The Latest Spin
Steroids, Newsweek, and the "Lacrosse Image"

By Michael Spinner

When I was a freshman in college, I took a sociology class entitled, "Sex Roles & Social Change." Surprisingly, the class was almost entirely concerning the effect of societal roles on women and how, over time, the media has been influential in how young women tend to perceive themselves and develop as young adults.

And while an overwhelming majority of what we learned was absolutely valid and beyond eye-opening, nearly a decade later I still find myself wondering why during more than four months of classes, there was not one mention of how young males are also affected by what they see in the media. Whether it's a hulking baseball player who was once lean enough to hit leadoff, but now hits dozens of home-runs at a time, an Abercrombie model who is built like a machine, or a film-actor or professional wrestler who looks like something out of a fiction novel, young males are being cultured by mass media today every bit as much as young women.

For young women, the culture that has been media produced is most often attributed to the extremely thin look that has been linked to awful disorders such as Bulimia and Anorexia. For young men, this culture has led to the notion that the ideal male image is extremely muscular - the more, the better. Combined with a drive for athletic excellence that has fueled young athletes to take whatever means necessary to "gain the edge," has led to an explosion of use of performance enhancing drugs by young athletes. Recently, the news has been aflutter with stories of steroid use in baseball with "greats" such as Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi being implicated.

However, this issue is not limited to the pros. Recently, Newsweek tackled the issue of steroid use among teenage athletes in an article entitled, "Toxic Strength." The article is simply shocking. It makes it clear that the use of steroids among teenagers is every bit as concerning as any other form of drug abuse among this group, with the results of steroid use being in many cases as dangerous as the use of narcotics most often associated with drug abuse.

In the article, Newsweek reporter Jerry Adler examined the issue thoroughly and with incredible proficiency. It is an excellent read but without impuning anyone's integrity, skills or creativity, the accompanying pictures were the unintentional misleadings of the arrogantly ignorant.

On the cover of Newsweek, and the most prominent photo in the Adler article feature young Chris Wash - a 6 foot 2 inch guard on the Plano West High School basketball team in Plano, Texas. While Wash's abuse of performance enhancing steroids was attributed to basketball aspirations, in the photo, there was nary a basketball item to be found. In fact, featured most prominently was a Plano West Lacrosse T-shirt and a football in Wash's hands. While the article neither implied that steroid use was prominent among lacrosse players nor mentioned lacrosse at all, the fact is that by associating such a picture with an article concerning steroid use begs for a very wrong connotation to be assumed.

Wash aspired to play big-time college hoops - so much so that he began a regimen of steroid use that saw him grow from a lanky 180-pound frame to a bulky 230-pound giant in a span of 12 months. While he progressed physically during this stretch, he regressed mentally, and ultimately was kicked off of the team for fighting.

Chris Wash in Newsweek

Wash's bout with steroids ended when high school friend and baseball prospect, Taylor Hooton, killed himself - apparently after a bout of depression commonly associated with steroid use. However, by ending his steroid use abruptly, Wash experienced the same depression Hooton did, and one day ventured to a bridge across a Dallas freeway and looked down, contemplating the same fate as Hooton. Fortunately, Wash had the presence to seek help.

For the record, according to a representative from the Plano West Lacrosse Club Chris Wash played lacrosse for one season during the Spring of 2004 - after his reported steroid use had ceased. The coach told our editor that Wash had never played lacrosse before and was still just learning when he moved from the area. The Plano West team, which is not associated with the high school, is thriving amidst a local lacrosse boom and has a no tolerance policy on all drugs and no steroid issues at all.

Also for the record, conversations with dozens of prominent College Lacrosse Coaches, discussions among editors of several lacrosse publications, and a series of web searches revealed not a single solitary instance of a lacrosse player being disciplined for steroid use, or steroids being used by lacrosse players to enhance their performance. In fact, E-Lacrosse could not find anybody in the lacrosse world who ever heard of somebody who used steroids to enhance their game. Baseball now has several examples of athletes who used steroids at one point or another, and basketball's example was quite prominent in the Newsweek article. There are also dozens of ex football players who reportedly used steroids to enhance their game (e.g. Lyle Alzado). And let's not forget the doping scandals that seem to tarnish every Olympic Games.

But, based on our research, not one lacrosse player has even been rumored to use steroids. Of course, there is always the possibility of an isolated case here and there, but nothing so prominent that it is considered "public knowledge" within lacrosse circles. Yet still, anybody who saw the cover of Newsweek without reading the article could deduce that lacrosse has an issue with steroid abuse.

