Professional athletes are the top 1% of the 1% and by all accounts are superior physical specimens. Super human feats are fun and awe inspiring to watch. Players are getting bigger, stronger and faster. Thanks to advancements in every human performance related field from biochemistry to sports psychology the prominence of these über athletes are unlikely to wane. I believe we should give athletes full access to safe medical science and technology. If not, history has shown they will seek out potentially dangerous black market alternatives to get what they need. Let’s face it, today’s athlete, even without ‘illegal’ performance enhancement drugs (PEDs) are in many ways superior to their predecessors. The modern professional athlete has access to better equipment, medically engineered nutrition, advanced bio-hacks, scientifically designed training programs, more knowledgeable coaches/trainers and performance enhancing surgeries that weren’t around a few decades ago. Sport is replete with these sanctioned technologies. They call them legal. I call it hypocrisy. The time to debate serious ethical conundrums is upon us.Performance enhancing elective surgeries are one of these approved modalities. They give athletes a clear advantage and can be just as dangerous (if not more so) as many PEDs. Why isn’t this upgrade considered cheating?
LASIK Surgery – can significantly improve eyesight. This can and has helped improve performance for athletes in a multitude of sports. Babe Ruth, who’s vision was less than perfect, didn’t have access to LASIK. Imagine if he did. Tiger Woods, Lebron James, Bernie Williams and others all improved their eyesight to 20/15 and performed better after the operation. The 2005 Slate Magazine article “The Beam in Your Eye” expounds some of the clear benefits of Lasik:
- Better vision after LASIK surgery helps reaction time and depth perception
- LASIK allows you to see contrast better under different kinds of light than glasses or contacts
- LASIK stands up to extreme environments. Sweat, helmets and other gear can make it impossible to wear glasses. Contact lenses aren’t completely reliable in extreme conditions.
Tommy John Surgery (Ulnar collateral ligament – UCL) – allows baseball pitchers not merely to extend their careers, “but to have careers that by all genetic rights they never should have had”- NPR. About 500 major leaguers have had the UCL surgery, many of them at the start of their careers. As with most surgeries, recovery is long and the potential dangers are significant.
Elective surgeries and drugs have broadly the same overall benefits: enabling athletes to play better longer while simultaneously managing pain and recovering from injury. Why are drugs bad whereas surgery is not only allowed but actively encouraged? Why have we banned the use of PEDs but not elective surgery?
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) states:
Substances will and will not be banned on the basis that they must meet two out of the following three criteri:
- They must have the potential to increase sporting performance;
- And/or they must represent an actual or potential risk to the athlete’s health;
- And/or their use must be contrary to the spirit of sport
The general wording of WADA’s criteria is surprisingly unspecific and leaves it open to varied interpretations. Criterion 3, perhaps the most enigmatical, has triggered heated philosophical arguments about the nature and definition of the ‘spirit of sport’. The concept of fairness, of course, is front and center. It does not mean all athletes must have equal ability but if we prohibit PEDs on the basis that it is not fair, then we ought to ensure all participants have access to the same training resources: great trainers; high altitudes or hyperbaric chambers; fantastic coaches; top of the line equipment; cutting edge supplements; medical/surgical advances; home field advantage etc… All factors will never be equal. Unfortunately, the players and teams with the most money usually have the access to the best resources and generally win more than anyone else. Unless we take money out of sport this will never change (same goes for politics…just saying).
Criterion 2 is also perplexingly ambiguous because it states a substance must represent “an actual or potential risk to health”. Many legal foods and supplements fall into this category. This potentially includes water, creatine, caffeine, aspirin etc….Too much of anything can be harmful and even deadly. These aids and others are needed to compete at a high level and definitely benefit performance. The top two PEDs of choice, steroids and human growth hormone, are prescription medications approved by the FDA and may be dangerous only when misused. Under the guidance of a competent physician, these drugs can be safe and very effective. Making them illegal forces many players to buy spurious underground concoctions without a doctor’s consultation and care.
Four Arguments Against PED’s:
- Equal Playing Field Argument: PED users have an unfair advantage over non-users; a ban removes that advantage and creates an equal playing field
- Health Argument: PEDs are unhealthy and can damage users; a ban protects athletes’ health
- Unnatural Argument: PEDs are unnatural and diminish athletes’ achievements
- Role Model Argument: High-level athletes are role models for impressionable youngsters; a ban makes sure that children and amateur athletes don’t glorify drug users and take drugs themselves
Spirited arguments for and against each one of these positions have been made. I won’t rehash them here. No matter what side you are on, the fact is PEDs are here to stay and their technology is advancing at exponential rates. I believe we should allow athletes to take PEDs and other ergogenic upgrades. Pro athletes are paid much more than a living wage and the negative consequences of PEDs should be considered just another hazard of the job. It is their choice, so lets make it a safer one. Moreover, as a spectator I want to see super human feats of athleticism, don’t you?
- Sub 9 second 100-meter dashes
- 650 foot home runs
- 75-yard field goals
- Sub 3:30 miles
- 175 mph tennis serves
- 106 mph baseball pitches (check out Sidd Finch 168mph pitch)
In the future, we can look forward to gene doping, biologically infused nano devices, prenatal genetic tampering, and mechanical prosthetics to name a few. Many futurists and transhumanists believe there will come a time in the not so distant future when humans will ‘swap’ out some of their perfectly good parts for bionic upgrades. Couple this with parents pre-selecting superior athletic genes for their children and PEDs will be the least of our worries. Human performance enhancements have become mainstream. The only realistic option is for authorities to permit athletes the use of PEDs and other upgrades, so long as they are done in a safe manner and/or medically supervised. It’s human nature to try to obtain every possible advantage for success. Going against our primal drive never works out for the best. Let the super human games begin!by