Statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger statue at the Columbus Conventions Center.

If you look at the steroid epidemic that has plagued the United States and the rest of the world for over 40 years, it is easy to see it was caused by what has been a bipartisan failure since the days Arnold Schwarzenegger opened the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio in 1989.

It began as just a bodybuilding contest back then but has expanded to become the largest public event in Columbus every year.

Many of the events at “The Arnold” are made up of youth competitions, but his core events cater to what I call “Steroid Nation.”

Strongman, bodybuilding and most powerlifting competitions at “the Arnold” have no credible testing for steroids. These freak show events dominate his advertising.

“The Arnold” steroid events have qualifiers in virtually every state in America. These local competitions are run by federations loosely aligned with “The Arnold.” I have seen myself that these events are where many young athletes are introduced to the “Dark Side” of steroid use.

I consider the competitors that take part in steroid-fueled events like The Arnold Sports Festival to be victims of false promises of fame and fortune in exchange for their health and future.

Schwarzenegger Makes Money On The Future Of Our Youth

Schwarzenegger has enjoyed this success despite the fact that steroids became illegal since The Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990 placed anabolic steroids into Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as of February 27, 1991.

Schwarzenegger has lined his pockets with tens of millions of dollars each year over the years (the event claims to generate $51 million each year over the four days it operates) despite the fact that “The Arnold” was rebuked twice by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (2014, 2016) for its lack of testing for steroids, rampant steroid use in bodybuilding, strongman and most powerlifting competitions.

My registered nonprofit POYS – Protect Our Youth from Steroids – has tracked the deaths of no less than 15 American serious strongman competitors who either competed in major competitions like “The Arnold,” IMG’s “World’s Strongest Man” or their qualifiers.

The smoking gun is the death of a former college football player who took a bite of the carrot of fame dangled by Schwarzenegger and IMG. It ended up costing him his life at the age of 31.

The 2012 “Arnold” strongman champion and three-time IMG “World's Strongest Man” finalist Mike Jenkins. 31, died on Thanksgiving Day 2013 of a massive heart episode. Mike, who weighed over 400 pounds as a strongman, was a Hershey PA resident.

Dauphin County, PA coroner Graham Hetrick certified on Mike's death certificate that he had “poisoned” himself to death with a stunning array of steroids, substances and other illegal drugs.

I interviewed Hetrick in June 2014. Hetrick said Mike ingested traditional anabolic steroids, stimulants and other steroids meant for large animals.

The former college offensive lineman's heart, at the time of his death, according to Hetrick, was two-and-a-half times the size of a normal human's.

When Hetrick was shown the 2014 Pennsylvania resolution rebuking these steroid events by name, he made these remarks:

“It’s certain that long term use of steroids is going to injure the body,” Hetrick said. “It’s the same potential, you know you are distributing something that is going to do them great harm. And if it’s certain and you’re encouraging people to do it, it’s no different than someone standing on a street corner and selling illicit drugs…and we put them in jail.”

Columbus Public Is Kept In The Dark About Illegal Drug Use And Fatalities 

Certainly the Columbus media corps jumped all over these strikes against “The Arnold,” right?

Not a chance. The Columbus Dispatch and the area TV stations failed to execute the basic fundamentals of journalism…to inform the public.

On Apr. 12, 2022, 2017 Arnold Classic Champion Cedric McMillan reportedly died at the age of 44. Another Arnold Classic veteran who made several podium appearances in Columbus, Shawn Rhoden, died of a heart attack November 6, 2021.He was 46.

Crickets from Columbus journalists. 

Tom Prince, Ashley Gearhart, and Stacey Cummings are two more IFBB pros - Schwarzenegger's chosen federation - also died this year. And there was not a word about changes in drug policies from anyone from the Capital of Ohio who could make an impact.

From the Governor’s mansion, to the on air talent studios, to the editor’s desk at the Dispatch…not one word was uttered about steroid policy - or lack of - at “The Arnold.”

