From The Desk Of Clarence Bass
Terry Todd Called—and Then Wrote—About Anabolic Steroids
It was our first direct contact in decades. Terry asked about my experience with anabolic steroids. I thought he might be thinking about taking them to slow the aging process.
I now know that he was doing research for two of his most consequential publications, one in Sports Illustrated and the other an academic paper in the Journal of Sport History.
My response didn’t make it into either piece, although both are filled with quotes from well-known bodybuilders and weight-lifters.
His call came a year or so after the 1980 release of our first book RIPPED: The Sensible Way to Achieve Ultimate Muscularity, where I explain why anabolic steroids are counterproductive in training for lifetime leanness and health.
After learning about these publications in the special tribute to Terry in IRON GAME HISTORY, I was eager to read them both.
Carol located the August 1, 1983 Sports Illustrated issue online, and a few days later we had a pristine, cellophane wrapped copy. (The first thing I noticed was cigarette ads on the front and back covers. How things have changed.)
The Steroid Predicament, Terry’s article, is given more space than anything else in the magazine, occupying just short of 20 pages.
The two-page title is a mosaic of huge syringes and an even bigger pill bottle, along with this elucidation: In spite of evidence that anabolic steroids can undermine one’s health, the use of these drugs is widespread among athletes, who will risk their physical well-being for the promise of stronger performance.
The photos (10) include Bob Hoffman on his 80th birthday, champion powerlifter Larry Pacifico, Jan Todd lifting, pro and con physicians, Terry with bodybuilder-doctor Craig Whitehead, and a cyclist.
The captions are quite telling. York lifters, backed by Hoffman, are said to be among the first to use steroids. Pacifico is presented as a user who almost died. Jan Todd is said to have chosen to put on more weight than she would like (topping out at 230 and squatting a world record 545.5) rather than risk the effects of drugs. Terry acknowledges taking steroids during his 4 years in the top ranks of super-heavyweight powerlifters.
As you would expect the SI article reads a lot easier than Terry’s research paper. I’ll relate some key points that I found especially interesting.
If you want more, you can read the entire article online: https://vault.si.com/vault/1983/08/01/43393#&gid=ci0258be6aa023278a&pid=43393---064---image.
Terry begins by telling readers what he’s going to tell them:
What follows are my best recollections of how I felt about anabolic steroids as an aspiring athlete, what I have learned about steroids in the past 20 years and how my feeling have changed over that time. I make no claim of objectivity, having had a front-row seat. I’ve watched what was at first a “secret” drug known only to a handful of elite weightlifters become a phenomenon so widespread that majority of recent Olympic athletes, male and female, in track and field and the strength sports, are believed to have used some form of steroid; a phenomenon so widespread that pro football players have told me that as many as 50% of the active NFL linemen and linebackers have used steroids with the intent of improving their performance; a phenomenon so widespread that reports surface from time to time of teen-agers being advised by their high school or even junior high school, coaches to take steroids.
* * *
Terry writes about the first York lifters to experiment with steroids—without naming them.
He tells about friends making the trip to York, PA, to find out how Hoffman’s lifters were suddenly making big gains. (“This is the secret,” they told me. “It’s these little pink pills”…And so it was.)
Hoffman had written an article in his Strength & Health magazine attributing the gains to isometric contraction, exerting force against an immovable object.
He subtitled it “The most Important Article I Ever Wrote.” It began, “I am about to tell you about the greatest system of physical training, the greatest system of strength and muscle building the world has ever seen.”
I remember that, because I approached Hoffman at a national contest and asked to buy one of the power racks his lifters were using. He made it clear that we would have to pay for it—no freebees.
Like Terry’s friends, I didn’t have much luck with isometric contraction, finding myself on the floor from time to time from holding my breath too long.
I also had direct contact with Lou Riecke, one of the York lifters who allegedly made spectacular gains using Hoffman’s new discovery. I wrote about it when he passed away at 90:
As I explain there, it was the little pink pills (Dianabol) that catapulted Lou into the record book, with a 325 split snatch as a light heavy weight (181 pounds). He was 35 and had been lifting for decades.
My article tells how I made contact with Lou when I was a teenager, and goes on to explain how he was introduced to Dianabol and was loath to give it credit for his big lift—wanting to credit isometric contraction and practicing the lifts.
As I relate in my article, Professor John Fair tells all about it in his book Muscletown USA. (It was a masterpiece: https://www.cbass.com/MUSCLETO.HTM )
* * *
Terry estimates that he took approximately 1,200 Dianabol pills over the course of his 4 years of powerlifting competition—and never took any more.
He says that’s minimal compared to what young athletes tell him they are taking. While it’s a matter of conjecture, he had evidence suggesting that athletes have taken in less than two weeks what he took “weighing more than 300 pounds, in four years.”
This photo, scanned from Sports Illustrated, shows Terry carrying his 300 pound bodyweight rather well.
While he felt fortunate to have taken so little, he acknowledges that he might well have taken more had the recommended dose been greater.
“In 1967 a doctor polled more than a hundred runners, asking if they would take a certain drug knowing that, although it could make them Olympic champions, it could kill them in a year,” Terry related. “More than half of the athletes responded affirmatively.”
My guess is that still rings true, as evidenced by top level professional bodybuilding and in powerlifting competitions which do not test for drugs. I say that, acknowledging that I have no inside information on these matters.
* * *
Terry ends the way he started, telling his readers what he told them:
The hunger for an edge is an ancient one, intertwined with our need to excel. This hunger led me to take drugs I wish now I hadn’t taken. So it goes. Have they had effects on me that will result in a shorter life? I don’t know. I do realize that having taken them myself puts me in the position, when I try to discourage someone else from using them, of the old man whose opposition to the sexual activities of the young varies in inverse proportion to his own capacity to indulge. But having been under the dread sway of drugs myself and having reflected on the things I’ve done and felt and seen, it has seemed appropriate to share some of what I have learned about life in the Faust lane.
Journal of Sport History
This article is written for scholars and historians, with everything footnoted. While I don't care much for footnotes, I have to acknowledge that they allowed Carol to run down the issue of Sports Illustrated with Terry’s article on anabolic steroids.
While Terry goes into great detail on trafficking in illegal drugs and the status of testing, both end with the date of his superb paper.
If you are still interested—I enjoyed Terry’s mastery of academic writing style—here’s the link:
June 1, 2021
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