Why Steroids and Peds Should Not be Banned From Sports

Ever wondered why some athletes consider steroids and PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) acceptable? Perhaps this article will give you an insight of their side of the story.

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Being a college athlete, I constantly read sport articles. Recently I inspected the topic of steroids and found the majority of articles against the use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs. Personally, I’m against them as well, but I feel that the other side of the story hasn’t been presented fairly. So I wrote this article, to help people understand the discussion better and be able to add to it.

PLEASE NOTE: I am not encouraging the use of steroids or performance enhancing drugs. They are illegal in many countries and illegal in many sports. Break laws and rules at your own risk.

How healthy is it to be an athlete

Let’s start by talking about the health impact, after all it is the first things people think of when they hear steroids or PEDs other than cheating. The health risk that comes with PEDs is not to be ignored or even taken lightly. However, are athletes really the symbol of health? Well, maybe that’s a tricky way of putting it. You go to a store, pick up a health magazine and see fit and buff people on the cover. Unfortunately, that’s just popular culture and not reality. The reality is that pro (and now many college) athletes train for as long as 5 hours a day (with one or two off days). In some sports it’s common to have two practises in one day (two-a-days). In many sports athletes have a practise session in the morning and a game in the evening. For health benefits, people should train half to one hour a day. Less is not enough and more (such as in the case of athletes) hurts the body in many ways such as weakening the immune system and increasing injuries.

What about sports like football and martial arts/boxing/wrestling? In football you get paid for knocking people down. In the fighting sports you get paid for punching and kicking people, preferably in the face. There is a bonus if you knock them out (which is by the way an automatic concussion). How many jobs out there consider it OK if you get a work related surgery every two, three years; sometimes serious ones too. How many knee surgeries did the hockey star Pavel Bure? He got five on his right knee and two on his left before retiring at the young age (even for a hockey player) of 31. Athletes are not a symbol of health in reality. They are a symbol of future cripples; people with arthritis upon retirement and for many sports, early death.

Lack of consistency in other fields and jobs

Beta blockers are generally prescribed for people with high blood pressure usually after other drugs (such diuretics and ACE inhibitors) stop having a powerful enough effect. Beta blockers as you might have guessed are very powerful and highly dangerous if taken improperly. You might be wondering why and how are they used in sports? It seems highly counter-intuitive to use drugs to slow you down for the purpose of improved athletic performance. They’re used in sports like archery, where you need a sturdy hand to make good shots and beta blockers reduce the shaking brought out by the pressure and stress. Interestingly enough there are many places where the drug could also be used. Musicians are an example. Some of them take beta blockers for the same purpose before an audition or an important performance. However there is no negative stigma and there are no drug tests (Savulescu, 2004). If a musician were to admit it, it would be just like a model admitting to an extreme and unhealthy diet, people would accept it, shrug their shoulder and take it for granted.

Genetic lottery

As our knowledge of genetics increases, we learn that someone is more born into an athlete than develops into one. Obviously nothing will substitute for practise, but there is only so much practise that an athlete can get. Time is limited and most top athletes already use every spare minute from childhood to better their performance. In the end, it’s the little things that decide the winner of the race by that one millisecond. So is it fair that someone who didn’t do well in the genetic lottery will never be “good enough”? An example would be Eero Mäntyranta, the Finnish skier with a genetic defect that helped him produce 40-50% more red blood cells giving him a serious cardiovascular advantage over his opponents (Savulescu, 2004). In his career he had won three gold, two silver and two bronze Olympic medals. This defect is the equivalent of cheating by two different ways. One is blooding doping, which is storing your own blood and before a race injecting it back. The athlete keeps the extra red blood cells and pees out the water. The second and more modern method is taking the hormone erythropoietin that will increase red blood cell production. Both methods are banned, but what do you do about the genetic defect? Ban the innocent athlete by proclaiming him as superhuman? Allow him to get his three Olympic gold medals (seven total) primarily because he has a defect in his DNA? What will the silver medalists say?

Is taking performance enhancing drugs cheating?

Yes, by today’s rules it is. The cool thing is that unlike the rules of the universe, these rules can be changed by us. In the history of sports we have done just that. We changed our rules to allow more aggression (apparently fans love aggression) in certain pro sports. In certain parts of the world, in the late 19th and early 20th century it was forbidden to play sports on Sundays (or other religious days). Around that same time it was also considered most terrible for girls to be doing serious exercise. Oh the horror! Well luckily that’s changed too. As you can see, with time our understanding of what is right and wrong has changed. PEDs are only illegal for as long as we consider them so. They are intrinsically no more “unfair” than the $500 price tag for a single piece of equipment such as a stick or a bat that wealthy people can afford. What about your own private coach? Some pro athletes (like golfers) have their own doctor, massage therapist, coach, sport psychologist travelling with them, a whole support team.

Are drug tests a success?

Most athletes don’t get drug tested, and some often enough. International Amateur Athletic Federation estimates only 10-15% percent of athletes are drug tested in each major competition (Savulescu, 2004). Are the tests themselves effective? Vicky Rabinowicz in 1992 interviewed a group of athletes and found the general belief to be that the most successful athletes did banned substances (Savulescu, 2004). These substances are invented all the time. Tests to identify them take a while and there is a gap during which a substance is untraceable. People with legal prescriptions can get an exception and cheat by not taking them legally. Think of someone with a beta blocker prescription taking one pill for their condition and another (or half) for performance. If you don’t have a legitimate condition, pay the right doctor and the prescription and exception is yours. Are you really going to ban someone because they have a little more of the drug in their system? Considering the variable metabolism people have, good luck proving that they cheated. Are drug tests making a level playing field for everyone, or a level playing field for some (e.g. the not wealthy)? Considering the amount of money being spent maybe there is a better place to invest it such as amateur sports.

Again I want to remind people that while I’m being a devil’s advocate, these are interesting points to present and they are not without controversy. While you may not agree with everything, I hope I have presented the “other side” to you. If you feel like I missed something, or you disagree with one of my point, but leave a comment, I would love to read it.

Reference:

Savulescu, J., Foddy, B., & Clayton, M. (2004). Why we should allow performance enhancing drugs in sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 38(6), 666-670.

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1 Comment
  1. Adam
    Posted December 31, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    That’s a really good article. Nothing new here because I’ve taken a massive interest in it over the years, but nonethless a well written article.

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