On February 19 the U.S. government charged four San Francisco Bay Area men—including Greg Anderson, the personal trainer for San Francisco Giants baseball star Barry Bonds—with conspiracy to distribute an array of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to dozens of athletes from Major League Baseball, the National Football League and track and field sports.
The 42-count indictment portrayed the foursome as essentially operating a clearinghouse for performance-enhancing drugs out of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), a blood-testing lab in Burlingame, California. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who announced the indictments, suggested the government may yet charge athletes as part of the wide-ranging investigation.
The indictment serves as a very stern reminder to personal trainers that selling any type of nutritional supplement opens them up to potential forms of civil liability, says IDEA author, presenter and personal trainer Shirley Archer, JD, MA, CMT.
“In the case of the BALCO steroid indictment, the personal trainer who is involved is charged with criminal conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute known controlled substances in violation of federal laws. This case serves as an important warning flag for trainers that they are not exempt from prosecution under the law if they engage in illegal practices. Regardless of the pressures and temptations to make ‘easy money’ or to cut corners to achieve better results in today’s fast-paced world, it’s seldom worth the risk or the ethical compromises,” Archer said.
How can you make sure you’re well within your scope of practice and the law? Heed these pointers from Archer, an educator based at the Health Improvement Program at Stanford University.
- Stick to your core business and do what you do best.
- Do not sell supplements for profit. While supplements may seem like a viable additional revenue stream, the risk involved is too great.
- Do not sell or recommend the use of controlled substances. If you have a client who insists on using anabolic steroids or human growth hormone, inform the client you can no longer work with him or her. Document the termination of the relationship.
- If you discover or suspect that a client is using controlled substances without your knowledge or against your recommendation, follow your instincts: Terminate the relationship and document the termination.
- If you are concerned that you may have been drawn inadvertently into a questionable situation, consult an attorney. State bar associations often have pro bono services wherein, for a minimal fee, you can gain access to an attorney for an hour’s worth of guidance. In a formal attorney-client relationship, your communications are considered privileged and are not admissible as evidence against you.
- Do not close your eyes to potentially risky situations. Take clear, measured steps to ensure that your record remains clean.
For more risk-management tips and strategies, see Archer’s feature, “Reward Carries Risk: A Liability Update,” on page 30.