Archive for February, 2010

Are Steroids Safe in Small Doses?

Readers, viewers, and listeners of American popular media have been increasingly fed stories on steroids and doping in sports since at least the 1972 Olympics, which were clearly tainted by the presence of anabolic steroids in the blood of several participants from at least 7 countries.  The presence of cheating and unfair advantages held by competitors are not in line with the definition of what a modern sport truly is – since the definition itself calls for fairness and equality on the playing field – and reporters as well as spectators often share their opinions on the matter with much emotion: just ask a San Francisco Giants fan how he or she feels about Barry Bonds and the BALCO hearings.  Debates on sports ethics can go on forever between journalists, fans, and sociologists without one side claiming a decisive victory over another, but science may provide empirical data that can help athletes determine whether or not it is safe to use steroids in the first place.  The question, therefore, branches off in a more pragmatic direction.

In order to address this issue with uniformity, a review of a few definitions are in order.  First, though the word “steroid” may have different meanings to many people, for the purpose of this study we will use the definition provided by Princeton University, which basically states that it is “any of 17 fat-soluble organic compounds… many [of which] have important physiological effects… and affect the development and growth of sex organs.”[1] Anabolic steroids, which are one form of steroid, are synthetic forms of testosterone.  Corticosteroids, another variation, are usually used as anti-inflammatory drugs.  Since steroids, namely progestins, simulate potent androgenic hormones and are used by cattle farmers to increase the muscle mass of cows and even by athletes (or on athletes, as in the case of trainers injecting race horses with steroids in Fornatale’s article, If Big Brown Wins, Racing Loses) who hope to improve their performance, it is duly noted that they can cause chronic maladies in animals and people.[2] Though this may be the case, the question persists about whether or not steroids can be safe in small doses.

In an online article published in Physician’s Weekly, a Mayo Clinic study found that small, metered doses of steroids could safely treat a sore throat.[3] ENT Dr. Julie Wei, MD, cautioned that “we’re not suggesting people get in the habit of taking dexamethasone every time they get a sore throat… they can become steroid-dependent and shut down their bodies’ own steroid production.”[4] Now, this caveat brings us to the following question: what exactly is considered a small or large dose of steroids?  Considering how there are at least thirty named anabolic steroids on the market (and these are only the “most popular” according to www.steroid.com), this may vary from one to another.[5]

Deca-durabolin, a progestin also known as “Deca,” is one of the most widely used steroids of the last 25 years.  According to research posted on www.steroid.com, “a single measly 100mg injection of Deca caused a total (100%) reduction of testosterone levels, and it took roughly a month to return those testosterone levels to baseline… impotence and sexual dysfunction [are some of the risks involved.]”[6] The selection ends with recommendations for how to counter the drop in testosterone involving further use of other steroids that raise testosterone levels.  This seems reminiscent of behavior exhibited by drug users who use uppers to counter the effects of downers or vice versa: a cycle that poses serious health hazards including death.  Constantly varying levels of testosterone could also be hazardous to a user’s health and may contribute to severe mood swings and cause depression.[7] It is important, however, to note that research methods implemented by www.steroid.com are not described in any way nor does the reader know when this study was conducted.  Data on the sample is also unavailable and the results are not accompanied by supporting information on the study itself.  Though its validity is questionable, an abundance of anecdotal evidence supports its findings.  An exhaustive investigation could reach beyond simply verifying the web site’s conclusions and yield more enlightening results.

Charles D. Kochakian and Allison A. Welder study the toxicity of steroids in their article “Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids: In Cell Culture.”  They state that even though formal research on the effects of steroids on the human body involving human specimens would be unethical and immoral, the use of cell culture to determine the toxic effects steroids have on the human body “is a promising approach.”[8] Their article supports research conducted by www.steroid.com by finding that, in addition to the harmful effects the latter reported, anabolic steroids cause significant damage to the kidneys and livers of laboratory animals.[9] Doses of testosterone and methandrostenolone even “produced a toxic effect in post-natal rat myocardial cell tissue” and “myocardial lesions” in female rats.[10] Their findings raise some concerns on the dangers of steroid use, but in their conclusions they accept that the doses they used on their subjects were not relative to the amount consumed by humans.

