Last updated on: 2/11/2009 | Author:

Does the Use of Illegal Performance Enhancing Drugs by Some Athletes Coerce Other Athletes to Also Use Them to Remain Competitive?

PRO (yes)


Alex Rodriguez, third baseman for the New York Yankees, stated the following in his Feb. 9, 2009 interview with Peter Gammons televised on ESPN’s Sports Center, during which he admitted using banned substances from 2001 to 2003:

“When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure. I felt like I had all the weight of the world on top of me, and I needed to perform, and perform at a high level every day.

Back then, it was a different culture. It was very loose. I was young. I was stupid. I was naive. And I wanted to prove to everyone that, you know, I was worth being one of the greatest players of all time. And I did take a banned substance. You know, for that I’m very sorry and deeply regretful…

The culture, it was pretty prevalent. There were a lot of people doing a lot of things. There was a lot of gray area, too…

I think you just felt a tremendous need to keep up and to play well. You know, it was hot in Texas every day. It was over a hundred degrees. You know, you felt like, without trying to overinvestigate what you’re taking, can I have an edge just to get out there and play every day?”

Feb. 9, 2009 - Alex Rodriguez


Steve Olivier, Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Abertay Dundee, wrote in his article titled “Drugs in Sports: Justifying Paternalism on the Grounds of Harm,” published in the Nov./Dec. 1996 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine:

“Although some would argue that a person has a right to choose whether to risk harm to one’s own body, the use of drugs in sports can place athletes in a situation in which they feel coerced into taking drugs in order to compete…

On the surface, it would seem that athletes can choose freely, but what about the pressures created by the need for success in competition? I am not just referring to the satisfaction of winning — rather, I am recognizing that in professional sports one’s future may depend on winning. At this level, sports is one’s means of employment, and the greater the incentives to succeed, the greater the temptation to use any method available to achieve that end. The pressure may thus be greater than some mere primeval satisfaction of the will-to-win.”

Nov./Dec. 1996 - Steve Olivier


Keith Burgess-Jackson, JD, PhD, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Arlington, wrote the following in a Dec. 5, 2004 article titled “Performance-Enhancing Drugs,” posted on his website:

“[T]here’s another good reason to ban the use of performance-enhancing drugs: fairness. Many athletes want to compete, but without risking their lives and health. Shouldn’t they be able to? If some competitors use drugs, others will be forced to choose between using them and dropping out of the sport. Just the knowledge that others may be using drugs is enough to induce all or most competitors to use them. The pressure — from peers, family members, and coaches — must be intense.”

Dec. 5, 2004 - Keith Burgess-Jackson, JD, PhD


Thomas H. Murray, PhD, President of the Hastings Center, wrote the following in his Aug. 1983 article “The Coercive Power of Drugs in Sports,” published in “The Hastings Center Report”:

“The pressure to use exists when people believe that something confers a competitive advantage, whether or not this is objectively true. There is, then, an inherent coerciveness present in these situations: when some choose to do what gives them a competitive edge, others will be pressed to do likewise, or resign themselves to either accepting a competitive disadvantage or leaving the endeavor entirely…

Unquestionably, coerciveness operates in the case of performance-enhancing drugs and sport. Where improved performance can be measured in fractions of inches, pounds, or seconds, and that fraction is the difference between winning and losing, it is very difficult for athletes to forego using something that they believe improves their competitor’s performance… Under such pressure, decisions to take performance-enhancing drugs are anything but purely ‘individual’ choices.”

Aug. 1983 - Thomas H. Murray, PhD


Maxwell J. Mehlman, JD, Director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, wrote the following in his Apr. 2005 article titled “Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports,” published on the website The Doctor Will See You Now:

“We might feel less hostile to enhancements, for example, if athletes truly had a choice about whether or not to use them, but we know that, if some athletes use them, they all will have to. Coaches have admitted that athletes must use doping to succeed at highly competitive levels of sport. In short, the objection to the health hazards of enhancements may be that they are not freely chosen.”

