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Dr. Rick Lehman Speaks Out On Steroids

February 15, 2009

Steroids are here and they are not going away says top local doctor

BY NORM SANDERS – News-Democrat

Remember when most people thought pro wrestling was real?

When they watched the old “Wrestling at the Chase” show on Channel 11, did they really believe a head-butt from Rufus R. Jones could knock someone out?

Should the devastating “claw” used by the Von Erichs be used in U.S military training manuals?

Why was “Nature Boy” Ric Flair able to take enough punches to send rivulets of blood streaming down his face — and then come back to win the match with some high-flying stunt off the top rope?

Word eventually leaked to the masses that pro wrestling was little more than staged entertainment.

And as much as some fans still believe in the drama, raw energy, beauty and power of professional sports, many may be wondering if they are not witnessing something akin to “Wrestling at the Chase” on a wider scale.

“If you think you’re getting a clean sport and the true essence of athletics, you’re not getting that,” said Dr. Rick Lehman, MD, FACS, considered one of the top sports orthopedists in the Midwest.

Hardly a week goes by without more news of steroids or performance-enhancing drugs involving pro athletes.

In the past week, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees admitted using banned substances from 2001 to 2003 while with the Texas Rangers.

Former Giants slugger Barry Bonds and Houston’s Miguel Tejada are in trouble for lying to federal prosecutors during steroids investigations. Pitcher Roger Clemens has been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs and charges could be filed soon.

Dr Lehman, based out of the U.S. Center for Sports Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, has dealt with hundreds of professional athletes throughout his career.

He has worked with pro sports franchises, is one of the owners of the NHL’s Florida Panthers and has been involved with the direct care of Olympic athletics. His eyebrows stopped being raised years ago when it comes to steroid abuse.

“You have to think almost everybody is doing something,” Lehman said, including legal supplementation. “I don’t know if it’s 100 percent, but they’re doing something. I would say about 55-60 percent are doing something illegal.”

Rodriguez’s name was the only one leaked on a list of 104 major-leaguers failing a steroids test six years ago. Who are the others?

Juicy topic

When admitted steroid abuser and former Oakland A’s slugger Jose Canseco came out with his book “Juiced,” the baseball establishment ridiculed him.

Canseco said he personally injected former A’s and Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire with steroids while they were teammates in Oakland.

Canseco also said he helped introduce steroids to Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez while with the Texas Rangers.

As it turns out, Canseco may have been the best voice of reason in the entire baseball steroid mess.

As far as McGwire, “Big Mac” famously told Congress “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Many fans may want to consider that the next time they’re sitting in an $89 infield box seat at Busch Stadium, drinking a $9 beer and eating a $4 hot dog.

Sports franchises will tell you they charge higher ticket and concession prices to help support rising salary costs. But did the home run hitter earn his big salary because of natural talent, years of hard work and incredible ability?

Or did he find that power through cutting-edge science labs and exotic steroid blends that always manage to stay one step ahead of drug testing?

Still, hitting a round ball thrown at speeds at more than 90 mph with a round bat takes a lot more than steroids to accomplish.

“Let’s not forget, you’ve still got to hit the ball in the first place,” Lehman said. “These guys are phenomenal athletes and that’s where it starts. You don’t’ take a Rick Lehman and make him a major league baseball player by getting him a ton of steroids.

“That doesn’t happen.”

But Lehman said steroids can enhance strength, stamina, bat speed and recovery –all qualities desired by great hitters.

“You’re seeing a higher number of opposite-field home runs, you’re seeing infielders hitting a substantial number of home runs,” Lehman said. “If a guy hits 50 home runs taking a supplement, it would be extremely unlikely or almost impossible to go back to hitting the same number without the supplement.”

Better performance through chemistry

Documented cases of abuse can be found at all levels of the sporting world.

“Even if the blood testing gets better, the evolution of the steroids is always going to be a little bit better than the testing,” Lehman said. “If you’ve got enough money and you’re doing due diligence and talk to the right people, chances are you’re not going to test positive.”

Lehman said not even the threat of cancer, liver disease, blood diseases, severe arthritis or sexual dysfunction will stop some of these athletes in their pursuit of greatness.

He also said it’s naive to believe high school athletes aren’t already using or at least checking into performance-enhancing drugs.

With a potential Division I scholarship at stake, what will an athlete — or an athlete’s parents or coach — do to make that dream a reality?

“It’s much more prevalent than it was even two or three years ago,” Lehman said when asked about the use of steroids on the high-school level. “It’s not a small number, I would say 20 to 25 percent of these kids are illegally supplementing — and I think you’re going to continue to see it on the rise.

“It’s high school, it’s college, it’s a lot more prevalent than anybody realizes.”

On the world-class athletic stage, being even a little faster and stronger and finding that extra edge can be worth millions.

“I think you’re seeing a high number of guys doing it,” Lehman said. “As the discipline progresses, you’re going to have better steroids, less side effects … it will be harder to test for and the whole process will continue to evolve.”

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