My newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, recently editorialized against the Illinois High School Association's random drug testing policy.
With all due respect, I disagree.
The Sun-Times argues that the IHSA is sending the wrong message, that the kid's personal liberty is being violated, that there is no evidence that drug testing works to reduce the use of illicit drugs, that even if drug testing did prove effective, the price to be paid would be unacceptable.
Furthermore, the editorial calls for education, counseling and "building trusting relationships between authority figures and students" as more positive measures to discourage drug use.
If the Sun-Times had bothered to talk to administrators, teachers, coaches and even students, it would understand that those strategies aren't working and it is time to try something else. Yes, drug testing works. Ask Lance Armstrong.
There is a drug culture out there and, like it or not, high school athletes are involved in it. Many of them aspire to be professional athletes and they are not detracted by Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire or Jose Canseco. They know they must weigh over 300 pounds to qualify as an offensive lineman in big-time football and they know steroids are a quick-fix method of beefing up and adding strength.
The fact that some Illinois youngsters have tested positively, even in the small percentage of tests instituted by the IHSA, proves it is going on. The negative after-effects of steroid use don't seem to be a deterrent. So are we to stop testing, even randomly, and just cross our fingers and hope kids won't be tempted to take steroids?
I still am in possession of a small bottle of green-and-white tablets that was sent to me more than 20 years ago by an athlete who was working out at a suburban complex. Some of the other athletes had asked the head trainer if there was any way they could get a "quick pick-me-up" so they might become "tougher and stronger and more aggressive" on the football field.
The trainer suggested "Fluoxymesterone" and dispensed some pills to the athletes. On the bottle, it says: "Federal law prohibits dispensing without prescription."
It reminded me of one of the most amusing stories I've ever heard on the subject.
In the 1960s, during the Dick Butkus era at the University of Illinois, a couple of football players approached the head trainer and asked for some "pep pills."
He gave them some tablets. A week later, they came back and asked for more. "Those pink-and-white things really work," one athlete told the trainer. "I never felt so good. It really makes me feel stronger than ever. And they taste good, too."
The trainer had given them an ample supply of chewable candy known as Good & Plentys.
Until someone comes up with a better solution, let's keep testing.