Brent Musburger, the play-by-play man for some of college football's biggest games, told a group of college journalism students that professional athletes under a doctor's supervision could potentially use steroids to improve performance.
Musburger, on the lead announcing team for ABC and ESPN, told students at the University of Montana that steroids have no place in high school athletics, but they could be used in the pros under the proper care and doctor's advice.
"Here's the truth about steroids: They work," he said in a story reported by The Missoulian.
"I've had somebody say that, you know, steroids should be banned because they're not healthy for you," he told the students Tuesday. "Let's go find out. What do the doctors actually think about anabolic steroids and the use by athletes? Don't have a preconceived notion that this is right or this is wrong."
Musburger said negative stories about steroids are mainly the fault of "journalism youngsters out there covering sports [who] got too deeply involved in something they didn't know too much about."
Asked by The Associated Press to expand on his comments Wednesday, Musburger said through a publicist at ESPN that he stood by the comments he made to the students and that his main point was that "the issue of steroids belongs in the hands of doctors and not in the hands of a journalist."
Dr. Gary Wadler, who leads the committee that determines the banned-substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency, said he was "kind of surprised Brent would make that statement."
"He's categorically wrong, and if he'd like to spend a day in my office, I can show him voluminous literature going back decades about the adverse effects of steroids," he said. "They have a legitimate role in medicine that's clearly defined. But if it's abused, it can have serious consequences."
The most common health consequences from steroids include liver cancer, heart attacks and elevated cholesterol levels, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Steroids have also been shown to cause increased irritability and aggression.
Among the many examples of the negative effects of steroids are the cases of dozens of East German women Olympians who took the drugs in the 1960s and '70s and wound up with a variety of medical issues after their careers were over. Former NFL lineman Lyle Alzado, who died in 1992 at 43, blamed his fatal brain tumor on his persistent use of steroids. Taylor Hooton was a 17-year-old baseball player who committed suicide in 2003; doctors believe Hooton became depressed after he stopped using steroids.
Almost all the major pro sports have rules forbidding steroid use, though the effectiveness and enforcement of those rules are widely debated.
"No athlete should ever be made to feel compelled to use drugs, nor should such behavior become normalized, particularly when our youth are so influenced by the example set by their sports heroes," said Erin Hannan, spokesperson for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Musburger, 71, was the top sports anchor on CBS through much of the 1980s but was fired in 1990. He made a comeback on ABC and ESPN and is the play-by-play man for the network's lead announcing team on college football. He has worked the last three BCS title games.
He said he doesn't trust journalists when they report about steroids.
"They come in with a negative view and they take it from there," he told the students.