I have written either directly or indirectly dozens of times over the years concerning the "lacrosse image" that the non-participating public seems to hold. Anybody who has ever been around this great sport knows that what makes lacrosse unique and truly special is that it is an exciting, full-contact sport played by gentlemen. Combined with the fact that the elite lacrosse programs are generally fielded at some of the finest academic institutions in the land, and I would think that most sports would love to have an image that we all know holds true for lacrosse.

I would even submit that, unlike baseball and football participants, lacrosse players would benefit only minimally, if at all, from the use of performance enhancing drugs. Ever see a basketball or soccer player pick up a lacrosse stick for the first time? Not a pretty sight. But if you take a great lacrosse player and put him or her on a soccer field or basketball court for the first time and he or she probably holds their own.

Lacrosse athleticism, for lack of a better term, is a different form of athleticism - it's the combination of brains and brawn, and speed, and a craftiness that one does not necessarily need to succeed in other sports. Not to put down any other sport by any means, but when you think about it, being a "great athlete" is only one facet of being a great lacrosse player. Having the innate ability to see a cutter coming off of a pick and hitting him with a perfect feed right on his stick as a defender wails away at your gloves is a feat of athleticism but it also requires something completely unique - something intangible that cannot be coached. And to accomplish this feat while sprinting is a truly amazing occurrence and something we see game after game on the lacrosse field. And the most amazing thing about such a play is that all of the steroids in the world won't allow a lacrosse player to do it any better. Here are some excellent real world lacrosse examples:

  • Mark Millon - UMass/Baltimore Bayhawks: Millon is pretty much the total package - speed, vision, amazing stick skills, and a great shot. And he stands 5 foot 9. If you saw Mark Millon in street clothes, would you really think he is one of the best athletes in the world? Probably not - but because of the combination of athleticism and something innate that allows him to perform at an incredible level, he is among the best that ever played. Would steroids make him a better performer? Well, I've never heard anybody say, "That Millon could be among the best if he'd bulk up a little more."

    And if Mark Millon is not a great example for this argument, substitute Mikey Powell or Steve Dusseau or Tom Marachek. Amazing attackmen but not because of size, strength, or blazing speed. All of them are unique because they have enough of each trait to be amazing, and then something else that allows them to be special.

  • Pat McCabe - Syracuse/Long Island Lizards: In terms of longevity, Pat McCabe is one of the very best longsticks to ever play the game. 13 years after graduating from Syracuse, McCabe is still among the best defensemen in the world, but has never been an overwhelming physical presence. He stands 5 foot 9 (like Millon), and while he is quick enough to cover the best in the sport, his speed would not be considered "blazing." He is a technically superior defenseman who has incredible instincts and game-knowledge none of which would get any better if McCabe were to have "juiced up" throughout his career.

    And while there are countless defensemen who are larger than a Pat McCabe who play at a fairly similar level, the simple fact is that when it comes to defensemen, more bulk and strength does not actually mean a better defenseman. The best are at that level because of body position, technical skills, instincts, and athleticism. A sudden influx of steroids will not make a defenseman smarter or more technically sound and could in fact slow him down if he gets too big, too fast.

  • Greg Cattrano - Brown/Philadelphia Barrage: This All-Everything Goalie is one of the very best goalies to ever play the game. He's never been accused of brute athleticism. He's the best because of technical superiority, great instincts, and incredible preparation. While athleticism played a huge part in his success and a goalie such as Cattrano is as much of a threat outside the goal as he is between the pipes, he'll never out-squat the Pittsburgh Steelers' kicker.

Lacrosse is the oldest sport in North America. Hundreds of years after its founding is still played with a sense of honor, respect, and tradition that has been completely abandoned by most major sports. There is no lacrosse doping scandal. We don't brawl with fans. Our superstars are not on trial for criminal acts. There are no riots in the streets after a major lacrosse game. While not perfect, the lacrosse image is pristine compared to virtually any other sport out there. There's a great story to tell and that parents and kids outside of lacrosse would benefit from hearing, especially in light of the Newsweek story. That makes the suggestion of the opposite even more unfortunate.

In lacrosse the "best" compete at the highest level because of an intense work ethic combined with the abilities and creativity God gave them. To be our "best" they will have earned college degrees from some of the finest academic institutions in the land. We can say that our sport more than any other leads to success off of the field. We can say that our "greats" did it the right way and honored the tradition of our sport as a result. We can say that people of all athletic builds can and do succeed in lacrosse. We can say that lacrosse is actually a great alternative to teen steroid use and the culture that might encourage it.

I only wish Newsweek had said that.

December 27, 2004

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