June 19th marked the 25th anniversary of the cocaine related death of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias. It was a tragedy that sent shock waves throughout the sports world and the entire country. It turns out it was only the beginning of an epidemic that has grown to impact every sport in this country. Both legal and illegal drug use in sports remains in the spotlight and continues to embarrass, harm and even kill our athletes well before their time.
Just in the past several weeks we have seen drugs impact no fewer than six different sports and may have taken the lives of several athletes. Just weeks ago, gold medal cyclist Tyler Hamilton admitted using performance enhancing drugs and accused Lance Armstrong of doping.
Hockey star Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers was found dead from an overdose of alcohol and pain pills.
University of Oklahoma football player Austin Box and University of Alabama football player Aaron Douglas were both found dead of a possible pain killer drug overdose.
Jockey Michael Baze was found dead in his car the day after his horse placed second in the Kentucky Derby. It turns out he had a substance abuse problem and was due in court for a drug violation only days after his untimely death.
Boxing great Oscar De La Hoya entered a drug rehabilitation program a few weeks ago for cocaine addiction.
Wrestler Randy Savage was killed in a car crash that is being investigated for possible drug involvement. Mr. Savage had a history of using performance enhancing drugs, which can damage the heart.
I'm sure there are many more examples of how the epidemic of drugs in sports is hurting our best and brightest athletes as well as disappointing our children, who hope one day to follow in these athletes' footsteps. We all want our young athletes to learn to play their sports safe, fair and drug free, but parents, players, coaches and other health professionals need to work harder to reverse the growing epidemic of drugs in sports.
Mike Gimbel, Towson
The writer is director of St. Joseph Medical Center's Powered by Me! sports education program.