Pubdate: Sun, 23 Jul 2000
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2000 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Address: P.O. Box 9136, Corpus Christi, TX 78469-9136


Students must be fit to play sports, but there are other threats.

No one can blame parents of school-age children for being highly protective
when it comes to the threat of illegal drugs. Even children in the upper
primary grades seem fair game to the drug peddlers and dope dealers.

It may not be all that surprising, then, that Freer High School will soon be
among the small but growing number of schools that will test its athletes
for drugs.

Athletes from the seventh through the 12th grades will be tested for
amphetamines, cocaine, and marijuana. Under a "three strike" philosophy,
athletes who fail will face increasing penalties, beginning with counseling
and ending, if drugs are discovered repeatedly, with permanent suspension
from participation.

The notion that cocaine, amphetamines or marijuana might be used with any
more frequency by athletes than by the student body in general of any high
school doesn't seem tenable. In fact, a very good argument can be made that
illegal drug use will probably be lower among athletes, or among students
involved in extracurricular activities, simply on the premise that these
students keep up their grades, are in the mainstream of high school life and
are therefor the least likely to seek the false boost of drugs.

But the case for testing athletes was first - and indelibly - made with the
1986 death of Len Bias, the University of Mary-land basketball star who died
of a cocaine overdose. Drug testing of athletes ought to be considered no
more onerous and just as necessary as any other part of the physical exams
that ensure students are fit and ready to perform strenuous physical feats.

While privacy concerns raise real questions about tests for all students,
the Supreme Court has said that athletes have no such privacy issues, legal
or personal. Or as Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, "School sports are not for
the bashful."

But the threats to an athlete's health are not limited to illegal drugs. The
American Academy of Pediatrics notes that the use of anabolic steroids,
drugs that build muscle and body mass, has penetrated even to the middle
school and high school level as athletes try to get bigger and faster. But
among the possible costs are future impotence for boys, reduced breast size
for girls, and, for both, stunted growth and the severe emotional changes
characterized by the aggression known as "Roid rage." Drug tests, such as
those at Freer, may not be targeting the most likely health threat to a
student athlete.

Testing, though reasonable for student athletes, is no panacea against the
contagion of drugs in youth. It can be no more than a backstop. The
discovery of drugs through tests merely says that the first line of
defense - the home, individual values and parental involvement - has been
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