Steroids: coming to a gym near you

June 21, 2010

Guelph Mercury, 16/06/10Steroid Raid

Back in March, police in Waterloo went looking for stolen property. What they found was a closet pharmacy that ended up sinking an entire football team.

Three months later, players from the Waterloo Warriors stood in a hallway outside a press conference they were barred from, trying to keep from crying. After dropping the bomb that nine of their teammates had either tested positive for steroid use or admitted to using them, the University of Waterloo announced it was suspending its football team for the upcoming season.

By Monday evening, everyone near a television set or news website knew the dirt: The Waterloo Warriors were a tainted team destined to be more famous for steroids than their less-than-memorable play on the field.

Meanwhile, police are still investigating Warriors’ wide receiver Nathan Zettler, who they say was selling steroids, human growth hormone and a pile of other performance-enhancing drugs. As far as football stories go, it doesn’t get much worse than this.

But as the Warriors take the punishment for this one, other teams, including Guelph, shouldn’t be so smug. Everyone involved in this story – players, coaches, drug experts – will tell you Waterloo is not the only college football team with a steroid problem.

No more than six players have been tested on the Gryphons’ 60-plus man roster. Same for McMaster and the University of Western Ontario. Waterloo’s across the street rival, Wilfrid Laurier, has not been tested at all. Drug testers from the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport tried to test Laurier’s Golden Hawks, but went to the wrong place and found no team waiting for them.

Until those teams test everyone on their rosters and release the results, as Waterloo did, can they claim any sort of superiority?

But the rest of us shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this as a football problem, either. According to pretty reliable studies, half of all steroid users aren’t even athletes – they’re regular guys who just want to look big. They don’t care about the stigma of cheating, because they’re not competing for anything.

And they’re here in Guelph, just as they’re everywhere else. Despite decades of bad press, steroids are as popular as ever. And they’re easy as heck to get – with a credit card and Internet access, you can have them delivered right to your door.

Texas’s Don Hooton calls these non-athlete users “mirror athletes,” because they’re obsessed with how they look in the mirror, not their athleticism. Hooton knows a thing or two about steroids: his 16-year-old son, Taylor, killed himself during a bout of depression he believes was caused by his steroid use.

That’s why Hooton’s foundation is trying to talk to kids about steroids, because so many parents and coaches aren’t. And in that vacuum, kids are learning about these “miracle” drugs that make you bigger and stronger from guys who really shouldn’t be teaching them.

“We want coaches, parents, trainers, everybody needs to be aware that the problem is as big as it is, and that it’s not just the University of Waterloo or its football program,” Hooton told me this week.

Never mind that steroids allow a player to cheat. They’re also incredibly dangerous. They can mess up your brain, cause impotence, enlarge your heart and cause irreversible kidney damage, as studies of bodybuilders have shown.

There’s no doubt this has been a bad week for the Waterloo Warriors. But think this steroid problem is their problem alone? Not quite.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at, and past columns can be read at

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