Saturday, August 9, 2008


Anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, erythropoeitin, albuterol, caffeine--all illegal (caffeine is limited to certain levels), barring a doctor's prescription for some of the fancier drugs. In the sports world, a positive test brings disgrace, and possibly ends a career.

The International Olympic Committee has laid out a rather extensive set of anti-doping rules in the hopes of having a clean Game. The Prohibited List is a veritable pharmacy of just about every drug ever conceived--even if there's no reason why it should work as a performance enhancer (alcohol? really?). The reasons for the anti-doping stance are that the athletes would suffer, and that it wouldn't be fair.

Since the Olympics are about the achievements of the human body, then only humans, unenhanced and undoped, should be allowed to participate. But the same arguments for not doping apply throughout the world of sports: it's not fair, and the athletes might kill themselves.

The latter is unquestionably true. People do crazy things for glory--shoot themselves up with anabolic steroids, train themselves to the point of collapse and death, go for 96 hours without sleep so they can run 100 miles, etc. There is also a tendency, unless you know better (and most don't) to think that if a little bit of XXXX works this well, then a lot should work much better. Well, yeah--snort a line too many of cocaine and you die. And there's no reason to think that education will help matters much. When it comes to feeling good, even if there's a bad reason for it, people will want to feel good (actually, the principle of positive reinforcement applies across most species of animal life).

But is it truly not fair? If golfers can have LASIK done to improve their golf games, baseball pitchers can have tendons grafted, swimmers can buy thousand-dollar shark suits, tennis players can have the latest in materials for their rackets, then what isn't fair is that others who can't afford these procedures or equipment should be forbidden to take performance-enhancing drugs so that their performance can match the ones who can.

Yes, I was being a tad facetious. But in all seriousness, what is the difference, philosophically, between taking a performance-enhancing drug and having the latest equipment? As a matter of fact, one could almost suggest, given the extensive list of prohibited drugs, that it would be more fair to allow athletes to use drugs (which they can get anywhere) than it would be for them to use top-of-the-line equipment (which they can't). Both confer unfair advantages when compared to a person who's not using either--or they could confer no advantage. Dependence on either drugs or technology is a dangerous position to be in for any athlete.

The difference, I suppose, is that technology does not guarantee success--you'd still have to a hell of a player to beat Roger Federer, latest racket be damned. But then, neither do steroids, or other drugs--the price exacted for temporary success comes later, though, and most people can't wait that long.

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