Bigger, Stronger, Faster is a 2008 documentary about the use of anabolic steroids in sports and how far people will go for success.
My initial reaction after I first watched it was “Hey, I liked it!”, and I do. But after thinking about it a bit, I realized the potential danger in the underlying message.
I guess I should start off with what I liked. I liked the underlying analogy between “bigger. stronger, faster ” in sports, and how it corresponds to the American dream. (although I think he could have taken the analogy further than he did, but the focus of movie was sports, so I’ll let that one go).
I liked that it showed the hypocrisy of government policy in favor of Big Tobacco and the alcohol industry. It shows how steroids are demonized infinitely more than tobacco and alcohol, when it doesn’t affect as much of the population, and doesn’t have as many detrimental health effects as the other 2, both of which are legal. Yet the amount of time and tax dollars spent on the issue of steroids in professional sports, it’s a little ridiculous.
I liked how they showed the hypocrisy of the US in international sports when Carl Lewis, along with hundreds of other US athletes, had failed his drug test (and he states the proof), but was still allowed to participate in the Olympics. These athletes got away with it because it supposedly fell under the category of “inadvertant use”, which means they can claim it was in a cold medicine, herbal supplement, tea, etc. without them knowing. Meanwhile, Ben Johnson was vilified and stripped of his title for pretty much the same thing.
He also talks about how we, the consumer, encourage, and promote this sort of lifestyle in the sports world. If you have a problem with it, stop “voting” (as he refers to it), with your money. Stop buying shirts, going to games, etc. But if we want bigger than life athletes, doing bigger than life things, then we can’t point a judgemental finger and expect it to stop.
I liked that they uncovered a lot of the myths around steroids. Some of the information stated as common knowledge are actually a bit misleading. I won’t go into them (you can watch yourself ;), but you come to understand why steroid use is widespread in sports, and while it has its negative side effects (like any drug), it had much less of a societal impact than say tobacco abuse. According to this documentary, the CDC states that each year, about tobacco kills 435,000 people, alcohol kills 75,000, and anabolic steroid abuse – 3. With regard to substances causing emergency room visits anabolic steroids ranks number 142, which is even after multivitamins. Crazy stuff! You have Congress holding hearings about steroid use in sports, and alcohol and tobacco reign supreme.
HOWEVER, I do have a problem with this documentary at some point. Somewhere along the lines of his explaining all this, there is the underlying message that steroids aren’t so bad. Hey maybe they are even good, and for certain people in certain circumstances, used a certain way, that MAY be the case. But I found out later that they were pushing for this to be shown to high school students and that is where I thought, this can cause a problem. Unfortunately, high school and even college students still have some maturity issues. They see the short-term rather than the long-term, and may be more impulsive and more likely to abuse something like this than I think other groups. That’s why there is a drinking age (though not often enforced.) This is also the age group where steroids can probably do the most harm too. Taken while a person is still growing, it can effectively stunt their growth, and not enough studies are really done to know the long-term health effects and effects on fertility. A 16-year-old football player or baseball player is thinking about winning, about getting into a division I college, not about whether they want children in 10 or 15 years. There is a shortsightedness and lack of reason in this age group that makes it dangerous to send them this sort of message. Emotions are too high, making it difficult to truly make an adult decision about something that – safe or not, is still a drug, and has varying physiological effects on each person.
People may say that the pros outweigh the cons, but so little long-term studies have been done, that you never know for sure about anything really. Putting any sort of foreign substance in your body may cause potential problems for someone. Look at Tylenol, one day it’s a wonder drug that is perfectly safe and can do no wrong, then another day 10 years later, they have warnings that taking too much can cause liver damage. With all the physiological effects anabolic steroids has on the body, you can’t tell me that it’s perfectly safe, and certainly not safer than Tylenol.
Anyway, it’s still informative, and interesting and touching at moments, and I like the tie in with politicians, and how ridiculous it is that they waste time and tax money on steroids in sports with all the other issues our country is facing, but I think the underlying tone can be suggestive to certain audiences.