Archive for the ‘Risk Communication’ Category

“Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.” ~P.J. O’Rourke

A few weeks ago, I started our series on the importance of public image for athletes. A couple weeks ago, we dove into the NFL and its seemingly large turnout of criminals of all kinds. This week, we’ll be looking at how drug use negatively affects athletic performance. Although this seems like common sense, the numbers of athletes who use or who have been caught using steroids is rather large, especially considering the dangerous effects these drugs have on the people using them. While we could probably go on forever about all the various drugs athletes could take, in this post, we’ll focus primarily on alcohol and steroid use.

We’ll start with alcohol use because it’s familiar to most of us, whereas I’m just presuming that the majority of our readers haven’t taken steroids. Also, if you’ll remember, the last post discussed the most common crimes (particularly of NFL players) committed by athletes. According to a report from the San Diego Tribune 129 of 385 arrests made of NFL players between the years 2000 and 2008 were at least partially caused by alcohol use. In college, we are entirely aware of the effect that alcohol has on our social lives. Most college students, whether legal or minor, find ways to socialize with their friends with alcohol.
However, according to a bulletin in the UC San Diego athletic department, alcohol has negative effects on athletic performance. Some of these effects include intense dehydration, which in turn causes cramps or musculoskeletal injuries, fat gain (since alcohol has 7 calories per gram), and loss of testosterone in male athletes, as well as an increase of estradial (a form of estrogen that causes breast cancer) in female athletes. These were just a few of many negative effects of this popular drug. And, even more surprising is that a study done in Sydney, Australia actually shows that even drinking moderate amounts of alcohol after an athletic performance actually slows down the recovery time. I’m sure no one doing these studies are thinking they can control athlete alcohol use, but it’s definitely something to think about.
Next up is the use of anabolic steroids. Of course, steroid-use stories seem to be rampant in the media. Some of the pro athletes who’ve been caught or who have confessed to steroid use include Lance Armstrong,Alex Rodriguez, and Marion Jones. According to a study in Scientific American, it is anabolic steroids that are favored by athletes because of their promotion of muscle and tissue growth. (This is opposed to the prednisone often prescribed by doctors to cure inflammatory conditions).NPR reported a debate in 2008 about whether performance enhancing drugs should be used in sports. While opponents agreed that it gives those on steroids an unfair advantage, proponents of steroid use argued that drugs are given for various reasons in other professions, why not do the same in sports?
Well, I’ll tell you why (at least according to what I’ve read). Some of the negative effects of anabolic steroids include lowered sperm count in men, pain in urination, or a shrinking of the testicles. Women often see a “masculinization”. For example, they may see the growth of facial hair, menstrual cycle changes and shrinking breasts. Unisex reactions include acne, weakened tendons and even liver damage. One has to ask, is it really worth the risk?
And according to another study in Science Daily suggests that those on performance enhancing drugs are more likely to abuse drugs like alcohol, marijuana and cocaine- in other words, drug combinations that should not be mixed.
From a risk management standpoint, all signs point to alcohol in moderation, but no use of steroids. In the end, it’s just not worth it.

“The freedom of authentic masculinity is an amazing thing to see. It produces a “divine elasticity” in men. Finally they can lead with firmness, then submit with humility. They can challenge with a cutting edge, then encourage with enthusiasm. They can fight aggressively for just causes, then moments later weep over suffering.” –Bill Hybels

It’s not easy being famous, and celebrity status often applies to pro athletes. College athletes also, from time to time, reach this exalted societal role. Although celebrity status for male athletes often brings bigger paychecks, lots of face time on TV and city buses and dozens of adoring female groupies, it also brings greater public responsibility. Particularly in regards to how they conduct their personal lives, the question becomes this: How do athletes deal with maintaining their reputation on the field as well as off the field, especially when it comes to the opposite sex?

