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March 05, 2003

A call for accountability
By Dan Patrick

In the wake of the tragic loss of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, the spotlight has turned to how baseball will resolve its supplement-use problems. To date, drug testing in Major League Baseball has been a bit of a farce.

Although it may be the politically correct soap box to stand on, banning ephedra from baseball doesn't solve the bigger problem.
Testing is implemented in the minor leagues, but once an athlete hits the majors, there are no set policies. In essence, they open the candy store.

We've heard numerous guesstimates on how many athletes are "using" to improve their game, but no one really knows for sure. Will all those using steroids or other performance-enhancing supplements please say, "aye."

Didn't think so.

So, who's responsible for safeguarding our athletes from the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs? The commissioner? The player's union? The team? Or the athlete?

The easy answer is all of the above. Certainly, it'd be wise for baseball to ban such substances, strictly from a legal standpoint. And it would behoove the player's union to provide additional information on the adverse effects of such products, as well as the team to provide more thorough physicals.

But, ultimately, the onus falls on the individual to read the pamphlets, learn the risk factors, and most importantly, know his or her own medical history. Because although it may be the politically correct soap box to stand on, banning ephedra from baseball doesn't solve the bigger problem.

Ephedra, and products like it, are available over the counter. That means, the problem extends beyond the sporting arena into our homes and schools. And while we're concerned with our athletes, who's protecting our mothers, fathers, sons and daughters?

Congress needs to take a closer look at the products available, and which of those warrant FDA approval. And certainly schools and parents need to watch over our teenagers. But again, ultimately, the decision still falls on the individual to know what he or she is ingesting.

There are no quick fixes.

Getting into good physical condition is a tedious process that requires hard work over a duration of time. And when used correctly, some supplements and diet aids are actually beneficial to overall health. But an athlete can't wait until training camp or spring training to start getting in shape, he or she must be prepared ahead of time. And dropping a quick 15 pounds for the high school reunion next Saturday is just unrealistic.

I wanted to feel the effects of ephedra for myself so I went to my local GNC to buy Xenadrine. I noticed an "ephedra free" alternative was available. And I could also buy the Xenadrine candy bar deemed "stimulant-free." That provoked me to ask some questions, "What is ephedra? How does it change the product I'm buying?"

I learned that ephedra would provide me with a "buzz" similar to a caffeine high, and more importantly, that if I suffer from high blood pressure, I should stay away from it.

Ask questions, take responsibility and know your body. A little homework could go a long way -- it may even save your life.

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