In conclusion, if one agrees with Kachakian and Welder, it would be ethically and morally impossible to perform formal research using the scientific method to determine whether or not steroids are safe in small doses.  Arguably, animal testing does not yield results applicable to human cases, so research conducted by entities like www.steroid.com, which is run by steroid users who share their own experiences, could be the only form of acquiring empirical (though anecdotal) evidence of the dangers – or lack thereof – of steroid use in varying doses.  Dr. Wei spoke about the benefits that small doses of dexamethasone offer patients being treated for a sore throat, but warns of the dangers involved when a doctor’s orders regarding its dosage are violated.  Unstable levels of testosterone could cause emotional problems including depression in humans, and the use of progestins like Deca can lead to such problems as well as sexual dysfunction and impotence.  Lastly, since there is such a wide array of steroids on the market, it is even still more difficult to determine what a “small dose of steroids” truly is.  The synthesis of all cited sources yielded that steroids certainly are dangerous and that athletes who use them run a long gauntlet of possible and significant risks with undetermined probabilities of occurrence.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Thanks to Professor Craig Lamay at Northwestern University’s Master of Sports Administration program for giving me this assignment.  If you ever get to talk to him, ask him about Brown University, the University of North Carolina, Lacrosse, and what it takes to succeed in life.  He makes great points on all of these subjects!  Also, thank you for reading.


[1] Princeton University. WordNet . Google Search Engine Results. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&defl=en&q=define:steroid&ei=TuZSSoD6A46iML75gesI&sa=X&oi=glossary_definition&ct=title&cts=1246947537800 (accessed 3 July 2009).

[2] Janet Raloff.  “Hormones: Here’s the Beef.”  Science News 161, no. 1 (5 January 2002) 10-12. http://www.jstor.org.turing.library.northwestern.edu/stable/4013043?&Search=yes&term=sports&term=steroids&list=hide&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dsteroids%2BAND%2Bsports%26gw%3Djtx%26prq%3Dsteroids%2BAND%2Bsports%2BAND%2Bsafe%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don&item=18&ttl=422&returnArticleService=showArticle (accessed 3 July 2009).

[3] Howard Bell.  “Small Doses of Oral Steroids Soothe Sore Throat Pain.”  Physician’s Weekly XIX, no. 8 (18 February 2002.) 1. http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:qNCMefkOgekJ:www.physiciansweekly.com/article.asp%3Fissueid%3D8%26articleid%3D91+steroids+safe+in+small+doses%3F&cd=10&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us (accessed 5 July 2009).

[4] Bell, Howard.  “Small Doses…” 1.

[5] www.Steroid.com.  “Steroid Profiles.” http://www.steroid.com/Deca.php (accessed 6 July 2009).

[6] www.Steroid.com.  “Steroid Profiles.” http://www.steroid.com/Deca.php (accessed 6 July 2009).

[7] Hannelore Ehrenreich, Angelos Halaris, et al.  “Psychoendocrine Sequelae of Chronic Testosterone Deficiency.”  Journal of Psychiatric Research Volume 33, Issue 5 (10 September 1999) 379-387. http://www.sciencedirect.com.turing.library.northwestern.edu/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T8T-3X4W5GF-3&_user=965532&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000049540&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=965532&md5=1bf3f8a6487e8584cb4aad8ac3f5c033 (accessed 6 July 2009).

[8] Charles D. Kochakian and Welder, Allison A.  “Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids: In Cell Culture.”  In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology, Animal Volume 29A, no.6 (June 1993) 433. http://www.jstor.org.turing.library.northwestern.edu/stable/4294055?&Search=yes&term=steroids&list=hide&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dsteroids%26gw%3Djtx%26prq%3Dhuman%2Btestosterone%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don&item=2&ttl=12193&returnArticleService=showArticle (accessed 6 July 2009).

[9] Kochakian, Charles D. and Welder, Allison A.  “Anabolic-Androgenic…” 433.

[10] Kochakian, Charles D. and Welder, Allison A.  “Anabolic-Androgenic…” 434.

