I'm sitting here in front of my computer and looking at a small bottle that someone anonymously mailed to me several years ago, in the early 1980s.
The label says: Fluoxymesterone. Caution: Federal law prohibits dispensing without prescription.
Inside are about 50 white and green tablets, about the size of an aspirin. At the time, they were referred to as "uppers" and "downers."
The bottle came from a well-known exercise and weight-training facility in the western suburbs. They were being distributed to young athletes who wanted to enhance their performance.
I don't know if the pills worked. I was informed that the athletes who swallowed them thought they would help them to get bigger, stronger and faster, that the pills would help them to get better than they were, that they could be the difference between earning a college scholarship or becoming an auto mechanic.
It reminds me of a story that Bob Nicolette, the former athletic trainer at the University of Illinois in the Dick Butkus/Jim Grabowski era, once told me when I was covering Illini football for the old Champaign-Urbana Courier in the early 1960s.
It was the beginning for the pill-popping era and several athletes--not all of them football players--had approached Nicolette and requested pills that would give them a boost of energy, more bounce to the ounce.
Nicolette obliged. He opened a large tin can that was filled with white and pink tablets. Each athlete would grab a fistful. Later, they would come back and ask for more. "Hey, those pills are great. I never felt better. They really work," they told Nicolette.
For years, Nicolette laughed whenever he told the story. The white and pink pills were Good & Plenty candy. The athletes never knew the difference.
Unfortunately, the issue no longer is a laughing matter. That was the early 1960s. More than 40 years later, steroids have become a serious health problem in our society and high schools across the nation are just beginning to address it.
The Illinois High School Association has joined New Jersey, Florida and Texas in implementing a mandatory random drug-testing program that will begin next fall. According to a national survey, 3.4 percent of all high school seniors admitted to using steroids at least once a year.
There are critics, of course. Some argue that there are other issues that are more pressing, like cost of education and alcoholism. Some insist an adequate drug-testing plan would cost too much. And purists question how the program will be policed? How will offenders be punished?
The upshot is something had to be done. Sitting on a fence and waffling isn't an option. In a Sept. 26, 2007, editorial, the Sun-Times applauded the IHSA's decision to draft a drug-testing policy and, citing health risks and a "need to ensure the integrity of the competition," called for a random program that "will provide some deterrent to those students who think they are immune from the side effects and who currently are not worried about getting caught."
Don Beebe knows all about steroids. As a high school coach, speed trainer and former college athlete and NFL player, he is all too aware of the problem, that steroid use in high schools has leaped 67 percent since 1995. Young athletes want to succeed and they believe steroids will take them to college and professional stardom.
"You would be shocked at the number of kids who take steroids," Beebe said. "Kids see it on television, how great is is for baseball players and college athletes. You can see the signs--acne, high strung, benching 400 pounds and squatting 600 in high school, a 5-9, 160-pound kid benching 400. Their bodies were made to carry 250 pounds, not 330.
"How do you weigh 280 pounds and run 4.5 seconds (for 40 yards) at the major college level? High school kids see that and ask how they can get there quickly. Instead of hard work, they go for a quick fix, whatever they have to do to get a scholarship."