Should Performance-Enhancing Drugs Be Accepted in Sports?
Alex Pearlman, journalist and bioethicist, in a Mar. 11, 2021 article, “The Case for More Doping in the Olympics,” available at neo.life, stated:
“[W]ith this year-long pause [due to the COVID-19 pandemic] to ponder the games, it’s worth considering this provocation: Perhaps the one thing that could breathe new life into these ancient games and make them feel more relevant is the exact opposite of what amateur sports are supposed to be free of: technological, chemical, and biological enhancers of performance…
With the potential cancellation of the Olympics barely making headlines, and with viewership already in significant decline, would allowing enhancement make the Olympics more relevant? Would opening the competition to anyone wearing a springy exoskeleton suit to propel them down the track 50 percent faster than human legs alone actually make the games even more compelling? What about altering their genetics to enhance a freakish amount of red blood cells to ferry more oxygen to their muscles? And importantly, would changes to the games still be able to capture what it is that we appreciate about competitive sports in the first place?
What is purity of sport, anyway?
…Allowing science into the picture raises the bar that already exists. To allow genetic and cybernetic enhancement would be to elevate our experience of the art of expressing what the human body is capable of when it merges with the technological prowess at our fingertips, and it also allows sports to evolve to mirror the human experience. If our lives are augmented, perhaps our sports entertainment should be as well.”Mar. 11, 2021
Mac McCann, columnist for The Horn at the University of Texas-Austin, in an Oct. 13, 2017 article, “Debate: Should Performance-Enhancing Drugs Be Legalized?,” available at blueridgeoutdoors.com, stated:
“In theory, banning doping prevents athletes from taking unfair shortcuts and keeps sports on a level playing field. In reality, these bans have done less to protect fairness and punish rule-breakers and more to discourage athletes from reaching the highest levels of success…
How many people would have cared about the Tour de France without Armstrong’s stunning feats? Before failing a drug test in 2006, Shawne Merriman was in highlight reel upon highlight reel during his 2005 season as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Who can deny the excitement of 1998’s record-breaking MLB home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa? Recently busted Alex Rodriguez is a career .300 hitter with 647 career homeruns, a 14 time all-star, a 3 time AL MVP and a World Series Champion.
We can continue the trend of hand-wringing and hysteria, with one doping scandal after another, further embarrassing the field of professional athletics – or we can legalize and regulate performance-enhancing drugs to the benefit of sports and sports fans alike. Let’s do ourselves and our athletes a service by allowing them to perform at their best.”Oct 13, 2017
Rory W. Collins, masters student at University of Canterbury, School of Teacher Education, in a 2017 article, “Lowering Restrictions on Performance Enhancing Drugs in Elite Sports,” available at inquiriesjournal.com, stated:
“[M]any of the PEDs which are currently banned ought to be allowed in the Olympics for athletes over 16 years of age. There is substantial justification for a less prohibitive approach to PEDs on the grounds of well-being, autonomy, and fairness; many of the objections to this proposal are simply unconvincing. In saying that, however, there are reasons to be hesitant about going straight from the current approach to a laissez-faire system.
