Steroid Use, Football, and Catastrophic Injuries: The Paradox of Performance-Enhancing Drug Use

Article excerpt


Two recent cases have gained significant media attention pertaining to performance-enhancing drug use in Canadian football. First, the University of Waterloo football program in Canada was suspended for the 20102011 season following the positive test of nine football players (McElroy, 2010). After the arrest of a team player for steroid trafficking and possession, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) made an unprecedented move to test every player on the University of Waterloo football team for the use of illicit performance-enhancers. Second, Canadian Football League player Jordan Matechuk was arrested and convicted for steroid possession (Edwards, 2011). While these two cases received significant media attention suggesting isolated incidents of steroid use in Canadian football, the results of this study indicate that performance-enhancing drug use is widespread in Canadian football. In fact, 59 out of 59 players interviewed in this study reported to use some form of performance-enhancing drug.

This paper will examine the prevalence and paradox of performance-enhancing drug use in Canadian football. While, performance-enhancers can make athletes bigger, stronger, and faster, they also carry increased risk of certain injuries and health complications for users. Performance-enhancers also place others at risk of catastrophic injuries from the impact with stronger, faster chemically augmented athletes in open field contact. Given this, not using performance enhancers can also have increased health risks in Canadian football. The end result is a paradox where athletes might be at greater risk of injury if they use performance enhancers, but might also be at greater risk of injury if they do not.

Much of the existing research on performance-enhancing drug use in Canadian sports focuses on ethics of steroid use in amateur and professional sport (Beamish & Ritchie, 2006; Boudreau & Konzak, 1991; Kirkwood, 2009), the possible health consequences of use (Koziris, 2007; Sirois, 2003; Uzych, 1992), social consequences of use (Hoaken & Stewart, 2003; Vanhelder, 1991), body image and use (Blouin & Goldfield, 1995; Goldfield, 2009), statistical prevalence of use (Melia et al., 1996). This research study builds on this literature, particularly by making a unique contribution to research on prevalence and health issues of performance-enhancing drug use in sports.


Coakley and Donnelly (2009) suggest that defining performance-enhancing substances is a difficult task, as anything from aspirin to heroin can be considered a performance enhancer. Defining performance-enhancing drugs is made increasingly difficult as "physicians, pharmacists, chemists, inventors, and athletes continue to develop new and different aids to performance" (Coakley and Donnelly, 2009, p. 172). The definition of performance-enhancing drug use used in this study was developed in accordance with the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Canadian Policy Against Doping in Sport (2004).

The CDSA only recognizes one category of performance-enhancers, which they term "anabolic steroids". These include: Oxymetholone, Stanozolol, Nandrolone, Methandrostenolone, Oxandrolone, Boldenone, Methenolone, Mesterolone, Testosterone Cypionate, Testosterone Enanthate, Testosterone Propionate, and Testosterone Undecanoate (Health Canada, 2000). In contrast, the Canadian Policy Against Doping in Sport (2004) uses a much broader definition of performance-enhancing drugs, which includes, but is not limited to: blood doping to enhance oxygen transfer, diuretics to mask steroid use, stimulants, and certain narcotics. This study relies on this broader conceptualization of performance-enhancing drug use, but specific attention is given to studying the prevalence and use of steroids.

According to the United States Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004, the term 'anabolic steroid' refers to "any drug or hormonal substance, chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone" (p. …


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