Works Cited

Articles

Bell, Howard.  “Small Doses of Oral Steroids Soothe Sore Throat Pain.”  Physician’s Weekly XIX, no. 8 (18 February 2002.) 1. http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:qNCMefkOgekJ:www.physiciansweekly.com/article.asp%3Fissueid%3D8%26articleid%3D91+steroids+safe+in+small+doses%3F&cd=10&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us (accessed 5 July 2009).

Ehrenreich, Hannelore and Angelos Halaris, et al.  “Psychoendocrine Sequelae of Chronic Testosterone Deficiency.”  Journal of Psychiatric Research Volume 33, Issue 5 (10 September 1999) 379-387. http://www.sciencedirect.com.turing.library.northwestern.edu/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T8T-3X4W5GF-3&_user=965532&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000049540&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=965532&md5=1bf3f8a6487e8584cb4aad8ac3f5c033 (accessed 6 July 2009).

Kochakian, Charles D. and Welder, Allison A.  “Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids: In Cell Culture.”  In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology, Animal Volume 29A, no.6 (June 1993) 433. http://www.jstor.org.turing.library.northwestern.edu/stable/4294055?&Search=yes&term=steroids&list=hide&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dsteroids%26gw%3Djtx%26prq%3Dhuman%2Btestosterone%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don&item=2&ttl=12193&returnArticleService=showArticle (accessed 6 July 2009).

Raloff, Janet.  “Hormones: Here’s the Beef.”  Science News 161, no. 1 (5 January 2002) 10-12. http://www.jstor.org.turing.library.northwestern.edu/stable/4013043?&Search=yes&term=sports&term=steroids&list=hide&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dsteroids%2BAND%2Bsports%26gw%3Djtx%26prq%3Dsteroids%2BAND%2Bsports%2BAND%2Bsafe%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don&item=18&ttl=422&returnArticleService=showArticle (accessed 3 July 2009).

Web Sites

Princeton University. WordNet . Google Search Engine Results. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&defl=en&q=define:steroid&ei=TuZSSoD6A46iML75gesI&sa=X&oi=glossary_definition&ct=title&cts=1246947537800 (accessed 3 July 2009).

www.Steroid.com.  “Steroid Profiles.” http://www.steroid.com/Deca.php (accessed 6 July 2009).

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Jack Welch, of General Electric Fame, Knows How to Win and Lead (Part 2 – Conclusion)

We Have the Philosophy, Players, and the Goal… Now, How do We Win?

After a manager hires a group of individuals who believe in the mission and embody the organization’s values, he is ready to lead.  When I was employed by another organization several years ago, though, I used the few resources I had available to communicate with my colleagues and learn the organization’s values and mission.  Unfortunately, back then I was unable to speak with certainty if asked about what the entity really was “all about.”  Their mission and values were ill-defined.

While there, however, I took it upon myself to apply the first two tenets Welch presents on leadership: “before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself” (Welch, 2005, p. 61) and “when you become a leader, success is all about growing others” (Welch, 2005, p. 61).  The entire discussion on leadership in Winning is the book’s most organized and compelling section.  After presenting the two overarching rules mentioned above, Welch breaks his thoughts on leadership into eight elements that, in the end, are directly related to an understanding of corporate culture and effective communication.

The first rule, “leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to evaluate, coach, and build self-confidence,” I followed closely in my dealings with coworkers.  I made it a point to positively influence my colleagues with simple and honest expressions (a literal “pat on the back,” encouraging words, constructive criticism, etc.) meant only to help them enjoy doing their jobs a bit more.  Welch also recommends that you “make sure the right people are in the right jobs,” and I feel that HR did a fairly good job of placing the right people in the department  (Welch, 2005, p. 65).  I always complimented members who did a good job, exchanged knowledge and opinions with them, and helped a bit more when someone did not deliver for any of a myriad of reasons; as a football coach and player, I learned the value of coaching whenever possible.

Unfortunately, I was not in a position to follow through on Welch’s second instruction: set the team’s vision and make it “come alive” (Welch, 2005, p. 67).  I embodied it as best I could, but the organization did not empower me to affect or change that employer’s corporate culture.  In any case, the third rule in his list emphasizes the importance of exuding a positive attitude and how its spread to all levels of the corporate structure can “catch” an unhappy colleague and change her overall work experience for the better (Welch, 2005, p. 70).  After all, you need to be happy if you are going to win.