Numerous drugs thought to be safe do not have studies on their long-term health consequences. Additionally, many elite athletes are relatively young and, therefore, may not be able to give free and informed consent. Furthermore, legalising PEDs may provide a benefit to athletes from wealthy countries that is unavailable to those from poorer nations. But allowing some PEDs would almost certainly not incur these negative effects. To name one example, EPO is cheap, widely available, and reliable evidence suggests that there are no long-term health risks if used in moderation. Prohibiting athletes from using EPO under the current criteria is simply unjustified, as is the case for many other safe PEDs. Over the coming years, we ought to strive for a less restrictive approach towards PED use in both the Olympics and other elite sporting events.”2017
Maeve Juday, columnist for the Swarthmore College newspaper The Phoenix, stated the following in her Feb. 15, 2018 article titled, “To Dope, or Not to Dope?,” available at swarthmorephoenix.com:
“[I]f we really want to address the issue of illegal steroid use in professional sports, I propose that it’s time to head in the opposite direction: legalizing performance enhancing drugs (PEDs)…
If steroid use for professional athletes is permitted, they will be able to legally obtain physical enhancement drugs which have been regulated, and are therefore possibly safe to use…
Now, let’s not forget that the purpose of professional sports is entertainment, witnessing the seemingly magical feats of human athleticism and physical ability. An increase in steroid use would only serve to increase the talent and intensity of the game and bring it to a higher level…The essence of sports is that winning touchdown, that sprinting finish, and that fence-clearing homerun. Steroid legalization for professional athletes won’t jeopardize that; it will only enhance it.”Feb. 15, 2018
James Kirkup, MA, Executive Editor for Politics at The Telegraph, stated the following in his Nov. 10, 2015 article titled “Athletics Doping Crisis Is Just Another Reason to Allow Drugs in Sport,” available at the Telegraph website:
“What should happen is this: doping should be allowed.
Really, why should the use of steroids, or any other performance-enhancing drug, be banned? We should allow all of them. Not just drugs either: gene-therapy, DNA modification, the lot.
The important point is that as long as the participants are grown adults, making informed choices about the possible consequences, there should be no restriction on what sportsmen and women can do. We don’t stop grown men punching each other senseless in the ring or putting their body in the path of a leather ball travelling at 95mph just because they could come to harm. We trust them to make the choice.
So we should also let them take whatever substances they like to run faster or hit harder… Allowing doping and the rest would just make sport more entertaining – and more honest.”Nov. 10, 2015
Julian Savulescu, PhD, Professor and Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, stated the following in his Nov. 11, 2015 article titled “The Ethical Case for Allowing Doping in Sports,” posted at qz.com:
“In light of our proven inability to enforce a zero-tolerance approach to sport, we should instead take a pragmatic approach. As a very brief and incomplete overview, I argue that we should allow doping within safe, measurable physiological parameters…
For years, we have been pretending that the problem was Lance Armstrong, Dwayne Chambers or Marion Jones. Now we are told the problem is not individuals, but a country (Russia). Or an organization, the IAAF.
But even these are not the problem. The problem is human nature. Athletics is humanity pushed to extremes, both physically and mentally. There are enormous prizes for extraordinary physical feats. There are effective means of enhancing performance. At the same time, our anti-doping capabilities are anemic and sporadically enforced…
Yes, athletes will still try and cheat wherever the line is drawn. But by focusing on measurable physiological parameters, and only using zero tolerance on drugs that are unsafe in any dose, we will have a chance to alter the balance so the rules we do have are enforceable, and it is rational not to cheat. We will also be able to tell athletes, teams and national agencies that these rules really matter… Does it matter if someone raises her hematocrit by sleeping in a hypoxic air tent or by using erythropoietin if the result is the same? No.”Nov. 11, 2015
Torbjörn Tännsjö, Kristian Claëson Professor of Practical Philosophy at Stockholm University, stated the following in his Sep. 10, 2015 article titled “Let Athletes Dope: A Moral Case,” available at the Boston Globe website:
“The ban on doping must be lifted.
