Director of Steroid Documentary, “Bigger, Stronger, Faster* Is It Still Cheating If Everyone Is Doing It?”
“In America, we define ourselves in the superlative: we are the biggest, strongest, fastest country in the world. Is it any wonder that so many of our athletes take performance-enhancing drugs? Director Christopher Bell explores America’s win-at-all-cost philosophy by examining the way his two brothers became members of the steroid subculture in an effort to realize their American dream. “
I had the opportunity to interview director Chris Bell on the eve of the world premiere of “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2008. “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” was one of sixteen films selected in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival Documentary Competition .
What inspired you to do this film?
I always had the idea to do a film on steroids. But I was searching for the core thought of the movie. What is this movie really about? Well, it’s about steroids. But you can’t just say ‘it’s about steroids,’ you have to come up with some clever hook to make the film work. So I’m thinking what is it really about? Then I saw Senator Joseph Biden speaking about steroids. He was pounding his fist on the table at a Congressional hearing saying that there’s something simply un-American about steroids! And I thought about it. I’m thinking about my brothers. I’m thinking that I used steroids; I’ve tried them before. Are we un-American? Are my brothers and I un-American? Or is there nothing more American than doing whatever it takes to be number one in our country? And that’s the core thought of the film.
How did popular culture influence your interest in making this film?
My brothers and I grew up in the 80s as a huge fans of professional wrestling watching Hulk Hogan, all these guys that were larger than life and eventually that would parlay into all the other things we liked, like Rambo, He-Man, the A-Team, Conan, Rocky, the Incredible Hulk, anything to do with muscles and guys beating up other guys. We were three little boys growing up in upstate New York. Poughkeepsie is actually where they used to tape WWF wrestling events for television. We used to go there all the time with our father. Our father would take us to the wrestling matches, after we would beg him to go. I remember that we’d have to get good grades in order to be able to attend these wrestling matches. They used to tape them for TV so a lot of times we would look for ourselves in the crowd in the background. We were heavily influenced by professional wrestling and I think in a way all three of us somehow wanted to be involved in professional wrestling as kids.
So, was it in this context where you first learned about anabolic steroids? Did this lead to your disillusionment with professional wrestling?
What was interesting for me was that wrestling was kind of a two-fold let down. When I was 5 years old watching wrestling, I thought when Andre the Giant body slammed Big John Studd he really did it and the guys really hated each other. Then I found out that the Iron Sheik and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, who were archrivals, got caught in a car smoking pot and doing coke together driving down the interstate. And when that happened, I realized wrestling was fake. So, that was my first big disillusionment with wrestling. These guys didn’t really hate each other. They were actually friends doing drugs and driving down the highway together.
The second thing was finding out they all did steroids. I always used to give the guys a benefit of a doubt even back when I started training at 16 years old. There’s no way! Hulk Hogan just wouldn’t do that. He’s a real American. He stands for what’s right. Then they go out on these TV shows… All these wrestlers and athletes alike are using this common ground excuse “Yeah I did steroids but I only tried it for a little bit.” But anyone in the know realizes that you don’t just get 24-inch pythons from taking your vitamins.
Which disappointed you the most – the scripted entertainment or the pervasive use of steroids?
They were equal in a way. Anytime you’re disillusioned and you find out something isn’t real – like when you find out there’s no such thing as Santa Claus – you’re disappointed. I feel that anytime you’re let down, you’re disappointed. I guess the thing with learning about steroids was that I was old enough to understand it. And I did understand it. But I feel bad for kids nowadays, because steroids are in the news everyday, and kids who are 5-6 years old are finding out that their heroes take steroids. When I was like 17 years old, I was able to handle it. I said I guess that’s just what they did and it wasn’t that big of a deal. I feel for the kids nowadays who are growing up watching Barry Bonds and other people. They are just not what they seem to be.
In a different respect, I also think that steroids have come a long way. They are a little more openly talked about. But I’m thinking something like our film can help people talk about it in a more rational way. The way I’m talking about [kids finding out their heroes are not what they seem] sounds like I’m part of the demonization process, but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, I found out that all my heroes did steroids. But when I learned more about steroids, I kind of find out that what my heroes did was not quite as bad as what I thought as a kid. I was disillusioned with steroids in the same way I was disillusioned with wrestling being fake.
