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Let's Ban Those Who Don't Use Drugs

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Let's Ban Those Who Don't Use Drugs

by Sidney Gendin, Ph.D.

Sidney is is a professor of philosophy of law at Eastern Michigan University. He has taught philosophy for 36 years, specializing in philosophy of law. He has co-edited several books and authored about 20 articles appearing in leading philosophy journals.

At the conclusion of the twenty-seventh Olympiad still another set of athletes was found guilty of using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs and were sent home in disgrace. Yet the facts concerning steroids are badly misunderstood. So much that is usually said on the subject is utterly banal and repeated so often that any fourteen-year-old sports fan can trot out the clichés and deliver them with the fluency with which he pledges allegiance to the United States. One important consideration should guide our condemnations: Big Time Sport is Big Time Business. The Olympics is the biggest of the big, and the pressures to succeed are nearly overwhelming. Athletes are always seeking some edge over their competitors, and the truth of the matter is that the use of steroids, if only they were legal, would be as legitimate a means of performance enhancement as any other. The fact that they are illegal is truly unfortunate since they are not any more unnatural than any of dozens of other means to success, and the dangers of their use have been vastly exaggerated. Popular condemnation ignores the fact that there are dozens of different steroids, varying greatly in their effectiveness and safety. Most of the significant risks accompany the use of oral steroids, not injectables. Even the lesser risks are probably exaggerated but since steroids are Schedule III drugs, it is not legal to test them for their purely enhancement-performing effects. Thus there are no research trials establishing real statistical data about them. All reports about their side effects in non-medical contexts are anecdotal. Given the ideological war declared by the government and the medical establishment on steroids, we may safely presume the side effects are fewer than advertised.

The average newspaper reader is not familiar with any of the follow. Androstenedione; 19-androstenedione; 4-androstenediol; 5-androstenediol; norandrostenediol; 19-norandrostenediol; tribulus terrestris; DHEA; enzymatic conversion accelerators; growth hormone stimulators; hormone-releasing peptides. They might imagine, on hearing such unpronounceables, that these are banned substances. Of course they’d be wrong. These are the standard weapons of so-called "clean" athletes who are also looking for "an edge". To this smorgasbord of goodies the "clean" athlete adds such other exotica as creatine ($30/month); protein powder (recommended doses three times per day at about $2 per shot, when mixed with milk - $180/month). For snacks they munch on high protein candy bars ("only" $3 each); superfuel drinks; testosterone "boosters"; yohimbine and a dozen other herbs; ten dedicated vitamin supplements in addition to their multi-vitamin, GMB, HMB and a wide variety of other alphabet magic. While the so-called "dirty cheater" spends roughly $350 to $500 per month for his steroid cocktails, the athlete who smugly declares his wholesomeness gets the job done for only $600 to $1000.

As things now stand, those who don’t use steroids are using every legal trick they know to get that "roid" look. The ads are full of pronouncements that their products "look like steroids, feel like steroids, work like steroids". The boast is that it is all legal, too. But let’s remember our history and in particular, Al Capone’s wise expression, "the legitimate rackets", by which Al meant to call attention to the fact that the government was no better than he was. Those with vested interests and power make legal what they want to be legal and illegal what they want to be illegal. Beware, virtue-parading people. Almost everything on that above list of "clean supplements" is susceptible to capricious removal from legitimacy by the power brokers. Already there is clamoring to reclassify androstenedione as a drug. Several sports federations haven’t bothered to wait and have self-righteously outlawed it.

Technology cannot be halted and it shouldn’t be, for eventually it comes around to the benefit of all. Serious swimmers now wear exotic outfits – full body suits, half body suits, all made of strange material – everything but what we once recognized as swim suits. The truth is that nothing is wrong with that. In track and field we now have fiberglass poles instead of the hickory shafts of eighty years ago. No one demands that vaulters go back to hickory on the grounds that fiberglass is unnatural. In 1928 a runner set a world record in the 100 yard dash but it was disallowed because he used gadgets he called "starting blocks" instead of digging "natural" holes in the ground. Within eight years it became illegal to dig holes in the ground. What had been an unfair advantage was now a requirement.