Whatever means that athletes resort to, when they want to improve their skill, should be allowed. Those who are naturally weak should be allowed to improve their talents and complete successfully with those who have a natural advantage on them…
In doing so, there will be other consequences. Doping would be healthier and more efficient, the medical ethics around it standardized. If hemoglobin, for example, could be openly monitored and measured, athletes would not be allowed to reach unhealthy levels.”Sep. 10, 2015
Norman Fost, MD, MPH, Professor and Director of the Medical Ethics Program at the University of Wisconsin, made the following statement in a Dec. 18, 2006 interview published by Scout.com (a Fox Sports News website) titled “Baseball Men – The Skeptic”:
“We allow people to do far more dangerous things than play football or baseball while using steroids. We allow people to bungee-jump, to ski on advanced slopes, to cliff dive. To eat marbled meat or ice cream pie every day if they want. I don’t think we want to go down a path in which we restrict and even criminalize behaviors just because they have health risks. And steroids are so low on the list of drugs or diets that cause serious harm I don’t understand why we would start there.”Dec. 18, 2006
Sam Shuster, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Dermatology at Newcastle University, wrote in his Aug. 4, 2006 article titled “There’s No Proof That Sports Drugs Enhance Performance,” published in the Guardian:
“The ethical argument…disappears on examination. Sport is for enjoyment and competition, and usually aims to improve; but what is the difference between increasing skill and performance by training, and taking drugs?…
What is more ‘fair’ – the use of a team of sports specialists or a simple pill? What is the difference between training at altitude and taking erythropoietin to achieve a similar effect? And why are the strips of adhesive plaster on the nose – absurdly believed to increase oxygen intake – more acceptable than a drug which reduces airway resistance?”Aug. 4, 2006
Richard Boock, author and sports journalist, wrote the following in his July 31, 2008 article titled “Drug Testing Just Dopey,” published in the Sunday Star Times:
“It’s unclear why we continue to beat ourselves up over performance-enhancing drugs, it’s not as if international sport has a great tradition of being pure and clean. Up until 1968 it was a free-for-all; over the next 20 years it was only moderately restricted, and even now the poachers seem light years ahead of the game-keepers.”July 31, 2008
Kate Schmidt, former US Olympic javelin thrower, wrote the following in her Oct. 18, 2007 article titled “Just Say Yes to Steroids – Learn, Make Better Choices,” published in the Los Angeles Times:
“In the same way that we have learned about injury prevention and safety, we need performance drugs exposed to the hot light of public scrutiny. We need to legitimize their use. With a more realistic view of our elite athletes, parents and kids can make more informed choices about their extracurricular activities.
The technology exists to test for levels of most of the substances on the ‘banned drugs’ lists. What if we declared that certain levels of them in the body were acceptable, while excessive amounts would result in penalties? Athletes could satisfy their drive to be faster and stronger. Drugs could move from the black market to the legitimate sports-medicine community. Athletes could stop experimenting on themselves. It would be safer to take the substances, and with medical monitoring, there would be fewer negative side effects… Track gets faster, nutrition gets more specific and training techniques improve.”Oct. 18, 2007
Abdul-Karim Al-Jabbar (formerly known as Sharmon Shah and Karim Abdul-Jabbar), former National Football League (NFL) running back, was quoted as having said the following in a Sep. 7, 2006 ESPN The Magazine article titled “HGH: Performance Enhancer or Healer”:
“The bottom line is we get beat the hell up. We need whatever’s available to keep ourselves out there… I think anything that’s helpful should be legal, because when you’re done, they fold you up and say goodbye.”Sep. 7, 2006
David van Mill, PhD, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Western Australia, stated the following in his Aug. 27, 2015 article titled “Why Are We So Opposed to Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Sport?,” available at The Conversation website:
“How interested are we in fairness in sport? Athletes try to enhance their performance in many ways: coaches, psychologists, dietitians, massage therapists, training at high altitude, skin-tight swimsuits. All of these are used to gain an advantage, which is often unfair because, like drugs, they are available to some – wealthy athletes rather than cheats – but not to everyone.