In spite of your disillusionment, did you still want to be like or look like your heroes?
I was a powerlifter but to say that I wasn’t concerned with what I looked like would be… a lie you know. That is why I got into lifting weights in the beginning. I was overweight. I was short. So I was short and fat. And I didn’t want to be short and fat. I wanted to be like my heroes, Hulk Hogan and these other guys. But I guess after I started training and learned that other people did steroids, I was empowered because by the time I was 19 years old, I was a national level powerlifter and I was beating everyone without steroids. So I was like, ‘who needs steroids?’ I don’t need them. But at a certain point, you find out that you can only go so far before you run into the people who are really doing the drugs and setting the records. And once you get to that point you have to say… You ask yourself, ‘is this something that I want to continue doing or do I just want to give up?’ Luckily for me, I didn’t have to make that choice, because it wasn’t a choice for money. I was pursuing a film making career, so it wasn’t like I was at a crossroads. Besides, there wasn’t really any money in powerlifting to be made.
Do you think it is a real choice, a real problem that confronts teenagers today?
I can see where that could affect a lot of athletes where they have to make a choice to continue playing baseball and take steroids or just quit altogether and quit their dream. And that happens to a lot of people. It’s a decision that a lot of high school and college kids face. They might think they are faced with it earlier than they really are but they are just not challenging themselves.
That’s why I challenge kids who are taking steroids to train with me – without steroids – for 4-6 months and see how much greater results they obtain with me. I can almost guarantee you that kids who decide to take steroids are not training right and they don’t really need them. That’s how I would tell kids to stay away from steroids; I think kids need proper training before they need steroids.
But is it still a shortcut to success for young athletes?
Steroids can be perceived as a shortcut. I’m not going to lie. You can take steroids and not do anything and they are still going to help your strength. That’s just what they do.
What a lot of kids don’t understand is that you’re not going to set records by just taking steroids. You have to have natural ability, you have to train hard, and you have to eat right. There are many steps involved.
Kids are able to understand that all steroids are just synthetic versions of the male sex hormone, testosterone. And you already have a very high testosterone level when you’re a teenager. To take steroids at this age would only shut down that natural production of testosterone. I think kids see it as a shortcut but kids don’t really know that they may actually just be doing more damage than help. We don’t even have studies for kids, so I can’t even say that for exact truth. I can just base it on what I know and what I’ve seen.
Whose responsibility is it to keep steroids away from kids?
The government has come down and said all these professional athletes did steroids and they should all go to jail. But when you look at the facts, most of these professional athletes are doing anabolic steroids and growth hormone under the laws that Congress has provided us. So if they are bad role models for doing it, then congress is a bad role model for setting up the laws the way they did.
I don’t know how you could possibly justify the fact that people [who are not athletes] can use human growth hormone and testosterone. But if you are an athlete, all of a sudden, you are a criminal for some reason. I understand that there are rules in sports just like any other game. If there weren’t any rules and just lawlessness it wouldn’t be sports. What’s interesting is if you’re a professional athlete, they say you shouldn’t be doing it but they may actually be the people who need it more than anyone. And so why should we deprive an athlete of medicine that we would give in normal every use to other people? It’s such a grey area.
Is it still cheating?
Like I said if you are playing a sport and steroids are against the rules flat out you’re cheating. Its against the rules of your sport. A lot of people question whether it’s cheating if everyone is doing it. If it’s against the rules of the sport it is cheating. If it’s not against the rules of the sport I don’t see it as cheating. If you look in the IFBB pro bodybuilding rulebook, there’s no mention of steroids. So is it cheating to use steroids in bodybuilding? No, because they don’t mention it. Is it cheating to use steroids in powerlifting? No, because they don’t mention it in the rules. It’s not in the rules. And in baseball. it’s in the rules.
The thing that is interesting about our film is that I could sit here and argue until I’m blue in the face for either side. I can say in one respect it is cheating. And on the hand, the athletes need it. And that’s what I think makes the movie so interesting. I wanted to try and get everyone talking about it so they can formulate and make rational decisions about steroids rather than just demonize them and say they are bad.
What happens when we start demonizing steroids?