Imagine, if you will, Little Jack, a twelve-year-old child with below-average intelligence. His parents discover that a certain drug, associated with modest risks to his health, will raise his ability to study for hours on end as well as increase his powers of retention. The child agrees to try the drug. Would you deprive Little Jack of the chance to become and average to above-average student on the grounds that the drug was too expensive for most people to try it? Or on the grounds that others didn’t want to run the risks? Or even on the grounds that it was not yet legal? I hope not. Why should Jack be deprived of good opportunities while waiting for a more enlightened age?

Athletes are a docile lot. Most of them think illegality confers illegitimacy because they are told to think that. The great lesson of Plato’s dialogue EUTHYPHRO is that we should not declare anything immoral merely because it is illegal. That is putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

Technology has also struck home in power lifting where the use of the bench shirt has revolutionized our sense of what is possible. The bench shirt is so tight that a person needs at least two strong men to help him don his shirt and it takes over three minutes. He needs the same help removing it when he is done. The shirt permits an initial thrust that allows the lifter to lift as much as twenty pounds more than he could ever do "raw". How ironic it is that no sinister steroid has yet been discovered that gives the same pluck for the buck that this entirely legal shirt gives. In truth, steroids are no more "unfair" than bench shirts. It is hypocritical for lifters who use bench shirts (nearly all of them) to boast they never go near steroids.

Advantages are sometimes called unfair because they may not have been earned. Yet unearned advantages may still be legitimate. Genes yield unearned advantages. Most competitions are won because of some advantages that cannot be compensated for. Steroids do not work like magic. They do give direct physiological advantages but the main advantage they give is increased capacity for hard work. Take steroids all you want but never exercise and your body will still look like that of the skinny kid in the Charles Atlas ads who got sand kicked in his face.

Professional athletes, like violinists, need to be as good as they can be. Isaac Stern uses a violin worth $100,000 and this gives him an advantage, over and above his technical superiority, to the ordinary member of an ordinary orchestra. The audience demands nothing less. If you pay $50 to hear Stern play you definitely don’t want him showing up with his son’s $50 violin. The professional athlete has an obligation to his fans in a similar way. Crowds are much larger at men’s professional basketball games that at women’s. The reason is simple: the level of play is much better. Advocates of the women’s game claim it can be just as exciting as men’s basketball, given its own terms. This claim is easily seen to be disingenuous when you realized the same can be said for junior high school basketball. Nobody is advocating that we should pay lots of money to watch those kids play.

Steroids improve the level of performance. Ben Johnson ran faster and Bulgarian weightlifters lift more thanks to steroids. That is good for sport, not bad. Why should I, as a fan, care whether Ben drank $180 per month of protein drinks and paid another $800 for legal substances who names I can barely pronounce or, instead, jabbed himself with needles filled with nandrolone? Let sport be recognized for what it is – professional entertainment. For all the money they have to lay out, fans are entitled to the best possible performances. Why, the, should they have to put up with the inferior performances of the non drug users? I say BAN THEM. Recently a swimmer in the Olympics took about two minutes to swim 100 meters. This "performance" was treated as a human interest story that ran many times on television but the truth is that it is contrary to the Olympic spirit "of higher and faster". The Olympics would not have been broadcast at all if there were more athletes like that swimmer.

The non-steroid user, despite his enormous bill of a $1000 per month, trying to be competitive, manages to be competitive only because better athletes are unfairly being kept out of sports. In a recent bizarre turn of events, athletes in the Paralympics were tossed out for drug use. Even the handicapped are not allowed to use their limbs better! Of course, some elite handicapped athletes have sleek wheelchairs that ordinary handicapped athletes can’t afford and so they fly over marathon courses at three minutes per mile. And this is better than using nandrolone? Frankly, I don’t get it. I would rather not ban anyone but if I had to ban someone I’d prefer to ban one who uses a high tech machine to one who injects himself with a steroid.

We know that steroid use runs risks just as aspirin does and we know, too, that steroids are not nearly so dangerous as an overdose of alcohol or constant use of cigarettes. It really is as simple as this: unprejudiced people know steroid use is, for the most part, good, not bad. Let’s get the word out.

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Ban Athletes Who Don't Use Steroids

by Sidney Gendin, Ph.D.

Sidney is is a professor of philosophy of law at Eastern Michigan University. He has taught philosophy for 36 years, specializing in philosophy of law. He has co-edited several books and authored about 20 articles appearing in leading philosophy journals.

