Steve Courson, 29, is an offensive guard with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He stands 6'1" and weighs 285 pounds. He was with the Pittsburgh Steelers for seven years before going to Tampa in 1984. An articulate, intelligent young man, he is a military history enthusiast who loves the wars of Greece and Persia, and has a large collection of books about World War II. He likes classical music and his van resounds with the taped music of Wagner, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. Sometimes he switches to Berlitz German tapes. Courson spent 12 hours telling SI's Jill Lieber about his use of anabolic steroids in his strength-training regimen. He told Lieber, "A lot of guys won't talk about their steroid use. They won't even tell their wives. I'm talking about it because I don't want to be hypocritical, because I believe in telling the truth." What follows is Courson's account of—and rationalization for—his use of steroids:
Seventy-five percent of the linemen in the NFL are on steroids and 95% have probably tried them. Even in college, they're widely used. Rookies, at every training camp, have asked me about them. Most of them have tried some kind of steroid. They've all used Dianabol. I never recommend steroids to high school kids. I tell them they're too young. I say, "Wait until you get everything you can from your body, naturally."
But in football, as in life, only the strong survive. You're preached that by your coaches and your parents from the time you're very young. The strongest people—the strongest athletes—in the world are all using steroids. They're being used not only in the strength field, but also in track and field and in swimming. So you've got to get on drugs if you want to survive.
My freshman year in college [South Carolina] I got banged around by older, stronger kids. I knew at the time I had to do a lot of work. I knew I had to go on drugs. I wasn't going to be out there just to be out there. I had to be the best. I only did steroids the summer before my sophomore year. My body weight went from 225 to 260 in a month and a half. I didn't need them after that. I was plenty strong enough already. In football, if you use steroids too much, you get muscle tears. You aren't mobile. I don't need them now to gain weight. I'm 6'1", 285. I can't put too much more weight on my frame. I just want to be stronger. These last three years I did steroids for eight to 12 weeks in the off-season.
Unless you're a freak of nature, you can't get away from that kind of training. It stands to reason, if you have two guys, one on either side of the line, and each weighs 250, the guy who's the stronger will win out. When I weighed 250 or 260 I could be pushed around by taller, stronger guys.
Steroids are a different realm of drug from speed or painkillers. They enhance your natural ability. They are a building block. They can take you somewhere. I can't condone steroid use, but I can morally accept it as an aid. I know that if I don't use steroids, I won't be the best I can be.
I'm sure there are a lot of football players doing less steroids than I do. For football players, I'm probably doing a lot. Bodybuilders and powerlifters are doing much, much more. I'd take more, too, but I'm afraid to. First, I don't want to be any bigger, and second, I don't want to lose my mobility.
I use Voids to build up my strength in the off-season, but I never use speed to play. Guys are out there using speed. Why don't they outlaw that? Coaches say, "Hey, steroids are no good for you." Well, how good is taking a painkiller in the ankle or the knee? The whole thing is hypocritical. What's wrong with a football player building his body as strong as he can with steroids? I know I have to play a 16-game season, and to survive without serious injury I have to be as strong as I possibly can be.
I get more enjoyment out of being in a weight room and training—feeling bigger, stronger, seeing myself improve—than when I've read a book. I will keep doing steroids till I see adverse effects in my performance. I want to be strong, but I don't have room for more weight. I want to dead-lift over 1,000 pounds. I want to bench 600 pounds. No football player has done either. I think I can do that within this year.
I ask other players how much they bench. Usually they ask me first: It's a common measuring stick. [The bench press movement is] exactly like going against a defensive lineman. You try to smack him with both hands, raising his shoulders back. You're trying to buy time for the quarterback. Coming out of a stance is like a squat-lift motion. Force moves from the feet through the hips and back. It comes from your pecs, your shoulders, your upper arms, your hands. You've got to be strong to initiate enough shock. You see his head snap back. It feels good to deliver a blow like that.
I can't believe how big steroids are. And the kids! I can't believe the people who use steroids. They just want to be bigger; they aren't doing it for sport—or business.
I look at lifting weights as building a set of my own protective armor, because what we wear out there isn't enough. You take such a pounding out there, even going against people your own size and quickness. You've got to spend the offseason refitting your own armor. It's like refitting tanks during World War II.
In order to compete at this business, you absolutely have to know the pluses and minuses that come along with using steroids. Maybe kidney and liver disease when you're older.