What if they are the future of medicine? What if steroids, human growth hormone, and all these hormones that we are manipulating… What if that is the future of how we make people better, how we make people live longer? And if it is then we’re demonizing it because people are cheating in sports! It’s just plain wrong. It’s an important issue… It’s an important issue in the future discussion of healthcare in America. If people aren’t getting sick they aren’t going to the doctor. If drugs like testosterone, growth hormone, estrogen, progesterone, and all the things we’re giving people to modulate their hormones, are helping people live longer, happier, healthier lives then let’s study that. Let’s study what good they can do.
Who exactly is demonizing them and why?
A lot of athletes themselves give steroids a bad name. For example, I was talking to a friend of mine this morning and he was talking about [claims made by] Tony Mandarich and Lyle Alzado. These are guys that have no definitive proof that steroids did anything to them. But they are looking for something to blame because their career bombed out. They weren’t strong enough or they weren’t good enough anymore. And they say, ‘well, I was on a bunch of steroids and I got off them and now I am like this.’
And so the demonization – a lot of it comes from athletes who have taken them. You’ll see some TV shows… Turn on the Learning Channel and there’s some idiot bodybuilder saying even one drop of testosterone in your system will kill you. You have guys saying stuff like that and I say ‘what are you kidding me?’ I could inject a whole bottle of testosterone and show you that I’m not going to drop dead. Everyone wants to be righteous all of a sudden. They want to do a ton of steroids, a ton of drugs, and then they want to get off of them and become righteous.
I see a lot guys like that at Gold Gym right now who are currently personal trainers. But they used to be bodybuilders in the 80s and 90s; they were huge and jacked and walking around at 280 lbs. Now they’re denouncing steroids, ‘it was a big mistake; I never should have done that.’ They have fantastic physiques, they’re ripped and they’re lean. They may not be on steroids now, but they never would have gotten to that level without them. They’re part of the demonization process. People want to look good but no one wants to be a personal trainer and have their clients know they are on steroids. It’s an interesting thing that I face everyday; people who have used steroids are demonizing them. You don’t really get that with other drugs. I’m not talking about recreational drugs but medicinal drugs. You don’t have people demonizing medicinal drugs they have taken and had good results. Yet you have people who take anabolic steroids and have these great results and then turn around and say steroids are bad. It boggles my mind the way people do that.
This film is obviously more than just a documentary about steroids. For one, it is a very personal film because it is about your family.
What is nice about the film is that I really approached it with an open mind. I have two brothers and they were both taking steroids while I was making the film. Not right now but when I was making the film.
One of my brothers has a wife and a kid. His wife is pretty happy. My other brother has a battle with depression, a battle with alcohol and drugs. He’s married as well but he’s pretty depressed a lot. He’s also found out that he is bipolar. And he’s got a lot of problems. So you know steroids for my older brother, who is having a lot of problems, might not be the best thing for him. He has problems with alcohol addiction and painkillers… We have no idea how steroids and growth hormone would affect him or if they are good or bad for someone who is bipolar. Until we know, maybe he shouldn’t be taking them.
On the other hand, my younger brother, while I’m not condoning that he uses steroids; he uses steroids in a way that he seems to stay pretty healthy, pretty happy. The one thing that I disagree with… I tell him, and we have arguments all the time. He just weighs a lot. He weighs 300 lbs. He’s powerlifting. He squats 1000 lbs; he benches 800 lbs. And you got to weigh 300 lbs to do that. His normal bodyweight is probably around 215 or 220. So when you gain a lot of weight, you also invite a lot of problems, whether the weight is muscle or fat. You’re just carrying around too much weight. And that’s one of the problems with steroids. Excessive weight gain can pose a danger. But usually excessive weight gain comes with steroid abuse and not normal steroid use. It has to do with people using much more than the prescribed amount.
How difficult was it for you to film a documentary about issues confronting your family?
The funny thing is that when people look at this film, they see it’s about my family, they say ‘oh my god how did you do that?’ How could you turn the camera on your family? To me, in a way it was really easy, and in a way it was really difficult. It was actually easier to get them to cooperate; my family is very supportive. They know that I’ve wanted to make films for years and years and they know that I’ve been trying really hard to get my stuff made and raise money. So my family’s agreement to be in the movie was really easy.
But what happened was as soon as I started asking the questions it became much more difficult. When I started asking my younger brother questions, his wife was concerned. She really didn’t know what the movie was about and I guess they didn’t discuss it too much beforehand. But then she would overhear my interview with him and hear him talking about his steroid use.
