The death of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler last Monday reverberated through spring camps and most all athletic associations. Bechler died Monday of multiple organ failure after failing to complete a workout the day before at the Orioles' spring training complex in Fort Lauderdale.
A Miami medical examiner said that a weight-loss drug containing ephedrine probably contributed to Bechler's death.
Ephedra is banned by the NFL, NCAA and International Olympic Committee, but not by Major League Baseball. The Food and Drug Administration has reports of at least 100 deaths linked to the supplement, which is used in weight loss programs.
"We tell our athletes that if they are going to takea supplement they need to bring the product into us. Let's talk about why they are interested in taking the product as well talking about what ingredients may be contained within the supplement," said David Walls, a seven-year veteran of the Seminoles' athletic staff.
Of course, FSU and others have experienced the loss of one of its athletes.
Devaughn Darling collapsed and died during an off-season workout Feb. 26, 2001. An investigation by the FSU police department released seven weeks following Darling's death cleared the athletic department from any wrongdoing. Darling's death may have been linked to a sickle cell trait which he carried, according to physicians.
Additionally, the death's of Florida's Eraste Autin and Minnesota Viking's Korey Stringer were attributed to a heat stroke while participating in workouts in preparation for the upcoming football season. In addition, Northwestern University's Rashidi Wheeler collapsed and died with asthma related complications, which may or may not have been agitated by the heat.
Bechler, meanwhile, died of heatstroke, less than 24 hours after a spring training workout that sent his temperature to 108 degrees. He was an overweight athlete pushing himself in warm, humid weather much different from the climate in his native Oregon. And he was taking a dietary supplement that has been linked to heatstroke and heart attacks. Results of toxicology tests should be available in a few weeks.
All FSU student-athletes are tested for "street" drugs such as marijuana and cocaine during their annual preseason screening and physical. Athletes also are subject to random drug testing during the course of their seasons and can also be tested for a specific drug or steriod. The NCAA's list of banned substances includes 33 stimulants, 25 anabolic agents and 19 diuretics.
It's easy to see why there can be confusion if an athlete wants to take an over-the-counter supplement. Even the NCAA attempts to create an umbrella to cover itself by stating that any items or derivatives of banned substances can also be illegal. There's simply not enough guidlines to clearly define what is and what's not acceptable at times.
Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, for example, says he didn't know the pills a friend gave him to increase his energy last season would lead to a four-game suspension by the NFL.
In an article in the March 3 issue of ESPN The Magazine, Peppers said he took the pills because he was feeling tired and needed a boost. He said he trusted the friend - described as a Charlottean who was around the team - and was surprised to learn the pills contained an ephedra-like substance, which is banned by the NFL. He told the magazine he's closely monitoring everything he takes and limiting his drinking to orange juice and bottled water.
FSU football players are nearing the end of their offseason conditioning drills, formally known as mat drills. The sessions are extremely intense and are designed to improve an athlete's quickness and agility. The team's athletic training staff, regarded as one of the nation's best, keeps a careful eye on players during these sessions - approximately one hour including a pair of four-minute water breaks.
Following the workout, players can select from fruit, breakfast bars and sport drinks to help replenish their depleted energy levels. However, players can benefit most from eating a nutrional diet and getting adequate amounts of rest.
From an early age, gifted athletes learn to place great stress upon their bodies. Coaches, meanwhile, constantly search for ways to make players work themselves harder than they'd imagined possible. And the athletic training staff's function is to work with these athletes, who need to ulitmately be responsible for what they consume in the form of a nutriontal supplement.
"Many of these supplements are easily obtained over the counter and the only way athletes will know for certain what they are ingesting is if they sit down with their head trainer and identify exactly what is contained in the supplement," Walls said.