By Len Monheit
Late last week, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) approved three regulations which 1) require parents school officials and players to sign contracts promising that athletes won't use steroids, 2) regulate what supplements coaches can distribute to athletes and 3) require coaches to earn certification that includes steroids-abuse education. In other news, NCAA officials (as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune) are concerned over donated dietary supplements, and the potential mixed message this sends to athletes. The article goes on to describe those supplements permitted by the NCAA and the practice of involving a trainer in the selection. It also goes on to express the widely held view that supplementation is not required and that dietary sources (whole food) should be the first, if not only approach to obtaining adequate nutrients. These issues are closely related.
One might argue that since the supplements industry actively supported the 2004 steroid ban, it has removed itself from being in the crosshairs from congressional inquiry, media attacks and sports association accusations on this subject. A few weeks ago, the omission of DHEA from last year's steroid legislation was the subject of newspaper articles and pointed out (for those that were following) that in the minds of many groups, the ongoing availability of DHEA was problematic, and created a gray area, that, one could argue, kept the industry involved in the supply of steroids, and as far as the athletic community was concerned, banned substances.
The latest on-campus dialogue, specifically naming Met-Rx and the $50,000 of supplements it provides to the University of utah each year in exchange for advertising privileges, calls into question what supplements can be provided by universities, what supplements students can purchase for themselves, and what ones are specifically banned. The article notes that athletes at the university of Utah must have supplements approved by someone from the training staff, with seminars offered on supplements and nutrition. One of the article's messages implies that the University will be more diligent in sanctioning relationships and do more investigation into the practices of companies with which it has these relationships.
There are two and possibly three key and rather immediate elements that we can see arising from the athletic community. The first, as noted, is an awareness of a company's compliance and practice 'record', its level of responsibility as it develops and markets products. While theoretically, this includes everything from a background check on the owners to a supply chain and purchasing practice audit, in all practicality, this will involve keeping clean, having visible quality assurance practices, and perhaps, not having been involved in or too obviously committed to the sale of ephedra products. The scope of this discussion then logically expands to involve also the role such 'compliant' companies should have within the campus or consumer audience, and if current trends are indicative, we might expect to see companies' roles severely limited, whether this involves sponsorships, advertising in general, participation at seminars and symposiums and more.
The final element involves, as it usually does, education combined with proactive outreach, and we know that there are some efforts underway. The question of whether these current efforts are adequate, at the appropriate level, with the right audience and encompassing enough is a quite different one entirely.
The fact that ephedra products have reappeared, that steroids are still available for purchase and that products contain substances that will cause athletes to fail drug tests might be technically illegal and therefore should have no part in the affairs of legitimate compliant companies. I would argue that so long as these issues and others are in the minds of our customers and target communities and inextricably intertwined with a perception of who and what the industry is, then it is our issue. I think too, that we can recognize the slippery slope that suggests that if we don't address these issues and concerns more emphatically now, we might find ourselves facing a situation where supplement advertising (across the entire breadth of the category ) is even more severely restricted (and not only on campus), and where association with a company with a poor practice record taints not only that company and its clients, but also any with whom it has any relationship at all, as well as the associations it is affiliated with.