“Oh my god, what is this movie about?” she started to break down and cry, “There’s no way! He’s going to lose his job. He’s going to lose this he’s going to lose that.” I had to have a conversation with her and reassure her and explain the way that I was presenting the movie. I’m presenting it in a way that people will understand it.
She said, “You know what Chris I understand that but this could go either way. Your movie could be something that no one ever sees. And it could ruin your brother’s career. Or it could be something that everyone sees but it could still ruin his career! I don’t see anything positive coming out of it.”
I asked her what would make a difference, what would make it positive. She actually said the thing that would change her mind is if she could speak on camera about him and explain to the world that her husband is not a bad guy because of using steroids. And explain what he does with the kids, how he works with high school kids, how he does all these wonderful things.
You know what, that was amazing. She talks about this in the movie. She’s one of everyone’s favorite characters in the movie. She’s just rational. She’s not the nagging wife. She’s the one that says, ‘I’ve looked into this, I’ve researched this, I know what he’s doing, and there are certain rules of the game and he’s playing by the rules of their game.’ The one thing that she does worry about is that it is illegal. In that respect, he has to figure out how to get it legally or he can’t do it. That kind of deal. But you know, getting it legally – it’s really sad – getting it legally it just costs a lot more money, that’s all. It’s not like its any better. You’re never guaranteed quality with anything.
Do you think that anabolic steroids represent a public health crisis? How dangerous are steroids?
The drugs themselves have been shown to be fairly safe. What’s funny about steroids is that we try to lump them together as one big thing. But you know as well as I do that there are over 200 different types of steroids. You have Anadrol, Anavar, Winstrol, Dianabol, Primobolan, blah, blah, blah – the list goes on and on. And so you can’t say that Halotestin and Anavar – which are two oral steroids – are the same. They are not. It’s like comparing cocaine to ephedrine. They kind of do the same thing. But they’re not the same. You have one drug that is pretty mild like Anavar and you have another drug that is very liver toxic like Halotestin that could also produce a helluva lot of strength gains.
We definitely have to stop lumping all the steroids together. When we hear that this guy had all these side effects from steroids, but do we know what was he taking? Then you find out he was taking the ones that are considered more dangerous. If we ever start really researching steroids – who takes what and whatever – we can learn if there are drugs that are too dangerous. Is Anadrol too dangerous? Is Halotestin too liver toxic?
That also presents another question. In America we are allowed to do a lot of things that can hurt us. We are allowed to bungee jump, we are allowed to black diamond ski, we are allowed to get plastic surgery. I can get fake breasts put in as a man or a woman. I can get buttock augmentation. I can get my lips done. My nose done. My ears done. Whatever I want in order to look good. But if I want to ingest steroids to look good, then that becomes illegal.
Steroids are totally different recreational drugs. If I’m going to take a hit of a joint, drink a bottle of wine, smoke a cigarette. Those things are done recreationally to get me to a certain point where I’m happy and whatever. It’s ok to do those things if you’re not happy. But if you’re not happy and you’re unhappy with the way you look, you’re not allowed to take steroids. But you’re allowed to have the flesh sucked out of you. I just think this steroid issue presents a much bigger question than we ever thought. The more you look into the more you realize that there is a lot of stuff here.
Any drug has dangers. Any supplement can have adverse effects. We live in a country where if something is naturally found in the food supply and not illegal, you can make it into a dietary supplement. And dietary supplements are totally unregulated so you don’t know what adverse effects you will have from those. You don’t know what adverse effects you’ll have from taking aspirin or any drug. So to lump steroids into being as dangerous as Special K which is a drug that has killed a lot of people by shutting down their whole system, is ridiculous. That’s in the same category as steroids. For a drug like that that can kill you in one dose to be lumped in with steroids that are enhancing athletes performance… And athletes are the ones taking steroids; it’s not bums on the street injecting each other with steroids and beating people up; that’s not why people are taking steroids.
