A-Rod, McGwire, Bonds, Baseball, and Performance Enhancement: Where Do We Draw the Line? Part I

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In Bob Nightengale's article Panel Part V: MLB must stay ahead of drug curve (USA Today), he infers that Major League Baseball needs to do much more to "stay ahead of the drug curve" if they are truly interested in keeping the sport clean.

He reveals the USA Today's eight-person committee's suggestion "that MLB formulate a panel of medical, technological and pharmaceutical experts, which would report its findings to the commissioner's office and players union." That it would be this group's responsibility to make decisions on what is considered illegal performance enhancement and what would not.

There is a growing concern today that "landmark advances" in stem-cell research (applied to sports and athletics) poses the very same risks to baseball as did and do steroids, bringing with it all the same kinds of ethical dilemmas. It is obvious that new techniques coming from these advancements would be used to help heal damaged tissue in athletes (and others), but what if these same advancements were used on healthy athletes? What then?

Now that certainly does have a ring of familiarity to it doesn't it?

I am intrigued by Nightengale's thoughts on this subject; however, I think it prudent to expand on them beyond the realm of just baseball. One would have to be very naïve, and not very well-read, to believe that steroids were exclusive to the MLB.

On the contrary, they have been an issue for many sports for some time now. And more recently their use has extended down into other levels of athletic sports' participation by its participants.

The allure of fame, fortune, fast-glitzy-lifestyles, scholarships, and all the other perks and extrinsic motivations that come from a "winning at all costs" attitude seem to be to difficult for today's athletes to ignore.

So in keeping with the implied concerns in Mr. Nightengale's article, I would like to present some guidelines for that "panel of experts" the USA Today committee suggested, only with the added caveat of including all sports under its umbrella, not just Major League Baseball.

Now we could make these guidelines simple and just say that using any type of performance enhancement is deemed illegal. It most certainly could be where:

- proper sports training ends and cheating begins

- the attitude of "winning at all costs" exhibits major control

- the eroding of character/integrity establishes a strong foothold

This is a clear and definite line most anyone can understand, but is it clear enough?

Does that simplified definition above give us the needed depth and breadth to rectify a problem that certainly has a large gray area sitting between two extremes? Is it specific enough to deal with what we have in the here and now, yet global enough to encompass what is on the horizon?

Part of the problem is that the term "performance enhancement" is "all encompassing," covering anything that will improve athletic performance, so the question still remains - where do we draw the line?

It should be obvious that things like proper nutrition through one's meals and snacks, physical training and practicing for a sport, and even supplementation of basic nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, etc., needed for athletes to function both efficiently and effectively) would all fall on the appropriate side of the performance-enhancement equation.

At the opposite end of that equation lies the illegal use of chemicals like HGH, anabolic/androgenic steroids, erythropoietin (for blood doping), etc., that artificially enhance an athlete's performance through the building of tissue and/or cells.

Basically, these chemicals change the athlete both physically and/or chemically. They directly and unnaturally inflate one's potential, making it possible for athletes to become something they really are not and do things they otherwise would not be able to do.

However, between these two extremes lie a multitude of possibilities that also increase an athlete's ability to perform. Some examples include:

- various supplemental methods used to help an athlete recover faster from intense training

- legitimate medical conditions requiring an athlete to take medications that contain possible performance-enhancing substances

 - artificial enhancements like contacts or glasses that increase visual acuity

 - equipment modifications that boost efficiency and effectiveness (larger size racquets in tennis, better shoe materials for traction, aluminum bats in baseball, etc.)

 - surgical procedures that support and/or replace torn/injured body tissue

 - the multitude of likely future advancements (including nutritional and chemical supplementation) that fall somewhere between the two extremes

As we look at this issue from a broader perspective, it becomes more obvious that the "performance-enhancing" landscape is changing, and will continue to change dramatically as time passes.

That begs us to try and make some sense out of a situation that is only going to get more complicated, thus, increasing the importance of creating sensible and global guidelines that clarify the difference between positive and negative methods of enhancing one's performance, as suggested earlier.

These guidelines will be the subject of my next post A-Rod, McGwire, Bonds, Baseball, and Performance Enhancement: Where Do We Draw the Line? Part II - The Guidelines.

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