Injecting controversy

Mark Mazzagatti Jr.

Steroid use not an issue at Kent State

Alleged steroid use has created controversy in baseballl circles in recent years.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Kent State has proven in recent years to be a producer of potential Major League Baseball talent.

Several former Flashes, such as the Pirates’ John Van Benschoten and White Sox’s Dustin Hermanson, have made that jump. With the opportunity to live a life-long dream so close, the lure to use steroids could be great.

To avoid athletes using performance-enhancing drugs, Kent State has taken proactive steps, Athletic Director Laing Kennedy said.

“Not only does the NCAA test our players, but we randomly drug test our student-athletes four times a year for social or performance-enhancing drugs,” Kennedy said.

In these tests, the university randomly takes 40 to 50 players from all varsity sports and tests them. This is in addition to the NCAA-mandated testing, which occurs once or twice a year and involves random sample of the starters of major varsity sports such as baseball, football, and men’s and women’s basketball, as well as others.

Redshirt sophomore pitcher Ryan Davis agreed, saying the worst thing he had ever seen used by a Kent State player was creatine and said neither coaches nor trainers supply any nutritional supplements to players.

“I’ve never seen or heard of anyone using steroids, amphetamines or any other illegal performance enhancers. Even with creatine,” Davis said, “there are very, very few players who use that as a supplement.”

Creatine is an over-the-counter drug not on the NCAA banned substances list, according to the NCAA’s drug-testing Web site.

Senior outfielder Eric Holick said that he had been tested two or three times in his four years at Kent State.

“You find out the day before that you have to take a drug test,” Holick said. “You have to be in the designated locker room at 7 a.m., and you have one hour to produce the urine sample. If you can’t do it or don’t show up, it’s an automatic positive test.”

Kennedy said a positive test was rare, and those positives are usually from recreational drug use for drugs like marijuana, not performance-enhancers.

Kent State baseball coach Scott Stricklin said that this year (his first as head coach) there have been no positive tests.

“In my seven years of coaching college baseball, I’ve never had one positive drug test for performance-enhancers with my players,” Stricklin said.

In addition to Kent State, Stricklin has coached at college baseball powerhouses Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt, schools that regularly produce major league and professional players.

Davis said the university puts even more of a priority on testing for performance-enhancing drugs like steroids than recreational drugs.

Holick agreed, saying players are warned regularly by the athletic trainer.

Stricklin also gave credit to the training staff, saying they “educate players very well. Before taking anything, an athlete must talk with a trainer.”

Steroid Headlines

The reason for this sudden awareness of performance-enhancing drugs in sports, particularly in baseball, is because of the major league baseball scandal, including the suspension of two major leaguers for positive tests and a court trial in Congress that took place March 17 in which former and current major league stars testified.

Anabolic steroids are “synthetic versions of the primary male sex hormone, testosterone,” according to the American College of Sports Medicine Web site. They are usually administered orally or through injection.

Major league superstars such as Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds have all been implicated or admitted to using anabolic steroids during their baseball careers. According to an article Friday, 47 minor leaguers have tested positive this spring alone.

Lesser-known players such as Alex Sanchez and Jorge Piedra are the first major leaguers to test positive and be punished for using performance-enhancing drugs as part of the new system implemented this year by major league baseball.

Stricklin, a former catcher who advanced to AAA before retiring to coach, said he never took steroids or illegal performance-enhancers and said steroid use was something “suspected but not talked about openly.”

“It (players using steroids) was something you assume when players come back to spring training a different person,” Stricklin said.

University Policy

Kent State’s drug policy is designed to help the student-athlete get help and get over the problem. Kennedy said a first positive test will result in mandatory counseling, and the player will be placed in with the random cycle of players and be tested regularly. Student-athletes also must inform their parents of the positive test with their coach present. A second positive test results in a player being suspended for a year and having his scholarship withheld. The student may continue going to school, however.

Part of the reason for talking to parents is part of continuing a good relationship with students and their families, and to “keep them updated on how their son is doing socially and academically,” Stricklin said.

Davis said players get better at Kent State through working out and coaching.

“We lift three times a week during the season to keep our strength. In the off-season, we lift four days a week and run or do aerobic workouts five days a week,” Davis said.

Players also perform circuit training, a workout technique when a lifter moves quickly from station to station, rotating upper body workouts with lower body and full body workouts, as well as focusing on different muscle groups on different days.

Holick also pointed out that players improve from playing so much.

“In addition to the college season, we play fall ball and summer ball, so college baseball is pretty much a year-round thing — we’re lucky if we get a month off,” Holick said.

Holick said that although he can understand why some professional players do it (the lure of millions of dollars, financial security and stardom), he would not because it’s “cheating the game.”

Davis said he wouldn’t use steroids, even if it got him to the professional level, citing the health risks and the problems it would create for players when they wanted to stop.

“Steroids might give you an edge for a split-second, but that edge can’t be sustained,” Davis explained. “Someone can’t do steroids for too long and not get caught. The expectations after using would be too high and too hard to live up to when a player stopped using.”

Contact sports correspondent Mark Mazzagatti Jr. at [email protected].