It’s not like a victim drug, it’s not like cocaine where people do coke and do something they might not normally do. Steroids and marijuana are pretty similar in that they are the kind of drugs that are demonized and maybe they shouldn’t be. Marijuana has medical uses but in reality most people use it to kind of chill out and relax. If that’s going to help someone chill out and relax, why aren’t we allowed to do that? And why aren’t we allowed to make ourselves look better if we want to look better? We’re still allowed to drink all the alcohol we want…
Its one of those things that kind of crosses the line. Is it one of those government things, like a sort of conspiracy thing. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist. You’re allowed to drink alcohol but not to smoke pot. One comes from the ground and the other is manmade. It’s interesting how we decide what is legal and what is illegal.
How many people did you interview in the course of making this film?
I probably interviewed over 200 people. It’s great to be able to go from talking with my family about steroids… I go from asking my brother if he thinks using steroids is cheating. And then I go to talking to Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis! It’s a very interesting film that travels a vast expanse. I talk to Floyd Landis. I talk to Stan Lee – who is from Marvel Comics – who invented a lot of the larger than life comic book superheroes that we see that are all muscular! I interviewed him about that – it is pretty interesting.
Do the interviewees cover both ends of the spectrum from anti-steroid to pro-steroid?
I wanted to make sure we got the people who are anti-steroid. Like Donald Hooton, Donald Hooton son’s committed suicide and he blames steroids. So I wanted to find out why he was convinced his son’s death was due to steroids. I just leave it up to the audience to make their own decision. I just ask the right questions and hopefully the audience can figure it out. I don’t try to say this is right or wrong or good or bad.
Which interviews had the greatest influence on you as a filmmaker?
The biggest effect on me was probably Donald Hooton because Donald Hooton affected me emotionally, on an emotional level. I now understand why the things that happened in Congress with Mr. Hooton happened. He really appeals on an emotional level where he gets you thinking well maybe… This poor guy he lost his kid. He really attacks you on an emotional level. But you really have to stop and think, is it real, that is is the emotion reality or is it just what he’s telling me? Is he just telling me his kid took steroids and died or did it really happen like that.
I also interviewed Gary Wadler. And Dick Pound. Those guys are pretty interesting. They are interesting in their own way. They have really strong opinions and I think they … Dick Pound just makes sense – he’s just there to enforce the law. These things are illegal in our sport. And he’s going to enforce the law. He’s pretty hardcore about but he’s pretty straightforward. He says, ‘look guys steroids are against the law, they’re against our sport and I’m not going to let anyone take them.’ And that’s his stance. I think he goes a little bit far trying to dig into people’s past records and he kind of does a Gestapo approach to it. But that’s why he’s there. He’s there to be an anti-doping guy.
And Gary Wadler, I don’t know what his agenda is. I think his agenda might just be to get on television. I really don’t understand it. I don’t understand why he is so anti-steroid. He doesn’t really have any proof.
Which pro-steroid interviewees influenced you the most?
My own brothers. And John Romano. I think Romano is more anti-hypocrisy than pro-steroids; he just doesn’t think steroids are that bad. So Romano was a great guy to talk to. Rick Collins was a great guy to talk to. He talks about it from a true legal standpoint. He does a very good job explaining why steroids became illegal.
Which interviews do you think the audience will find the most interesting?
I think some of the most interesting interviews are the ones where I (the filmmaker) was challenged.
I think Donald Hooton was one of the hardest interviews to do.
I also interviewed Henry Waxman who is a Congressman from California. Waxman called all the baseball hearings. So I go into someone’s office who is a congressman and I’m a 33-year old kid at the time and I’m walking into his office. I’m feeling like, “Oh shit I really did it this time, I’m really stepping in shit here; what if this goes wrong what if this goes bad. I’m going to look terrible. I’m really nervous. This guy is going to know it all – he’s going to have all the facts down, he’s going to be a politician, boom, boom, boom!”
But when I realized after the first or second question that he really didn’t know what he was talking about, then it was game on. It kind of became fun. Ok, let me ask him the really hard questions. And on every single question, he stumbled on. It’s interesting they’re going to have another congressional hearing into steroids in baseball and Henry Waxman is the guy who’s calling these hearings; it’s going to be interesting what people who see the film are going to think about him in the hearings. He really does not come off well in the film. He really doesn’t have an idea as to why he’s pressing this issue. The only reason he is pressing the issue is he knows in his heart that steroids are illegal and he doesn’t want your kids to get them. The idea of being the politician who saves the children it always looks good.
Does the ignorance about steroids in an influential lawmaker concern you?
