By Raquel Regalado
Miami-Dade County School Board member
One of my earliest childhood memories is climbing up the steps of the Orange Bowl Stadium toward the cheap seats while dragging my orange vinyl seat cushion. It was 1970-something and Miami was still high on the Dolphins 1972 perfect season.
I remember sitting atop my mother’s shoulders while we sang: ‘Miami has the Dolphins, the greatest football team; we take the ball from goal to goal like no one’s ever seen’’ and thinking that the men on the field were surely superhuman. Over three decades later, the Orange Bowl Stadium is just a memory. My son thinks that Jimmy Buffett’s “Fins’’ is the Dolphin’s fight song and while there are few similarities between his childhood and mine, he believes that athletes are superhumans. So the larger-than-life impact that professional athletes have on children hasn’t changed one bit.
In fact, some may argue that as a result of social media, fantasy leagues, reality TV and 24-hour sports networks, such impact has grown, since today we know more about these superhumans than ever before. So, as a school board member, I wasn’t surprised when touring an elementary school I heard an 11-year-old mention A Rod (Alex Rodriguez) and his use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).
The truth is that a much-needed conversation about the use of PEDs has been brewing for months. In 2012, for example, the NFL banned two players for the use of the amphetamine Adderall (which gives a heightened sense of focus and alertness). In July 2012, one of America’s greatest athletes, Lance Armstrong, shocked the world when he admitted that the investigation of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, charging him with the use of PEDs, was correct. As a result, he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, his Olympic medal, and banned from competitive sports. The Biogenesis investigation is noteworthy because while it revealed the use of PEDs on over 11 Major League Baseball teams; it also included use of PEDs by minors, confirming that the use of PEDs is no longer limited to professional athletes.
The dozen unnamed minors who were allegedly accompanied by their parents to purchase sports performance packages that included HGH testosterone have sent shock waves throughout school districts in the country. The idea that parents would knowingly and willingly expose their adolescent children to the known risks associated with PEDs in order to make them more competitive is illogical since in the battle against drug use, parents are the ones who have historically forced school districts to act and ensure that we are doing everything in our power to provide a safe, drug-free environment.
In Florida, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) responded to the Biogenesis scandal by encouraging school districts to crack down on such abuses by testing high school athletes for PEDs. Specifically, the athletic association’s executive director, Roger Dearing, stated: “ [w]e must draw a line in the sand against performance-enhancing drugs....School districts simply cannot tolerate coaches who encourage or look the other way when they know student-athletes are using performance-enhancing drugs.” To date, less than a handful of school districts have done so.
At Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest school district in the nation, we have started conversations by approving a feasibility study on the cost of random drug-testing for students who participate in extracurricular activities. This request is only the first step, since we will have to decide if we want to move forward once we establish the cost and what the policy will entail.
But one thing is clear, whether we approve random drug-testing or not, the use of drugs to enhance performance (be it athletic and/or academic) is becoming the norm and the desire to succeed is driving students (and some parents) to cross the line in the hope of outperforming their peers.
For my part, I maintain that as policy makers and parents we have an obligation to teach our children about consequences. Beyond the trite “say ‘no’ to drugs’’ conversation, we need to get real and acknowledge that looking the other way when minors use PEDs is wrong. We need to draw a bright line for minors because they lack the legal, physiological and psychological capacity to make these life-altering choices. We need to create a tangible drug-use deterrent for adolescents because while they dream of fame and fortune, we adults have been entrusted with their health and well-being.
It’s not an easy task, but I believe that one day when they have their own children they will recognize that while we don’t get medals or trophies, being an involved and responsible parent takes superhuman strength and courage.