Navy coach's claim disputed

Performance-enhancing drug used by players at academy was steroid, anti-doping experts say

November 16, 2006|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

Two anti-doping experts disputed yesterday Navy football coach Paul Johnson's assertion that two of his players who used the banned performance- enhancing drug androstenediol early last year "weren't popping steroids."

Federal law defines the drug, popularly known as "andro," as an anabolic steroid. When taken, it combines with naturally occurring substances in the body to produce an artificially high level of testosterone, which increases muscle mass and decreases body fat.

"Anyone who asserts that andro is no big deal ought to familiarize themselves with the laws of the United States," said Dr. Gary Wadler, a professor at New York University who advises the World Anti-Doping Agency on what substances to ban.

Congress outlawed androstenediol on Jan. 22, 2005, weeks before naval investigators launched a probe of drug use on the team after learning the two players had flunked a test required by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. As a result, both players were barred from the team for a year.

Johnson said the athletes had been unaware that they were taking a banned substance, though informed sources said the players had been warned repeatedly at briefings required by the NCAA against using androstenediol.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a former Marine who served in Vietnam and on the Naval Academy's oversight board, said he was troubled by the revelations this week in The Sun that the two players had used andro and that five others were identified as possible users in a subsequent Navy investigation.

"Zero tolerance is zero tolerance, and excuses are counterproductive in training people to defend your country," said Gilchrest, a Republican whose district includes part of Annapolis. "If you come up with excuses after a mistake in combat, you have people that are dead."

Academy officials said the five other players whose names surfaced in the investigation after the positive drug test results were cleared by subsequent urinalysis. Those five, including a current starter who admitted taking dozens of pills, sources said, were not expelled from the team.

Cmdr. Ed Austin, an academy spokesman, declined to explain yesterday why the starter was allowed to return to the football field last year, despite his admission. He said that neither Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy superintendent, nor Col. David Fuquea, who oversaw the internal disciplinary hearings of the seven athletes, would be available for comment on the matter.

After that hearing, all seven players were restricted to their dormitory for several weeks, except for classes and football- related activities, sources said. Under military law and academy rules, they could have faced far more severe penalties, including expulsion or court-martial.

Austin said he did not know when the academy first learned of the two positive tests and how much later they tested the other five players. Wadler, the anti-doping expert, said andro remains present in the body for only a few days after it is taken.

One of the players who flunked the NCAA drug test quit the team, and the other is on the roster this year. Four of the other five players who were part of the investigation are back on the team, and the fifth has left the academy, sources said

The Naval Academy's rival service academies apply a higher standard. Spokesmen for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., said varsity athletes at their institutions are treated the same whether they are caught using illegal or banned substances by NCAA drug tests, school-administered tests or in an investigation.

Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk, like Johnson, defended the school's handling of the matter, saying the two midshipmen banned by the NCAA made a mistake in buying supplements without reading the label.

The academy takes pains to inform student-athletes about what drugs are banned, and andro is specifically mentioned. The school briefs them on the subject, requires them to sign an NCAA form that lists prohibited substances, and asks them to consult with a team doctor or trainer before taking any drug or supplement.

At the end of the disciplinary hearing, Fuquea censured the players for "failure to use good judgment," according to sources, but did not penalize any of them for using or possessing banned substances. The penalty they received usually is reserved for minor conduct offenses such as wearing civilian clothes to a military function or leaving academy grounds without permission.

Earlier this year, Fuquea was shifted from his post as the academy's deputy commandant to a new job as deputy athletic director.

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