It doesn’t concern me in the fact… Well, yes of course it concerns me anytime you see something like that going on. You know, what if they are that dumb about Iraq? And about terrorism? And about things that could really affect our lives every day? So, it does concern me to see them not be able to figure out how to legislate things. But it was enlightening in a way. I always thought these congressmen were so perfect. It was interesting to see them in a different light. But it is good to see that they don’t know everything especially when you’re dealing with politics and the upcoming election. It makes you think twice about politicians. What do they really know? Are they really just controlled by what they are told? Is it something that someone just comes in and hands them a piece of paper and says here is your briefing today, steroids are bad. So now that I know this as a voter, I feel a little bit more empowered. These people are not perfect. What do they know and what do they not know? And going into a big election it was enlightening to know that they are not all perfect, they’re not all geniuses.
How do you feel about the most high-profile politician to have admitted using steroids – Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Arnold is an American hero. He’s a great success story. He can be an inspiration to anyone. He’s someone I’ve looked up to my whole life. What I don’t like about Arnold – I can honestly say and I’d say it to his face if I could talk to him… Maybe it’s political pressure, maybe its not even the guys fault… But he’s on all these television talk shows and he’s saying we really need to do something about the drug testing in sports. He says it’s bad for the children and it sends the wrong message to the kids.
But then I turn the channel to the Arnold Classic where he’s handing Victor Martinez the trophy. He’s saying look at this guy – he’s so big, he’s so ripped, I’m so proud of him. He’s handing him the trophy but they didn’t test Victor Martinez [for steroids]. And beyond not testing Victor Martinez, he was implicated in a steroid scandal through one of these compounding pharmacies the day before he won the Arnold Classic. So here you have a guy who’s implicated in a steroid case, who got caught selling steroids to an undercover cop three years ago, he has done jail time for it and now he’s winning the Arnold Classic with Arnold is handing him the trophy. But in another interview, Arnold is saying we need to crack down on the [steroid] testing. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand what…
If Arnold wants to play both sides of the coin like that, it’s ok, but just don’t be surprised when someone calls you out on that. I basically call him out on that in the movie. I would love for Arnold to just stand up and say ‘hey look I did steroids and this is what it did for me – both good and bad.’ Just let me know. Talk to us. You’re the guy who did it. You did it for a long time. Now you’re in a position of power where you can speak about it. And speak about it honestly, honestly and openly.
I don’t want to hear what Governor Schwarzenegger has to say about it. I want to hear what Arnold has to say about it. Arnold the bodybuilder. Arnold who did it to enhance his performance and win competitions. Did he really start when he was 15 or 16 like they say? I don’t know. We don’t know enough about [his steroid use] and he’s not come forward and talked about it. I can also understand the heat that he gets. But is it any worse than the president we have now [who allegedly did] cocaine, I don’t think so. George Bush was an alcoholic before he became president; the list goes on and on. Is it something we should really come down on Arnold for? I just wish, like any other politician, someone would take a stand and have some balls and say what they really mean. Because I think if Arnold said what he really means about steroids. I would just like to hear him speak as himself. I don’t want to hear this slanted political view of the world as written by one of his assistants.
Given your experiences with politicians, do you think Congress should regulate steroids in sports?
I don’t think congress should be involved regulating steroids in sports at all. I think they waste a lot of money. The Mitchell Report tells who used steroids or who may have used steroids. And where does that get us? It doesn’t really get us anywhere as a culture. They spend $20 million on the Mitchell Report. If you spend $10 at your local cinema and go see our movie, you’ll understand why people take steroids, and why people want to enhance their performance. We live in a society of bigger, stronger, faster. We live in a society of ‘if you’re not the best, you’re nothing.’ And so when congress is looking at all these guys asking if Roger Clemens really did it, did he juice? Who really cares? Why did he juice? Why is he doing this? Why are our kids doing this? How does this affect us? Is it even dangerous? Let’s look at that? Is it dangerous? Is it bad? Is there any good in steroids? Do we stop it if it’s not that dangerous? How do we make it so it is regulated? [We need to ask these questions] and we’re not doing that!
The question shouldn’t be who? It should be why? And how do we fix it? I asked a lot of people. Do we even have a steroid problem? Or is this a much bigger ethical problem?
