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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
As a former Division I athlete and current prevention program coordinator at a substance abuse treatment center, Jamie Blosser is in a good position to offer perspective on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. While the former Boston College rower and high school softball and tennis player said she has never witnessed a fellow female athlete use illegal steroids, she said it is happening more than most people would think.
"There's definitely similar pressure there in female sports," said Blosser, who works at the Hanley Center in West Palm Beach. "Girls and guys tend to use steroids for different reasons. Guys to build up muscles, girls to shed the fat and slim out their bodies and put on lean muscles. Guys want to build up, girls want to slim down. ... Between the media images that girls and guys are exposed to now, that's certainly an added pressure."
That makes some administrators and coaches, not to mention legal experts, wonder why the high school steroid-testing program passed by the state Legislature last month targets only athletes in predominantly male sports.
House Bill 461, expected to be signed into law Tuesday, calls for the random testing of up to one percent of all athletes in three sports: football, baseball and weightlifting. According to data collected by the Florida High School Athletic Association, 94 percent of athletes who participated in those sports during the 2005-06 school year were boys. A 2005 survey conducted by the Center for Disease control estimated that 2.8 percent of high school girls in the state had tried illegal steroid pills or injections at least once in their lives compared with 5.0 percent of boys.
Michael Stutzke, who helped implement one of the first drug-testing programs in the state at Sebastian River High in 1996, said he thinks it is a mistake to exclude girls from testing.
"I happen to be a very big supporter of Title IX, and I believe if we are going to test guys, we should test girls, " the longtime athletic director said. "Who in their infinite wisdom, with more girls participating in high school sports today, (thinks) that we don't have female athletes trying steroids?"
Testing case passes
In many ways, the program the FHSAA hopes to implement for the upcoming school year can be traced to a small logging community in northwestern Oregon that prides itself on peace and solitude.
In the early 1990s, Vernonia, Ore., was the site of a landmark battle in the war on drugs (and, it turns out, the war on drug testing) as the family of a seventh-grade athlete challenged the random drug-testing program the local school district had installed two years earlier.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the school district, largely because of athletes' lower expectations of privacy (they shower together) and the need to protect their safety.
Subsequent court rulings have affirmed and expanded the Supreme Court's decision in the Vernonia case, and school districts across the country have had little legal trouble testing their athletes. Stutzke, for example, followed the Vernonia court case closely and used it as justification for starting the program at Sebastian River.
But the Florida legislation, as it currently reads, could open the door for a different type of legal challenge.
Rep. Marcelo Llorente, the Miami Republican who has pushed for steroid testing for four years, said he is convinced the program is constitutional. Llorente said the legislation singles out baseball, football and weightlifting because of their reliance on strength and the logical correlation between those activities and the potential benefits of steroids.
Still, FHSAA commissioner John Stewart said he has some legal concerns and the association likely will have to test athletes in sports such as softball and flag football.
"Quite frankly, we are going to talk to Rep. Llorente," Stewart said. "I think a female counterpart will have to be used to keep it out of the courts."
Perry A. Zirkel, a national expert on education law at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., said the possibility of a discrimination lawsuit does exist, though he said the state could argue it was singling out sports, not genders. If girl weightlifters were tested along with boy weightlifters, he estimated the chances of a plaintiff winning a discrimination suit at just 1 in 10. If the FHSAA tested only male weightlifters, he said the chances of winning would jump to about 8 in 10.
"Frankly, if I were in the legislature, I think what I would try to do, if I was convinced this was a bill that was important, I would make sure that it was applied gender blind, " Zirkel said. "If you are going to do weightlifting, do girls weightlifting. Or maybe even add some other sports."
Because the state has said it will represent the FHSAA in any legal challenges stemming from the testing program, the association does not have to worry about funding costly court cases.
Nevertheless, the survey data collected by the CDC for its Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2005 bears a stark warning, particularly for local administrators. One of the Florida areas surveyed was Hillsborough County. And 3.5 percent of high school girls here said they had tried steroids at least once.