Is drug policy needed?

For the past 36 months, 144 weeks and 366,675 days Jason Beach has been suiting up for the Florida A&M University football team as a starting cornerback. However, in all those days as a FAMU athlete, he has never been issued an institutional drug test.

“A part of our yearly routine as athletes consists of physicals and so forth, but I can’t ever remember being tested for any type of drug substance, whether it was strength enhancers or street drugs,” Beach said.

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, drug testing is meant to safeguard the health of student-athletes and the integrity of the game and maintain a level playing field. However, at FAMU, the issue of drugs and athletes has yet to be taken into consideration for quite some time.

Athletic Director Nelson Townsend said in most cases drug testing doesn’t become an issue until athletes are officially at an elevated athletic plateau.

“Basically athletes are tested whenever a team or individual has made it to the championship,” Townsend said. “Or the NCAA will notify the University of random drug tests for teams or a selection of players.”

Townsend also said one of the reasons for not having an institutional drug testing program is because of the budget issued to the athletic division of the University. According to Townsend, the high-priced tests are out of reach for the athletic department.

“It is a very costly thing to operate,” Townsend said. “Although I don’t know exactly how much, I can tell you that it will cost thousands of dollars to maintain.”

The numbers would appear to support Townsend’s point.

According to an article in USA Today, the cost to conduct a drug test for steroids may range from $150 to $200 a person. With more than 270 athletes on “The Hill,” at that rate, testing would cost $36,150-$48,200 to accommodate all 18 sports.

But is the cost associated with testing worth the cost of a career?

Recently drug usage in sports has proved to be costly for many athletes. NFL 2005 Rookie of the Year and former Pro Bowler Shawn Merriman of the San Diego Chargers served a four-game suspension after testing positive for steroids last season. The failed test raised questions about Merriman’s athletic abilities and was one of several recent cases highlighting the issue of drugs in sports.

Apparently mainly young male athletes use performance-enhancing steroids in sports such as weightlifting, track and field and swimming. Steroids can cause hazardous effects to the cardiovascular system such as enlargement of the heart, which can lead to a heart attack. Excessive testosterone, kidney disease, cancer, mood swings and death are other potential effects.

Although drug usage may cause an increase in muscle bulk, researchers said steroid usage can affect the wound healing process in any individual.

Women’s track and field head coach Maicel Malone, a former Olympian, said she was unaware that the university did not provide institutional drug testing and thinks it should become mandatory.

“I welcome the idea of having yearly drug testing,” said Malone. “At this level athletes can and are exposed to drugs and if the University addresses this as a mandatory rule. I am in support of it. I welcome the idea.”

At one point, drug testing was administered to athletes in certain facilities at the beginning of the fall semester when campus doctors were giving physicals. However, Townsend explained that this has caused an insurance issue in the past, forcing athletes to be checked by family doctors.

“There was once a time when four to five physicians would come on campus to perform physicals to the athletes,” Townsend said. “But there were times when doctors would not do a thorough checkup as they should.

“The student will appear to be alright and as soon as he goes on the field, he drops dead from a heart attack. This then causes a liability issue,” he continued.

Melissa Daniels, a sophomore center from Jasper, walked onto the Lady Rattlers basketball team two years ago and said the issue of drugs has yet to surface but should be something student-athletes should take seriously, especially if they’re looking to pursue professional sports.

“Everything has to start somewhere,” Daniels said. “Most times athletes are most exposed to drugs while they are in college. It should be a mandatory process to keep the playing ground fair.”

Townsend, however, thinks the random NCAA test is a more effective approach to drug testing on a whole.

“If kids know at any given Thursday they could be tested, they will perhaps be more on guard, opposed to a test given once a year around the same time,” Townsend said.

Second semester freshman Greg Bynes, a hurdler and sprinter for the track team, said drugs aren’t uncommon in the sports world.

“I’ve seen some athletes who it was obvious they were on drugs; it will never be taken seriously until one athlete break a record or do something out of the ordinary,” Bynes said.

Townsend, who has been an athletic director at two previous schools, also mentioned that he has witnessed some athletes who could have possibly been on something but never during his tenure at FAMU.

“My intentions when giving drug tests is not so I can say ‘Ah-ha I caught you,’ but it is more so for the protection of our athletes safety and security of our students,” Townsend said.