This is a challenging, complex question to answer because there’s so much at stake and so many, varying answers. The other day, Dr. Peg Brand, wife of the late Miles Brand, came in to guest lecture to our class. We talked about media portrayals of sexuality and about how they relate to sports and athletes. Athletic sports scandals seem to pop up all over the place. Just last winter, Tiger Woods was caught cheating on his now ex-wife, Brett Favre was accused of sending inappropriate pictures to an NFL game host, and just a few years ago, members of the Duke lacrosse team got accused of raping a stripper who attended one of their parties. These are just a few of the many stories of male athletes abusing their girlfriends, assaulting female fans or getting involved in a myriad of other sex scandals. In fact, these stories seem to be so common, we’re not even surprised when we hear about them.
Although it would be easy to blame big paychecks and huge egos, the perpetrator behind the scenes is most likely the culture that young male athletes grow up in. Surrounded by over-sexualized and false images of what the “ideal” woman is supposed to look like and a victim of media’s limited view of acceptable masculine traits, it is not surprising that, in the heat of the moment, male athletes don’t know how to act.
So let’s look into this modern day culture a little more closely. Advertising and magazines enjoy perpetuatingthe image of the young, attractive, sexual woman. This image [of celebrities posing naked, or nearly naked] tells women how to be attractive and tells boys what an attractive woman should look like. Surrounded by these images, it is no wonder that men expect every woman they meet to be a potential subject for a sexual encounter, regardless of the consequences.
Secondly, the narrow view of masculinity portrayed is that of power, strength, athleticism and physical good looks. On a very stereotypical level, many men are portrayed as bumbling, muscular, sexual buffoons. However, the sensitive male has no place in advertising and magazines. Violence sells; sensitivity (at least when it comes to men) does not.
So how do we go about changing a cultural phenomenon? Dr. Peg Brand, a professor who came to visit a class I’m taking this term, explained that our expectations for male athletes are high. “We expect [football players] to play a very violent game of football and then walk off the field and completely shut that part of them off.” It is a lot to ask of anyone, particularly, men raised in a very violent sexualized culture.
Although there is not a quick fix to these huge issues, some things that we all can do is begin to demand more from our media. By rejecting the images they sell us and demanding more realistic ones, we can begin to sway the media to do what we want, rather than the other way around. As far as men are concerned, we must help them embrace a broader impersonation of masculinity: one that allows them to be strong and powerful, but also enables them to communicate, be respectful and sensitive to those around them.
Next week, we’ll turn the tables around and discuss how the media affects female athletes and offer ideas of how to counter negative stereotyping of women.

I won’t proclaim myself an expert on how to communicate risk. However, I will say that it is an area of interest. I am known for helping my friends and family solve their problems and, after I realized that, I also realized that maybe I could do that professionally. Also, as I lie in bed with a bad case of poison oak (risk of living out of town), I figured that risk communication would be a good thing to talk about. So, after some research, here’s my very basic guide to risk communication.

Let’s start out by defining risk communication. In it’s very basic sense, risk communication is prevention work; prevention against bad things happening. Of course, in life and in business bad things happen and we can’t avoid them all. (I have poison oak, remember?). If you get into a problem and then are trying to solve it after everything’s gone down, then you’re into crisis communication work, at least according to Peter Sandman, one of the experts in this field. But we’re not going to talk about crisis communication in this post- we’ll stick with prevention.

So here it goes, what I’ve learned about risk communication from Peter Sandman and the Center For Risk Communication about communicating risk goes as follows. What it comes down to, is that people have to feel like they can trust you. This gets down to the basics of communication. When discussing risk be caring and empathetic, be dedicated to solving the problem and be trustworthy and transparent.

People appreciate honesty in all types of communication, but in this kind in particular because of the sensitive nature of the discussion. Think about how you would want someone to communicate with you concerning a topic that you were sensitive to, and then turn that around.

It’s about kindness, everyone, and compassion. We’re all trying to help each other out, and in our uncertain world, a solid grasp about how to communicate bad things is of vital importance.