Fourth on Welch’s list is a leader’s need to “establish trust with candor, transparency, and credit” (Welch, 2005, p. 70).  This sounds an awful lot like coaching.  Welch asserts that “trust happens when leaders are transparent, candid, and keep their word.  It’s that simple,” (Welch, 2005, p. 71).  While employed by the entity I am referring to here, I always kept my promises and actually over-delivered on them whenever possible.  Now, candor, as Welch defines it, is difficult to maintain without sounding cold or harsh when you speak to coworkers who still do not trust you.  Therefore, it is imperative that you establish professional relationships with them and uphold your own standards of excellence.  Fifth, Welch claims, “leaders [must] have the courage to make unpopular decisions and gut calls.”  I proposed to upper management that we ought to implement a new strategy that improves communication within the department – simply not relying too much on electronic or impersonal communication and allowing for more face-to-face encounters when practical is an easy way to improve communication within a team or department.  This leads me to Welch’s sixth point.

Leaders ought to be curious and almost skeptical in order to ensure that “their questions are answered with action” (Welch, 2005, p. 73).  Welch suggests that one must be ready to ask tough questions.  A leader must be inquisitive if he expects to understand his employees’ roles and create tailor-made and appropriate paths toward the team’s ultimate vision of success.  Next, Welch explains that winners must always be willing to continue learning and take risks since he leads by example.  Managers should not “urge their people to try new things and then whack them in the head when they fail” and consequently appear to contradict themselves (Welch, 2005, p. 76).  That would severely handicap their credibility as leaders.  A leader should support such an employee by telling her that it is okay to fail and to learn from the experience.  Finally, we arrive at rule number 8: leaders must celebrate (Welch, 2005, p. 78)!  Simply put, a leader should not hesitate to throw a party after a great achievement.  Welch, though, feels that prizes and passes to special events are better since employees can enjoy them at their leisure and not necessarily with coworkers (Welch, 2005, p. 78).

Now, I will lead myself over to my living room and celebrate with some Gershwin and my fiancée.  Refreshed and renewed, I will be ready for the next article.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Thank you for your readership and patience.  Last night, when I arrived home at about 10:30 PM and started typing this article, I fell asleep at my desk.  That is the only reason why I did not publish it on Monday as my articles always are.  What a week…

Chapter 2

Well, my friends, Part 2 of my analysis of Jack Welch’s prescriptions for effective leadership will have to wait until next week.  Instead, today’s entry will serve as Part 2 of my series titled “Minutes,” as these are minutes of my experience in sports business and explain exactly why I adjusted my original plan to continue last week’s study of Winning today.

Here’s a glimpse of my recent schedule… First, I am creating this season’s marketing strategy for Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse with the assistance of a colleague.  On a silver platter just for me, I also execute the NU Women’s Tennis marketing strategy (which involves working weekends), assist in operations at NU Men’s and Women’s Basketball, summarize our website’s weekly Nielsen ratings, and both invent and implement ticket sales strategies aimed at increasing group ticket sales for Men’s Basketball.  In addition, I have school at night.  I am not going hungry any time soon in this case! But seriously, this is nothing out of the norm.

The fact of the matter is that I am fighting a bit of a fever and am looking forward to walking through the 10 inches of snow meteorologists have forecast for tomorrow on my way to work and school.  These are the dues we pay, though, when the goal is truly worth it.  I would like some rest now, so you can look forward to my conclusions on Jack Welch’s leadership philosophy next Monday night.  Hey, don’t look so disappointed!  =)

<to be continued>

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

As usual, thank you for your readership.  With this entry, you can see a bit more of how a career in sports business has glamor… and its glory.  As in all work, you just have to soldier on.

Jack Welch, of General Electric Fame, Knows How to Win and Lead (Part 1)

Introduction

Jack Welch is a candid man.  His entire book is a series of candid responses to the questions his fans and audiences at seminars would ask ranging from his views on Six Sigma and leadership to the status of his golf game and whether or not he thinks he will go to heaven.  His book was inspired by the inquisitive, “energized, curious, gutsy, and ambitious men and women who have loved business enough to ask me every possible question you could imagine” (Welch, 2005, p. 1, p. 9).  Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, Winning provides essential insights on success and leadership without making the eyelids heavy.

