No shame for big gains: Steroids in film

The ethical debate surrounding the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) has devastated the trustworthiness of professional sports in the last decade. The revelations and congressional hearings have so damaged our trust of professional athletes, that whenever any record is broken or achievement reached, we immediately become suspicious.

The story isn’t the same, however, in the case of Hollywood actors and big-name entertainers, who undergo amazing body transformations in remarkably small timespans. Mickey Rourke, Sylvester Stallone and Charlie Sheen are just a few actors who have admitted to using or have been caught in the possession of steroids, simply to get those movie-star abs and pecs we seemingly take for granted. In the article “Enhanced Performers” from the blog Sports on Earth, writer Patrick Hruby discusses these cases and the growing expectation of male actors to have strong, muscular physiques. As Hruby says, “Comic book films reign supreme. So do comic book physiques.”

Some actors have been rather open about their use of performance-enhancing drugs. For example, in an interview, Tom Hardy sarcastically replied,

Tom Hardy as Bane in the 2012 film "The Dark Knight Rises." In an interview with Men's Journal, Hardy made a veiled reference to using PEDs to bulk up for the role. Photo courtesy of Protozoa Pictures.
Tom Hardy as Bane in the 2012 film “The Dark Knight Rises.” In an interview with Men’s Journal, Hardy made a veiled reference to using PEDs to bulk up for the role. Photo courtesy of Protozoa Pictures.

“No, I took Smarties,” when asked if he used PEDs to get in shape for “The Dark Night Rises.” Hardy, though, did not face a congressional hearing for this admission. Also, there was no negative reaction from the public on the subject. Hruby goes on to make the argument that actors’ use of performance-enhancing drugs is no different than athletes’ use of them. They use them, or don’t use them, for similar reasons.

Hruby cites competition and being a role model as main reasons for performance-enhancing drug use or abstinence. As Hruby says, both actors and athletes want to do well, get parts or awards, excel and succeed. Many athletes and actors are role models for young children as well. If their favorite athletes are using performance-enhancing drugs, there is the chance that children will emulate that behavior. Could the same be said for their favorite movie star?

Perhaps moviegoers are not as concerned with their favorite actors using performance-enhancing drugs. Hruby mentions that film fans “suspend their disbelief, knowing that super-heroic entertainment requires superhuman measures.” With sports, fans expect that what they see is real; Barry Bonds can hit the ball so far, Lance Armstrong can bike so long. When fans realize that they have been taking performance-enhancing drugs, there is an element of disillusion. Chris Nasti, assistant director of fitness and wellness at the Ray Meyer Fitness and Recreation Center, echoed these sentiments.

“(Actors have a) similar motivation. They are tempted to advance their careers … to see the short-term changes in the body,” Nasti said. According to Nasti, the main reasons actors and athletes do not use performance-enhancing drugs is “health — they are aware of the short benefits over the long-term benefits,” and “ethical reasons and the negative press associated usage. They are aware that young people see (celebrities) as role models.”

Despite the frequent steroid use in the media, Nasti was somewhat optimistic.

“There will always be people looking for benefits, monetary gain … Science (will find ways) to skirt around the rules … finding different substances that are not banned, but do the same thing,” Nasti said. “We need to continue to put ethical pressure on those.”

The ethical pressure is important and should be applied to not just athletes and actors, but everyone. Everyone looks up to someone, and people should take this responsibility seriously.