What Are Punishments in Sports for Using Performance Enhancing Drugs?


Performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids are an all-too-common alternative for some budding and professional athletes. The drugs either maximize performance or allow the athlete to cultivate as much muscle as possible. The use of these drugs, often referred to as "doping," is illegal in every state. It is also grounds for suspension or expulsion in most youth, college and professional leagues.


Possession of anabolic steroids, the principle performance-enhancing drug, has been illegal in the United States since 1990. It is classified as a Schedule III drug along with opium, morphine, codeine and numerous other stimulants and depressants. The punishments for possession vary widely among states. The federal penalties range from up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine for a first offense, to three years in prison and a minimum fine of $5,000 for a third offense. All of the penalties can be increased if an "intent to distribute" can be proven. Sports organizations can also punish its members for possession.

Pro Sports

As of 2011, nearly all professional leagues had its athletes submit to random drug tests for anabolic steroids, narcotics, and common performance enhancers like androstenedione and human growth hormone. In the NFL, players are tested yearly for steroids and amphetamines. Violators get a mandatory four-game suspension for a first offense, a six-game suspension for the second and a full season off for the third. Baseball suspends players 50 games for a first offense and 100 games for a second even if the player is in the minors. Outfielder Manny Ramirez, who sat out 50 games in 2009 for failing a drug test, was caught again in 2011. He retired instead of serving the longer suspension.


The International Olympic Committee uses the drug testing standards adopted by the World Anti-Doping Agency. If an Olympic athlete tests positive for any of the organization's hundreds of prohibited anabolic steroids, growth hormones or narcotics, the athlete is removed from the competition for at least two years and stripped of any medals that were recently awarded. A second offense could lead to a lifelong ban.

College, School Sports

Criminal sanctions apply to minors in possession of illegal drugs, and many school districts and college sports associations have their own rules and punishments. The National Collegiate Athletic Association randomly tests college athletes for steroids and narcotics. An athlete can be suspended for one year for a first offense. According to the Cato Institute, school districts and sports associations have been able to enact policies requiring random urinalysis of young athletes since a 1995 Supreme Court decision.