Athletes often experience performance anxiety on the court or the field, but for ex-women’s track team member Lauren Davis ’06, performance anxiety also extended into the bathroom stall.
As one of few females in a room full of football players at a drug test in the fall of 2003, Davis choked under the pressure and just could not pee. Nor was she allowed to chug water to help her on her way, since her urine sample would be too diluted. Finally, after four hours, Davis left the training room.
Funny story, but less humorous was the fact that Davis had to wake up before 7 a.m. to make it to the test on time, despite having a midterm later that morning for which she was unable to prepare.
But Davis, like most Yale athletes, remained cooperative.
“It was inconvenient for me, but what better time could they do it than early morning? It’s kind of a necessary evil,” she said.
If an athlete is found using a performance-enhancing drug, such as steroids, stimulants or excessive caffeine, he or she is unable to compete for a full year.
While these consequences are dire, Yale athletes, for the most part, are nonchalant about the drug testing program — if anything, it is more of an inconvenience than a cause for worry. Students and officials alike say this is simply because performance-enhancing drugs have never been prevalent at Yale.
“We’ve never really felt that there’s been an issue on the Yale campus,” said Colleen Lim, senior associate athletic director. “Our student-athletes philosophically are coming here for great athletic experiences, but there’s balance there.”
Still, Yale has shown a commitment to taking drug testing seriously. At larger D-I schools, both the university and the NCAA coordinate drug testing. At Yale, all testing is left to the NCAA. At the beginning of the year, athletes are required to sign a form saying that they have read the NCAA’s list of banned drugs and agree not to use them.
During the year, NCAA officals make one to three surprise appearances at Yale and test both the football team and another randomly selected team. This fall, men’s soccer was chosen. In addition, the NCAA conducts tests at various championships, where some of the elite athletes are competing.
Lim said the drug testing program is effective because of its random nature.
“The chances of being tested are very minimal,” she said. “But the fact is you can be tested and, therefore, you still have to be cognizant of all the rules and regulations. And that enough is a strong deterrent, because the penalty is so high.”
The chief complaint students voiced about drug testing is its infringement on their daily schedules. Once athletes know they have been selected for drug testing, they must report to the training office in Payne Whitney Gymnasium by 7 a.m. the next day. While urinating in a cup may not seem like a lengthy task, waiting in line and filling out the necessary paperwork can make the process take hours.
“It was a nuisance getting up that early, and we were basically there for an hour and a half at least,” said Frank Piasta ’09, a member of the men’s soccer team. “It took a lot longer than I thought it needed to take.”
While the policy of testing only football players every year may seem inequitable, players and coaches alike said the practice is fair.
“Football is highly visible, has athletes that are training to get bigger and stronger, and in [the NCAA's] view has the most potential for positive test results,” football head coach Jack Siedlecki said in an e-mail.
2005 football captain Jeff Mroz ’06 added that football players are logical targets for testing since drugs can significantly aid performance on the gridiron.
“Performance-enhancing drugs would not help other athletes to the same degree that it would help a football player,” he said. “It’s a good policy.”
Lim said studies conducted by the NCAA show that athletes seeking to get bigger and stronger are more inclined to use steroids or similar drugs. While this makes the football team an understandable target, men’s track captain Rob deLaski ’06 said that in his sport — where the difference between winning and losing can come down to a photo finish — taking steroids has its incentives.
“It’s easy to see a change in performance when you are judged by a tenth of a second, or a centimeter on the throw,” he said. “At least for track, you would definitely see results if you did it.”
Nonetheless, Lim said recent studies of national track programs have shown there to be few problems with performance-enhancing drugs.
“There’s not much pressure to perform at a higher level than you’re capable of,” deLaski said. “We are not getting paid to run and we’re not getting scholarships. There’s no big incentive to break the rules.”
Mroz also said athletes have little motivation to use performance-enhancing drugs.
“It’s not worth the risk of missing an entire year, especially when you only have four years in college,” he said. “Student athletes know that.”
Though some observers of college sports may expect universities with more publicized athletics programs to have higher incidences of performance-enhancing drug use, Mroz said the stereotype equating big-time college athletes with high drug use might have been caused by media hype over the last couple of years.
“I anticipate steroids are more prevalent, but probably not to the extent that people think,” Mroz said. “It’s not worth getting suspended for.”
In addition, Mroz said larger schools such as Notre Dame and the University of Nebraska have deals with supplemental drug companies, such as MET-Rx and EAS. The performance-enhancing drugs they supply are legal by NCAA standards.
“In that case, there would be no reason for them to get performance enhancing drugs that are illegal,” Mroz said.
A representative from MET-Rx said his company provides a Ready-To-Drink Nutrition Shake, a bar and a powder to college athletic programs.
“The Collegiate Series was initially created in 2001 as a response to new guidelines within NCAA athletics,” he said.
Athletic programs in the Ivy League do not provide the same degree of advertising opportunities, Mroz said, so similar companies may be less inclined to give away their products at Yale.