Anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are among the most destructive forces in sports today from the professionals ranks all the way down to youth leagues. So the comments this week of Brent Musburger were quite puzzling.
Speaking to a journalism class at the University of Montana, Musburger offered the following observations:
-Steroids shouldn't necessarily be banned for professional athletes. "I think under the proper care and doctor's advice, they could be used at the professional level."
-Journalists covering the steroid issue are largely uninformed. "I honestly have thought that the journalism youngsters out there covering sports got too deeply involved in something they didn't know too much about."
-It's premature to judge whether steroids pose a health risk to athletes. "I've had somebody say that, you know, steroids should be banned because they're not healthy for you. Let's go find out. What do the doctors actually think about anabolic steroids and the use by athletes? Don't have a preconceived notion that this is right or this is wrong."
Musburger was given an opportunity to back away from these statements the next day. Instead, through a publicist at ESPN, Musburger told the Associated Press that he stood by his comments and that the issue of steroids "belongs in the hands of doctors and not in the hands of a journalist."
The journalist seemingly most out of touch on this issue is Musburger. As Gary Wadler, who leads the committee that determines the banned-substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency, told ESPN (Musburger's employer, by the way.)
"He's categorically wrong, and if he'd like to spend a day in my office, I can show him voluminous literature going back decades about the adverse effects of steroids. They have a legitimate role in medicine that's clearly defined. But if it's abused, it can have serious consequences."
Among Musburger's roles at ESPN (and ABC) is serving as lead broadcaster at the Little League World Series. He has been a fixture in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, site of the tournament, for many years.
There's no attempt here to say that Musburger was preaching steroid use among youth athletes. Of course he wasn't. Still a person whose name and voice are so closely associated with the most-watched youth sports event in the world ought to use better judgment. Stick to what you know, Brent. It isn't medicine and, judging from this week, it isn't responsible journalism either.