The Tour de France, a sporting event well known for drug use, would not suddenly become a level contest if drug use disappeared. The race winner has his performance enhanced by the quality of his team… Given that drugs are significantly cheaper than psychologists, permitting their use might actually level out the playing field for poorer athletes. Finally, if fairness is our major concern we can easily solve the problem by lifting the prohibition – thus making drugs available to all athletes.”Aug. 27, 2015
Ellis Cashmore, PhD, Visiting Professor in Sociology at Aston University, stated the following in his Nov. 12, 2015 article titled “Opinion: Why Sport Should Allow Doping,” available at cnn.com:
“Were athletics to lift its ban on doping, its problems would vanish… [W]e’ve been persuaded that sportsmen and women should be ‘clean’ — ignoring perhaps their use of hypnotism, acupuncture, oxygen tents and any number of other performance aids that are not tainted by the label ‘drugs…’
Track and field, indeed sport, will never rid itself of doping, no matter how draconian the penalties. The stakes are simply too high.”Nov. 12, 2015
The USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency), in an undated article, “Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs,” available at usada.org and accessed on Apr. 14, 2021, stated:
“With all the information, attention, and debate over performance-enhancing drugs (or PEDs), many people want to further understand how performance-enhancing drugs affect one’s body. It’s an important area of concern for athletes and at the foundation of why USADA and other anti-doping organizations exist. Simply put, PEDs have the ability or potential to drastically alter the human body and biological functions, including the ability to considerably improve athletic performance in certain instances. These drugs, however, can be extremely dangerous and, in certain situations, deadly. The negative effects these drugs can have on one’s body make USADA’s mission paramount as to why no athlete should ever have to consider PED use to succeed in sport.”Apr. 14, 2021
Haley Tackaberry, high school athlete, in a Dec. 21, 2018 article, “Allowing PEDs in Sports a Bad Idea,” available at thegazette.com, stated:
“Since athletes around the world are using drugs, many think legalizing steroids will fix the problem. However, The consequences greatly outweigh the benefits and therefore they should not be allowed at any level…[A]llowing drugs in the sports world ultimately takes away from the true purpose of playing and watching sports because we love them. Most people know the old saying, ‘It’s not about if you win or lose, but about how you played the game.” PEDs devalue the underlying meaning of that statement because it centers everything around just the opposite: winning and losing. It diminishes the core values that should drive an athlete, including character, integrity, sportsmanship, skill and talent. In fact, it makes the athletes seem fake and only powered by an unnatural substance that should not be found in one’s body.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has many efforts in order to make sure sports remain clean. They help athletes of all levels know their responsibility when it comes to anti-doping, and they keep them honest by performing drug tests, specifically on college and professional players.
As for us, we have to make sure we are not encouraging these bad behaviors. It is important to realize the many risks of legalizing PEDs and take whatever actions possible in order to protect athletes and the nature of the sport itself.”Dec. 21, 2018
Thomas Murray, President Emeritus of the Hastings Center, in an Oct. 13, 2017 article, “Debate: Should Performance-Enhancing Drugs Be Legalized?,” available at blueridgeoutdoors.com, stated:
“Americans love high performance and we love technology. Why, then, do we get our knickers in a twist when professional athletes—think Lance Armstrong or A-Rod—turn out to have achieved their great feats with a boost from performance-enhancing drugs and other banned technologies?
Not everyone turns up their nose when a high-profile athlete dopes. Some offer excuses: the pressure to perform is overwhelming, and the rewards are too tempting to resist. We allow special diets, scientifically optimized training, and novel equipment, so why ban drugs, or, in Lance’s case, bags of whole blood? Aren’t they all just technologies intended to produce outstanding performances? In some sports in some eras, nearly every competitor was doping: how else could an athlete have a shot at winning?
