Jim Ferstle personal communication (February 1, 2001)

It's been interesting to see the way this whole nandrolone issue has been covered. It's a classic case of a complex issue exposing the bias of individuals and organizations. Nandrolone is an synthetic testosterone. It's metabolites are possible "natural" substances found in microscopic levels in people and animals. Since proof that someone has taken nandrolone consists of finding the metabolites, the issue becomes legally clouded as it raises the ability of the lawyers to raise "reasonable doubt."

As the supplement industry in the US and elsewhere is largely unregulated prohormones, such as norandrostendione, have been introduced into the product mix of substance available to athletes. Some of the supplements are also "contaminated" with nandrolone. Thus, it is possible for individuals to ingest supplements that can result in a positive drug test. This raises the issue of intent. It creates the possibility of "reasonable doubt." It raises the possibility that an individual may "inadvertently" take a banned substance.

The person who takes a supplement, however, is usually taking it in an effort to improve his or her performance. The intent is usually stated as finding a "legal" way to enhance performance. This is the fallacy behind the argument. Where do you draw the line between "legal" and "illegal" performance enhancers? One of the early definitions of doping was taking substances to enhance performance. So, in theory taking anything with the sole purpose of seeking to enhance performance is doping. It's not realistic to enforce laws based on intent, however, thus the list of banned substances was developed.

What it all comes down to is ethics. What are you willing to do in pursuit of athletic excellence? Society seems to have a hard time drawing the line. What is legal, acceptable? Should an individual who has a natural low level of certain hormones be able to take "supplements" to bring those hormones up to "normal?" What is normal?

As I said, complex. But it really is ethics. It's similar to the swimsuit issue this year. Is sport about athletics or about equipment, pharmacology, etc.? Many of these nandrolone articles, including the one below, reflect a bias that says "Our guys didn't dope." "They didn't know what they were taking?" They did know what they were trying to do. They were trying to help their performance by ingesting something advertised as a performance enhancer. Some might have been ignorant to what the product contained, might have been ignorant of the potential for it containing a banned substance. They doesn't make them innocent of attempting to enhance their performance. They weren't trying to ward off a cold or treat a medical condition. They were trying to get an edge. They got caught. May not seem fair, but that's what's happening. This isn't a case of innocents. Just like you can't be partially pregnant, you can't be partially guilty of a doping offense. It's either there or not. They are not arguing that the substance isn't there, only arguing intent. Laws can't determine intent. They can only enforce based on objective standards. By those standards, the banned substance is there and they are guilty.

The Cologne lab studies only mean that athletes shouldn't be taking supplements unless they are 100% sure what the supplements contain. The results are not favorable to those who flunked tests. They merely say that the supplement industry is unregulated and fraught with danger. The study is not vindication for athletes who flunked, it's a condemnation of the supplement industry for shoddy manufacturing and quality control.


Jim Ferstle

Return to Table of Contents for this issue.