Too much money is on the line and no one wants to be left standing without a chair if the music stops.

This tragic situation stems no doubt from the fact that John Wolfe and family owned the lion’s share of media outlets in the Columbus area including the Dispatch for decades. 

Wolfe was also a major Schwarzenegger fan and a major sponsor of the rebuked event.

And even after his death in 2016; and even after his family sold many of the outlets he controlled, the collective media corps of Columbus continues to hide the facts of rampant illegal drug use and fatalities at “The Arnold” from its own community.

Recently retired Dispatch editor Alan Miller actually threatened me with civil action at one point for committing the sin of using published email addresses of Dispatch staff members, informing them of the illegal drug use at “The Arnold.”

That information included a fatality I spoke about earlier of an “Arnold” Champion from these drugs confirmed by a coroner in your neighboring state, and a clip from a state-wide televised press conference in 

Pennsylvania where State Representative Joe Hackett (a former law enforcement officer at the time) calls out “The Arnold” by name for all the steroid use.

Millions of households in Pennsylvania carried this press conference and the Columbus media corps’ response was to put a blindfold on the population of Central Ohio.

Elected Officials Continue To Fawn At The Sight Of Schwarzenegger

As bad as this is, Schwarzenegger has continued to poison the Columbus area and the country with steroid culture with the full bipartisan blessing of top elected officials at the local and state level.

Mayor Michael Coleman held the top office in Columbus for 16 years. John Kasich was a member of the Ohio State Senate, then elected to Congress representing Ohio’s 12th District before serving two terms as Ohio’s Governor.

Like a pair of starstruck teens, Coleman and Kasich eagerly helped promote “The Arnold” over all those years, never once raising a question about the staggering amount of drug use and fatalities that were happening right in front of them.

When I say in front of them, I mean literally in front of them. Coleman and Kasich were all smiles at the unveiling of a banana hammock statue of a juiced Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Columbus Convention Center in 2014.

Money will make grown men do crazy things. Coleman is currently listed as a partner with the Ice Miller Law firm in Columbus and Kasich is a commentator with CNN.

All this under this illegal drug activity and promotion has been going on with at least perceived protection of former FBI agent Jim Lorimer, Schwarzenegger’s longtime partner with “The Arnold.”

Former Attorney General and current Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and current Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther have continued this disgraceful practice of putting money ahead of the health and welfare of Central Ohio’s most precious asset – its youth.

In essence, right now, Schwarzenegger has it better in Columbus then Michael Corleone and Hyman Roth had in pre Castro Cuba. 

Competitors like Arnold Strongman Champion Hafthor Bjornsson from Iceland continue to have work visas granted despite admitting in national television that he has taken steroids - illegal drugs - to compete here. How does that happen? 

Is there hope?

New legislation was passed in late 2020. The law is The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. It sailed through the House and passed the U.S. Senate 100-0.

Representing POYS, I visited the offices of over 40 members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to talk about the legislation and to push adapting the law to hold events like “The Arnold” accountable for its lack of testing for steroids, rampant steroid use and high fatality rate.

In this country now, sports doping at international athletic events is an act of felony fraud. The Arnold Sports Festival is an international athletic event and is infested with steroid use at its strongman, bodybuilding and most powerlifting competitions.

POYS has pushed elected officials and law enforcement to have “The Arnold” held accountable under this new legislation.   

With the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act in place, there is a reason to hope for change.

In the meantime, when competitors associated with this event – past and present - die young, can’t the Columbus area media at least make its residents aware of these fatalities and drug use at "The Arnold?  *


Al Thompson is the founder of the registered nonprofit “Protect Our Youth from Steroids” (POYS). POYS is an official endorser of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. As a sports journalist, Thompson has covered professional, college and high school sports for over 35 years in the Philadelphia area. He is a former strength and conditioning coach for Archbishop John Carroll High School in Radnor, PA. You can email Al Thompson at


Cartoon by Stefan Kahlhammer