…Doping in pro sports is a useful prod that forces us to ask what sport is all about anyway? Why do we play? When we see an exceptional performance, when we experience one of those moments of grace and excellence in ourselves, what makes it so special? If excellence in sport is the intersection of talent and dedication, as I believe, then drugs distort and distract. Our shared understanding of the meaning and value of sport will determine whether doping should continue to be banned. That decision is up to all of us.”Oct. 13, 2017
Thomas H. Murray, PhD, President Emeritus of the Hastings Center, wrote the following in his Jan. 29, 2018 article titled “Why Don’t We Just… Allow Athletes to Dope?,” available at bigissuenorth.com:
“Some people suggest that since athletes are going to dope anyway why not just let them?… The collateral damage, though, to both public health and the meaning of sport, would likely be severe…
Not everyone will resort to doping but, if we remove both legal controls and the stigma attached to it, many will. The likely result is a public health crisis, with particularly dire consequences for young people…
When a drug exists that can significantly enhance performance and you believe that your competitors are using it, you have three unhappy options. You can hold fast to your principles knowing you may lose to an inferior competitor without your scruples; you can stop competing at this level; or you can dope like the others. The point of anti-doping is to create a fourth option: to compete clean with reasonable confidence that your fellow athletes are doing the same.”Jan. 29, 2018
John Oliver, television Host of Last Week Tonight on HBO, stated the following on his show on June 26, 2016:
“Despite rigorous [drug] testing, athletes are clearly slipping through the cracks for a number of reasons. For a start, there are multiple tests, and none of them can detect the full range of drugs and athlete might be on, from anabolic steroids to EPO to human growth hormone…
In a way, you can see why athletes might want to dope: a split second advantage can make the difference between winning and losing and there’s a lot of money on the line for everyone…
You might be thinking, ‘well, let’s just give up, why don’t we just let everyone dope,’ but that is definitely not the answer. For a start, that could be very dangerous with athletes tempted to take greater and greater amounts to get the split-second edge. And, it could also potentially force clean athletes to dope, at which point you’ve pretty much destroyed the integrity of sport.”June 26, 2016
Mark Johnson, PhD, Sportswriter and Sports Photographer, stated the following in his 2016 book titled Spitting in the Soup: Inside the Dirty Game of Doping in Sports:
“[S]hould we throw up our hands… and admit that anti-doping is a hopelessly compromised holy war, a historically blind exercise in futility and evasion?
I don’t think so, if only for one reason: elite athletes are role models whose actions affect consumer behavior… While the history of anti-doping is hip deep in ethical mire, the past need not condemn the project’s future. The quest for a state of pure sports can still serve as a useful and inspirational model for society at large…[S]ports’ conflicted attempt to step away from the chemistry bad and stagger outside into the bright sunlight of some ideal of pure play is admirable because it is an effort confirm our basic humanity.” 2016
Richard Callicott, former Chief Executive of UK Sport, stated in a Nov. 1, 2003 article titled “Yes or No? Question of the Week: Drugs in Sport,” published in The Times (London):
“As the national anti-doping agency we will never accept this. Performance-enhancing drugs are not only prohibited because they violate the spirit of sport but because they can damage the health of athletes. The idea of allowing them in sport could lead to a situation whereby sportsmen and women are used as human guinea pigs for a constant flow of new, unregulated substances. The long-term effects don’t bear thinking about.”Nov. 1, 2003
Joe Lindsey, contributing writer for Bicycling magazine, wrote in an Oct. 23, 2008 email to ProCon.org:
“[T]he school of thought that advocates legalizing doping, or holds that an athlete has the right to choose whether to endanger his health, is ignoring a completely separate ethical and legal question: should people have the right to use a substance that is not legal for human use under ANY circumstances? The answer cannot be anything other than ‘No.’ And if that is the case, then we have drawn a line where some substances are OK to take, and others are not. And if that’s the case, then what’s the difference, philosophically, in where that line is drawn – that more or less substances are deemed banned? The only difference is a world where the semblance of fair play remains, where sports remain the end product of hard work, determination and talent, and a world where sports becomes merely pharmaceutically fueled entertainment. We can choose that world if we like, but with the knowledge that the cost is sports as inspirational and transformative, indicative of the best traits of us as people. Choose that road, and sport is no longer sport, no more noble an endeavor than, say, ‘The Apprentice.'”Oct. 23, 2008