I think most people will agree that we have a huge ethical problem in this country where people are willing to do whatever it takes to win. They will do whatever it is to get ahead. And if it’s not steroids, it’s something else.
If you look at the U.S. Air Force, we’re the only air force in the world that allows our pilots to fly – not only allows, but actually requires – that our fighter pilots fly with amphetamines in their airplane. They have to have amphetamines in their airplanes! Otherwise they are not allowed to take off. The reason for this requirement is that they are flying over Iraq on eight hour trips. They’re definitely going to get tired and you can’t really pull over when you’re up in the air. Our country gives “greenies,” the same thing they are coming down on baseball players for using… They’re giving fighter pilots amphetamines so they can go fight a war! But when an athlete takes it, it is really, really wrong!
So you’re living in a country that allows these things to happen. There are 5-1/2 million adolescent prescriptions for Adderall. Adderall is a stimulant that is very close to cocaine. And we’re giving it to kids because they can’t concentrate in class. And other kids are finding or stealing or buying from the kids who have prescriptions.
There actually is a condition where kids do need it but it’s not 5-1/2 million kids. There is a very small percentage of these kids who actually need it. And usually the kids who actually need it don’t want to take it and give or sell it to the other kids. So we basically have a whole country of kids taking speed so they can study better! I think we have a much bigger ethical problem that extends beyond steroids!
What should we do about the use of steroids? Should we regulate? Should we legalize it? Should we allow steroid use only under a doctor’s supervision?
I don’t know. I say that. But in practice that sounds good. But when you think about it, we don’t have doctor-prescribed alcohol use that tells us ‘how much vodka can you drink.” If I give you a bottle of aspirin are you going to take the whole thing? No, you’re going to take 1-2 and get rid of your headache. So I don’t understand why we think we have to regulate steroids. I don’t even know that we do. It sound good to me in general; it is smarter to always consult a doctor when you are taking any drug. But does it have to be like that? Not really, it’s just a matter of …
It would really be interesting to see what would happen if they made steroids legal. What would really happen?
In making the movie, I went down to Guadalajara Mexico and walked into a shopping mall and bought steroids with John Romano. We walked in and we bought a Sustanon redi-ject. I looked at it and I walked out and I had it sitting out in plain view. There are little kids running around. I said this is really weird. This would not happen in America. And I’m looking around at the guys and none of the guys are walking around jacked. People don’t care. People down there don’t even know. If steroids were made legal what kind of problem would we have in America. How would it be different than Mexico. It would just be interesting to see. I don’t think it would ever happen. What is the difference in mentality?
In Mexico, they are very family oriented and very job oriented. It’s all about making enough money to take care of your family. Money is power and status. And family is status. And here [in the United States], it is very much more of an individualistic society where it is about me, me, me. How much do ‘I’ make? China is the same way as far as steroids are concerned. You can get any steroid in china. And pretty much every steroid you buy gets the raw materials from China. But you don’t see people all jacked up there either on the street or in the gyms in China; it’s not what they’re about.
Who especially should see “Bigger Stronger Faster?”
I think high school and college athletes definitely need to see my film. And I hope that high school and college athletes would watch it with their parents. It is a very family friendly film; my whole family is in it. And I think that if people can see and understand…
You’d love to tell kids hey don’t do it. Don’t try this. And I’ve tried steroids in my life. But I never tried them until I was 26 years old. So to tell a kid hey stay away from something you did is always hard but I never did it as a kid. I feel we just don’t know what lies in store with a kid who is messing with their hormones at that age.
And to me personally I don’t think kids should take any drugs unless they have a bad cough and need some penicillin or something. They’re young. They shouldn’t be on Adderall, Ritalin, and all these other things parents and doctors have kids on nowadays. I just don’t think they need it.
I think kids need to see [the film]. And hopefully kids will be able to watch it with their parents and talk about steroids openly and rationally.
Chris, thank you and good luck at Sundance!
About Christopher Bell
Christopher Bell grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, where his relationship with both filmmaking and bodybuilding began in his teens. After graduating from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in 1995, Bell wrote, directed, and produced the anti-smoking short film Billy Jones, which screened at the AFI Film Fest, HBO Comedy Festival, and Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films and earned him a best director award at the New Orleans Film Festival. He has also won bench-pressing competitions, including the California State Powerlifting Championship. Bigger, Stronger, Faster* is his first documentary feature.