But you do what you have to do, otherwise you don't have your job. I don't want to leave this game broken and crippled. And I know that, with steroids, I have less chance of being broken and crippled because I will be stronger. Of course, anyone who uses steroids wants more research done. We want to know what we'll be facing 50, 60—even 20—years from now. Then it will be easier to make a concrete choice about using steroids. Right now, there's an X factor. You don't know what the X factor is, but you do know you're reaping benefits. In mini-camp [last month] I had Tampa Bay test my liver. I want to know what the steroids are doing to me. I don't have the results yet.
Everyone's cycle is different. It's a chemical thing in your body. When I use steroids, I don't want my weight to go up. I want to increase my strength only. I started on a cycle beginning last January. I weighed 272. I waited until after the season, when I had no bumps and bruises. I needed the time for my body to heal. At the end of the season, your strength is depleted. You try to maintain the strength you reach in the off-season, but it's impossible.
So I came to Boulder [Colo.] to train and got started in the middle of January. I was working six days a week, twice a day. In the mornings, I worked on bench presses, inclines, dead lifts and squats. In the evenings, I worked on assistance muscles, doing leg extensions, triceps, weighted dips. I worked on specific muscle groups, isolated them.
On my first eight-week cycle I did anabolics in doses of descending order. I took Winstrol, that's an oral. I took Anavar, another oral. I took Deca-Durabolin, an injectable. I took the orals every day. I injected once or twice a week. For instance, I injected 300 milligrams of Deca-Durabolin in both weeks 1 and 2 along with 50 milligrams a day of Winstrol and 50 a day of Anavar. [According to a standard textbook, The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, the recommended dosage for medical purposes is 50 to 100 milligrams every three to four weeks for Deca-Durabolin, six milligrams a day for Winstrol and five to 10 milligrams a day for Anavar.]
When you're in the middle of the juice, on a cycle, you feel like you could bench-press every day. I haven't, but I feel like I could. When you're in the middle of a cycle, you don't know what can happen in your lifts. You have increases that surprise you. Once when I was on the juice, near the middle of a cycle, I benched six to eight reps at 450 pounds, then three days later did six to eight reps at 475. That's 25 pounds in three days!
The heaviest cycle I've ever been on was before the last NFL weightlifting contest [a made-for-TV event not sanctioned by the league] in 1982. I took oral Dianabol, Anadrol-50, Anavar and Winstrol. In the last weeks of that cycle, man, I was real irritable. I had bad abdominal cramps. I went home to help my father in the yard, and I was bending over, and I had the worst cramps. I was doing three Anadrol-50s a day, and I cut them out. There were times when I was standing in the kitchen with my friend who's a powerlifter and who injects me, and we said to ourselves, "What are we? Crazy?!" And then I tell myself that I'm doing this just so I can be better at my job.
The only negative side effects I've experienced are that I break out a little on the skin, and I get irritable and very aggressive. You have a shorter temper, so you avoid situations that will aggravate you. Another side effect is sexual. It's real bad, although it depends on the individual. I feel more impulsive.
At my size, clothes are hard to find. Suits bind me. I've got to worry about ripping the sleeves out of my shirts. The first couple of years in the league I had everything tailor-made. My measurements are pretty bizarre. My neck, which is the most unusual, is 22¾", thighs 29", calves 18", waist 38½", chest 58" and biceps 20½". When you're on a cycle, you can see the changes as they happen.
I've taken my chances with drugs, and I've seen the results. At mini-camp I found out my heart was beating real fast—150 beats a minute, resting. But it can be controlled through medication. Doctors say it is just a temporary condition. I asked two doctors if steroids had anything to do with it. Both said they could have been a contributing factor but they weren't sure. I don't think they were the major reason. I was just burning the candle at both ends, drinking a lot of beer and working out real hard.
Football is my business. I take this attitude toward drugs: They give me an edge in my business. I don't regret anything I've done so far as pharmaceutical use is concerned. It's very easy for people on the outside to criticize. But it's different when it's your livelihood, when it's your job to keep a genetic mutation from getting into your backfield.
Weights aren't enough for Courson, who says steroids help him survive in the NFL.
Courson (77) used his strength and size to keep the Steelers' Terry Bradshaw safe.
Courson strutted at the '84 Steeler camp.