Nobody imagines that NFL locker rooms are drug free, but few would think that players on the best teams would be willing to risk their very lives to make it to the highest levels of the sport. That seems to be the case.
According to an investigative report posted on the Charlotte Observer's Web site on Sunday, a number of Carolina Panthers used a vast quantity and tremendous variety of performance-enhancing drugs during the team's 2004 Super Bowl season.
The newspaper looked at medical records and court documents released in conjunction with the federal steroids case against Dr. James Shortt, who last month was sentenced to one year and one day in prison for distributing steroids and human growth hormone.
"Several of [the players] were using disturbing, particularly alarmingly high amounts with high dosages for long durations -- some in combinations," said Dr. Gary Wadler, who prepared a report for the U.S. Attorney's Office that was used to prosecute Shortt. "This wasn't just a passing flirtation with these prohibited substances. When I see [prescriptions] 'renewed five times,' I say, 'What are you trying to accomplish?' "
Players' names were blacked out on Wadler's report, but the Observer reported that six Panthers -- and three of the five starting offensive linemen from the Super Bowl team -- were taking performance enhancers. And many reported adverse reactions.
Although studies have shown that steroids can affect blood flow and contribute to strokes and heart disease, one member of the Panthers ignored a family history of strokes and took the drugs anyway.
Another player complained of hair loss and shrunken testicles. Another was prescribed anti-estrogen drugs, which male steroid users ingest to prevent breast growth.
The Observer reported that two players were given prescriptions for a combined five substances banned by the NFL -- a week before the Panthers left Charlotte for the Super Bowl in Houston. Three of the substances -- injectable testosterone cypionate, the banned supplement androstenedione and the hormone DHEA -- had not been reported before.
Shortt reportedly also prescribed stanozolol and testosterone cream.
One player, who the Observer says was using HGH daily, received prescriptions from another doctor.
Wadler's report also reveals that two other NFL teams have ties to this particular steroid scandal. Two of the Panthers players received prescriptions for performance enhancers when they played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins, respectively.
Wadler told the Observer he worries about the players.
"There is no question I am concerned some of these drugs, when abused, will impact the long-term health of these athletes and manifest either in chronic illness, premature death or disability," he said. "These are not little minor medications that people are talking about. These are very substantial drugs."