Isn't it time for the brainwashed public to know the truth about steroids? In their ideological zeal to ban "performance enhancing" drugs, national governments and the various local and international sports federations have ignorantly and self-righteously declared that steroid use is cheating, dangerous, and stupid. In fact, in general, it is neither dangerous nor stupid and it is cheating only because it has been capriciously commanded to be so.

In the first place, with respect to the alleged danger, people ought to know that there are dozens of steroids and it would be absurd to imagine that their risks are identical. Moreover, steroids come in two broad classes - the orals and the injectables. It is true that most of the orals have associated hazards but not a single one of them is as hazardous as smoking or drinking. The principle dangers of the injectables result from overdosing and, even so, they are mainly such alarming matters as acne and severe headache. Every legally obtainable prescription drug comes with a warning of dozens of worse side effects.

As for the so-called cheating, who really are the cheaters? The average steroid user spends about $100-150 per month while the supplement industries grow rich on suckering in the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of foolish people spending up to $1000 per month on a variety of mumbo jumbo: androstenedione, 4-androstenedione, 19-androstenedione, androstenediol and the several 4, 5, 17, and 19 varieties of androstenediol, tribulus terrestris, enzymatic conversion accelerators, growth hormone stimulators, hormone-releasing peptides, testosterone "boosters", dozens of magical herbs and a ridiculous number of "non drugs" with unpronouncable names so they are always abbreviated such as HMB and DHEA. On top of all this, these folks who tend to be more affluent than steroid users, are pumping protein powders into their milk - $9 per day - and gobbling down protein candy bars - up to $3 each - while saving a bit of energy for screaming "Foul! Cheater!" at the poor steroid user. They are told by the manufacturers and distributors of these outlandish products that they look like steroids, feel like steroids and work like steroids. So? Why not ban them like steroids?

But I say ban them and only them. For one thing, they don't work as well as steroids. More importantly, what care I as a fan that someone sets a remarkable record because he used steroids? I pay money to see sporting events and I am entitled to an athlete's very best. Isaac Stern can afford a violin that few violinists and no high school orchestra player can afford. Is he taking unfair advantage of them? If I pay $60 to hear Stern and learn his tone was not up to par because he was too lazy to bring his own violin and borrowed a $50 one from a high school kid, I justifiably want my money back. What care I that he usually plays upon a $200,000 instrument? I am not bothered by this; I want his very best. Likewise, I want the very best an athlete can give me. I don't want to watch athletes who could have done better if only they had used steroids. Talk of steroid performance as unnatural is as ridiculous as complaining about artificial hearts. As for me I plan to have a T-shirt made for me that will read on its front: "Use steroids or go home. Enough of crying and whining."

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Gendin makes a good argument! :grin: I agree with his basic point (that a steroid ban is an arbitrary restriction that holds back sporting progress) but there's one issue he doesn't cover...

Is it morally acceptable for a steroid-taking athlete to compete in an event that bans steroids?

I'd say no. It's the equivalent (to use Gendin's example above) of a professional adult athlete trying to slip into the junior high school basketball team. The restriction may be an arbitrary rule, but it's there to define the parameters of the game. I think certain "games" would be better off without this particular steroid rule, but that's not the issue. The point is, the rule exists, and to break it is morally wrong.

Bringing that philosophy back to the real world now, what happens when the only way to progress in your sport is to start taking steroids? The close-to-home example is the NZ Federation of Bodybuilding. To compete at the top levels, you need to compete in the NZFBB. It is nearly (if not completely) impossible to be competitive at the top levels without steroids. Yet the NZFBB bans the use of steroids.

A catch-22? Yup. But my answer is still: tough. The rules are the rules are the rules. Can't compete in a pro comp because you can't take steroids? So don't compete in the pro comp. Your organisation will eventually be forced to change their rule, and then you can compete legitimately.

Look at it from the other angle - by juicing "under the radar", you allow your organisation to maintain the status quo. Enough people slip through the net for them to claim the system is working, which allows them to tut-tut those who get caught. There's no pressure on the organisation to change, so they don't. Am I advocating a boycott? I don't know... Can it be a boycott if you're only following the rules, however arbitrary they might be?

I guess what I'm saying is: If you take steroids and compete in a natural competition, it's not only immoral, it's self-defeating.

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