Barry Bonds Steroid Debate Highlights History of Drugs in Sports

Kate Ravilious
for National Geographic News
June 22, 2007

With only a handful of hits to go, San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds looks set to break the baseball home-run record very soon, joining Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Rogers Hornsby, and Ted Williams as one of the game's greatest sluggers.

But as the excitement mounts, so does the controversy over whether steroids have helped fuel Bonds in recent years.

The huge cash rewards and kudos that comes with sporting victories today make performance-enhancing drugs and technological gizmos an extremely tempting option.

But the desire to gain an edge over your opponents is as old as humanity.

"Whether it is in combat, business, sports, or even marriage, trying to gain an advantage is a no-brainer. It is an innate human trait," said Charles Yesalis, an expert on performance-enhancing drugs at Pennsylvania State University.

However, in olden times turning to chemical enhancement wasn't controversial—it was a given, he added.

Ancient Potions

Ancient Maya, for example, are thought to have chewed cocoa leaves (from which cocaine is derived) to help them through their violent and sometimes fatal ball game "Pok-a-tok."

"Cocoa leaves are known to delay fatigue and increase strength," Yesalis said.

And nearly 3,000 years ago ancient Greek Olympians drank mushroom and herb concoctions to give them extra oomph. Some athletes even resorted to an "organotherapy" diet to pep themselves up.

"They might eat the testicles of a man or animal to gain potency, or the heart to gain bravery," Yesalis explained.

For the ancient Greek Olympians the rewards of winning were often even greater than the lucrative prizes on offer today.

Continued on Next Page >>




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.