Redskins Warn Prep Athletes About Steroids

Redskins place kicker Shaun Suisham and safety Pierson Prioleau were part of a question-and-answer session at FedEx Field.
Redskins place kicker Shaun Suisham and safety Pierson Prioleau were part of a question-and-answer session at FedEx Field. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

As the NFL and the Washington Redskins yesterday kicked off a $1.2 million campaign to educate high school students on the dangers of steroid use, one of the program's leaders said he knew better than to ask the hundreds of students in attendance at FedEx Field whether any of them had used steroids.

"Nobody would say yes," said Linn Goldberg, director of the Human Performance Institute at the Oregon Health and Science University. Even on previous confidential surveys, Goldberg said, students had expressed their reticence to tell the truth on the subject.

"How high [steroid use is among teenagers] is hard to know," Goldberg said. Steroids "are so easily accessible now because of the Internet."

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 25 high school students has taken steroid pills or injections without a doctor's permission. That number, Goldberg said, rises slightly among athletes and even more among male athletes. It is why the NFL Youth Football Fund provided the OHSU with a grant to spread its healthy-living programs.

For yesterday's event, six high schools from the Washington area sent athletes to participate in seminars in the morning, followed by lunch and then skits prepared by the students and a question-and-answer sessions with Redskins players Pierson Prioleau and Shaun Suisham.

"It was a good opportunity to see how we can correct problems," said West Potomac senior Kevin Sidney, a baseball player. "They start in high school and follow through college and the pros. You try to stop it early."

Sidney, like other athletes interviewed yesterday, said he had never considered taking steroids and was unaware of anyone personally taking steroids.

"Everybody is denying it but there are a couple people in high school and college taking," said West Potomac junior Donnell Epps, who plays football and wrestles. "They deny it, but when people come back [to school in the fall] 20 pounds heavier and jacked [up], you know you can't do that much."

Said Robinson Athletic Director Mike McGurk: "I haven't had to address [steroid use], but that doesn't mean it's not out there -- I'd be naive to think it's not. I would suspect there probably are some kids taking steroids. Nothing concrete, no percentage. But kids are doing everything else. Everybody wants to get that extra advantage."

Fairmont Heights junior Benita Poge, who plays volleyball and softball, said she is reluctant to confront other students she might suspect of taking steroids.

"You have it in your mind, but you don't actually say it," Poge said.

The Redskins are one of eight NFL teams involved in the program, with each team inviting several high schools from its surrounding area to bring in their athletes to participate in a day-long seminar on steroid and illegal drug use. The athletes then take an educational curriculum back to their teammates, with the intent of allowing peer pressure to encouraging positive decision-making.

"You have to build resilient young athletes," Goldberg said. "It's best coming from their peers, not from an adult."

While yesterday's program was educational, doubt remained whether students knew the difference between steroids and performance-enhancing supplements, which are legal but sparsely regulated by the government. After one attendee talked about baseball player Barry Bonds and football player Shawne Merriman being accused of taking steroids, a teammate said he had seen television commercials for steroids.

The products in the commercial were supplements, which Goldberg also considers dangerous; studies show that teenagers who take supplements are more likely to take steroids and illegal drugs, Goldberg said.

"Supplements are really unregulated," Goldberg said. "It's buyer beware. We're back to the early part of the 1900s."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company