Russell Meldrum, MD, Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine, wrote the following in his Spring 2002 article titled “Drug Use by College Athletes: Is Random Testing an Effective Deterrent?,” published in Sport Journal:
“Drug use is a serious concern, not only for the concepts of integrity and fair play in competitive sports, but because of the health threats to the athletes. Certainly drug testing programs should continue with increasing numbers of athletes being tested and increasing penalties for detection, since these are most likely means of deterrence. Drug education programs must also continue in a further attempt to curtail the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs by empowering the young athlete with the information and skills to make responsible and healthy decisions.”Spring 2002
Barack Obama, JD, US Senator (D-IL) at the time of the quote, in his Oct. 2, 2008 interview on ESPN’s Radio show Mike & Mike in the Morning, stated [as transcribed by ProCon.org]:
“As a father and an avid sports fan, I understand the dangers that performance enhancing drugs pose for athletes, as well as the teenagers who seek to emulate them, not to mention the effect that these drugs have on the integrity of sports. As president, I would use the bully pulpit of my office to warn Americans about the dangers of performance enhancing drugs, and I would put greater resources into enforcement of existing drug laws. I would also convene a summit of the commissioners of the professional sports leagues, as well as university presidents, to explore options for decreasing the use of these drugs.”Oct. 2, 2008
Gary Wadler, MD, Chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List and Methods Sub-Committee, stated the following in an Oct. 20, 1999 prepared statement for the hearing on “Effects of Performance Enhancing Drugs on the Health of Athletes and Athletic Competition,” before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation:
“Doping is a matter of ethics, which affects not only Olympic athletes but also youth, high school, college and professional athletes. The fact is doping threatens to undermine the ethical and physical well being of children…
We cannot allow performance-enhancing drugs to undermine the Olympic Movement. We cannot allow another generation of young people to approach adulthood with a pervading sense of cynicism, and a belief in the power of chemical manipulation rather than the power of character…
New doping control measures must be rooted in sport ethics and values; they must flow from athlete agreement; they must respect athletes’ rights to privacy; and they must be independently, accountably and fairly administered.”Oct. 20, 1999
Donald M. Fehr, JD, Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), stated the following in his written statement for the hearing on “Drugs in Sports: Compromising the Health of Athletes and Undermining the Integrity of Competition,” before the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection on Feb. 27, 2008:
“The Major League Baseball Players Association does not condone or support the use by players – or by anyone else – of any unlawful substance, nor do we support or condone the unlawful use of any legal substance. I cannot put it more plainly. The unlawful use of any substance is wrong.
Moreover, the Players are committed to dispelling any suggestion that the route to becoming a Major League athlete somehow includes taking illegal performance enhancing substances, such as steroids. It does not take a physician to recognize that steroids are powerful drugs that no one should fool around with. This is particularly true for children and young adults, as the medical research makes clear that illegal steroid use can be especially harmful to them.
Playing Major League Baseball requires talent, drive, intelligence, determination, and grit. Steroids and other unlawful performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) have no place in the game.”Feb. 27, 2008
The International Olympic Committee wrote the following in the Olympic Oath, which is recited by athletes at the start of every Olympic Games, most recently updated in Dec. 1999 and available at Olympic.org:
“In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”Dec. 1999
Bud Selig, Jr., Commissioner of Major League Baseball, wrote the following in his Jan. 15, 2008 “Statement of Commissioner Allan H. Selig before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,” posted on MLB.com:
“Our athletes, prospective ballplayers and our youth must come to understand that the use of performance enhancing substances is illegal, it is cheating, it does long term damage to an athlete’s health, and it puts at risk an athlete’s reputation and integrity. Baseball will continue to enhance its efforts in this area…
Some have described the use of performance enhancing substances in sports as an ‘arms race’ between the chemists and the cheaters, on the one hand, and the honest players, the leagues and the testers on the other hand. Each is continually improving its methods to obtain an advantage over the other. Well, if this is such a war, then as Commissioner of Baseball I am committed to arm the side of honesty and fair play by funding laboratory research to detect the illegal use of these substances so that drug users will be caught and the cloud of suspicion over honest players will be lifted.”Jan. 15, 2008