes.
This is about more than safeguarding fair play – it’s about saving lives.
I’m proud of the FHSAA’s history as a leader in protecting the safety of our young student-athletes. In the last several years alone we became one of the first states to establish strict policies to address concussions and problems caused by extreme heat and inadequate hydration.
Now a careful review of PED policies will lead to the best approach to keeping these banned substances out of our high schools. This is another important step to protect our student-athletes.
The overwhelming majority of high school student-athletes will never compete at the collegiate level, and just a tiny percentage will ever have a shot at making a living playing the games they love.
We need to do everything we can to foster that love, to keep the games fun, and to protect these young men and women from harm. Performance-enhancing drugs simply have no place in high school sports.
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Dr. Roger Dearing is Executive Director of the Florida High School Athletic Association, based in Gainesville. He is a former coach, athletic director and Manatee County School Superintendent.