The first section of Winning is “conceptual” and treats a wide variety of Welch’s philosophies and explains his stance on the importance of a strong mission statement and “concrete values” (Welch, 2005, p. 7); essentially, Welch opens his 362-page lesson on winning in business with advise on how to create a corporate culture.  The second is about leadership and issues regarding human resources.   More specifically, in this unit, Welch teaches the reader how to lead as he did, find a suitable supporting cast in the office, and delegate appropriately (more on this unit in the following section of my review).

The next covers how to grow your business organically, design effective strategies, and other aspects of business directly affected by environmental factors.  He nearly mocks how “experts tend to talk about strategy – as if it is some kind of high-brain scientific methodology” and explains why managers must sometimes compromise their instincts if the organization’s leaders take a calculated risk and choose to grow organically by launching a new product or providing new services (Welch, 2005, p. 165, p. 205).  The organization can also grow through mergers and acquisitions, but can become blinded by a certain insidious frenzy to acquire an entity that only worsens as more bidders appear on the scene (Welch, 2005, p. 221).  Welch warns against not checking such behavior in Unit Three.  In the fourth, he talks about how to manage “the arc and the quality of your professional life” (Welch, 2005, p. 7-8), teaches patience in seeking a promotion and provides insights on how to identify the perfect job.

Then, he ends the book with a unit on miscellaneous questions that simply do not fit into either of the aforementioned categories (Welch, 2005, p. 7-8).  Among other topics, it focuses on China as both a nation and question looming in the minds of many managers and workers all over the world and how businesses in just about every continent are feeling the pressure.  Of course, as only he can, Welch enlivens all of his answers with a certain frankness and sparse use of mild expletives from page to page.

Now, before I tie in the key concept – leadership – an attempt to contextualize it within corporate culture is due.  After all, one cannot lead a team that lacks a clear mission and set of values, for they are the guidelines a leader must follow in order to resonate with both employees and the business as organic entities.  In such a situation, a leader would be hard pressed to formulate the organization’s values with his colleagues’ assistance and even compose a new mission statement.

The Context: Leadership Cannot Exist Without a Clear Mission or Values

Early in the book, Welch addresses missions and values: two terms he feels are “among the most abstract, overused, misunderstood words in business… [and] business schools add to the confusion by having their students regularly write mission statements and debate values… in a vacuum” (Welch, 2005, p. 13).  In this section, he emphasizes that mission statements should not leave your employees feeling cynical or lost; in fact, he states that a mission statement should delineate how the business will win (Welch, 2005, p. 14).  When creating a mission statement, the composer ought not to trouble herself with political correctness or hurting another senior executive’s feelings.  Instead, it ought to be based on the company’s strengths and weaknesses and set it on course to profitably achieve the goal.  He proceeds to mention anecdotal evidence of how General Electric’s top-level management team wrote a mission statement grounded in reality (not ridiculously overambitious or at all vague) that made its employees feel important.

Welch also mentions how Ben and Jerry’s, the liberal-minded ice cream company, actually considered stakeholders, profits, and sustainable growth in its relatively long yet clear mission statement.  Values also received due attention in this section.   Welch defines them toward the end of this discussion as “just behaviors – specific, nitty-gritty, and so descriptive they leave little to the imagination” (Welch, 2005, p. 17).  Toward the end of this chapter, he refers to how Bank One’s list of specific behaviors made its values tangible and real.  Effective creation of values requires specificity, clarity, and the active participation of many members of the organization since behaviors help define the corporate culture.  They must be representative of employees’ ethics and vice-versa.  After dealing with the most important internal factors in interpersonal relations at the office, Welch turns to his discussion on the company itself and leadership.

So, with a satisfactory understanding of “Welchian” corporate culture and how to set the tone for how members of your team will approach their work, we segue to the next concept.  The team knows the job at hand.  Now it is time to lead them to the goal.

<to be continued in next week’s post>

Cam Suarez-Bitar

Here is the bibliographical data on Welch’s book:

Welch, Jack and Welch, Suzy.  (2005).  Winning.  New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Thank you for your readership and stay tuned… next week I will add the section directly related to leadership.

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