Apr. 2005 - Maxwell J. Mehlman, JD


The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) National Commission on Sports and Substance Abuse wrote the following in its Sep. 2000 report titled “Winning at Any Cost: Doping in Olympic Sports”:

“One athlete’s decision to use performance enhancing drugs also exerts a powerful effect on the other athletes in the competition. As reported by Sports Illustrated, half of all recently surveyed Olympic athletes admitted that they would be willing to take a drug — even if it would kill them eventually — as long as it would let them win every event they entered five years in a row. This type of ‘win at any cost’ mentality is pervading sports at all levels of competition and results in athletes feeling coerced to use substances just to remain on par with other athletes.”

Sep. 2000 - National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA)

CON (no)


Norman Fost, MD, MPH, Professor and Director of the Medical Ethics Program at the University of Wisconsin, stated the following during a Jan. 15, 2008 debate sponsored by National Public Radio (NPR) titled “Should We Accept Steroid Use in Sports?”:

“[C]ritics say that allowing their use [anabolic steroids] is coercive, that you’re forced to use them. But the first year that baseball did universal testing, anonymous testing, only six percent of the players were positive. From those numbers, it seems that 94% were able to play at a very high level and didn’t feel coerced at all. Coercion is the use or threat of force that’s never occurred in this country to the best of my knowledge. There is no entitlement to play professional sports; it’s a privilege requiring an enormous sacrifice and taking on enormous risks, with or without steroids. Many walk away from it and choose not to do it, and no one is forced to take it on.”

Jan. 15, 2008 - Norman Fost, MD, MPH


Peter A. French, PhD, Director of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University, stated the following in his 2004 book Ethics and College Sports:

“Why should we think that those who take drugs to remain competitive with the drug users are coerced into doing so? No one is forced to become a competitive athlete. The pressures that the non-drug users may well feel are no different than any other pressures that come with committing oneself to playing the game at a relatively high level of competition. If some athletes spend much more time in the weight room than others and thereby build their muscular strength to levels significantly higher than their opponents, those opponents who want to remain competitive may feel compelled to also put in more time with weights. But there is nothing unethical or immoral about the situation that should lead those interested in maintaining sportsmanship to forbid or severely regulate weight training.”

2004 - Peter A. French, PhD


Robert Simon, PhD, Professor of Philosophy at Hamilton College, wrote the following in his 2004 book Fair Play: The Ethics of Sport:

“[N]o one literally is forced to become (or remain) a professional athlete or participate at elite levels of amateur athletics… Do pressures generated by athletes who use drugs coerce other athletes into using performance enhancers too? One reason for doubting that they do is that it once again appears as if ‘coercion’ is being used too broadly. One might just as well say that students who study harder than others ‘coerce’ their classmates into studying harder too in order to keep up, or that athletes who practice longer hours than others ‘coerce’ their competitors into practicing longer hours as well. The problem with such claims, of course, is that any competitive pressure becomes ‘coercive’ in such an extended sense of the term. As a result, the term ‘coerce’ is deprived of any moral force because virtually no competitive behavior is left over that would be not be coercive.”

2004 - Robert Simon, PhD


Leon R. Kass, MD, PhD, Former Chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, wrote the following in his Mar. 26, 2008 article titled “For the Love of the Game,” published in the New Republic:

“In its claim that steroid use ‘victimizes’ non-users by giving them three undesirable choices — lose out to the biologically enhanced, quit the game, or imperil their bodies by becoming users themselves — the Mitchell Report pushes the argument a little deeper.

[I]f the majority of the players, as the [Mitchell] report suggests, would truly prefer to stay chemically clean and avoid the need for this unwelcome choice, they could easily and successfully remove such pressures by agreeing collectively to expose the violators and to shame them. Moreover, the concern about coercion fails to get to the heart of the matter: competition is always demanding, often coercively so, and competitive athletes are always forced to measure up to their peers in training and practice or else be left behind. And many of the sports we find most thrilling — football, hockey, boxing, downhill skiing — require putting one’s body in peril. One of the athletic virtues we most admire is ‘playing hurt,’ which often means placing excellence in action above bodily well-being.”

Mar. 26, 2008 - Leon R. Kass, MD, PhD