The Debate Over Legalizing Steroids and Performance-Enhancing Drugs In Professional Sports

SOLVANG, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  Floyd Landis of the USA and riding for Ouch presented by Maxxis races to 54th place in the Individual Time Trial on Stage 6 of the AMGEN Tour of California on February 20, 2009 in Solvang, California.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

If you frequent my blog, it is likely you are familiar with my interest on the use (or misuse as I might call it) of steroids and performance-enhancement substances (PED’s) by athletes. I have written a number of pieces that directly or indirectly state my view on their use or give guidelines of where we might “draw the line,” as well as reference a number of other articles on the topic.  


However, most of what I come across is directly related to accusations leveled against professional and elite level athletes who have allegedly, admittedly, and/or tested positive for the use of these substances. It is not that often I come across articles that tackle the legalization, and thus regulation, issue of steroids and PED’s. At least, not the kind with enough creative, analytical thought where I felt moved enough to reference their viewpoint here on The Athlete’s Sports Experience.


Well, that drought came to an end Tuesday, August 24th, as former professional cyclist and philosophy student James H. Hibbard put into words some of the very thoughts I myself might write. His piece, The Ripple Effect of Doping in Sports, in last week’s The Huffington Post gives a much more in-depth and global perspective to the idea of legalizing performance-enhancement substances, emphasizing the larger, far-reaching impact of just such a decision.


Spain's Alberto Contador of Astana in front of the Arc de Triomphe during the Final Stage of the 2010 Tour de France cycling race run between Longjumeau and the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France on July 25, 2010. Photo by James Startt/Agence Zoom/Cameleon/ABACAPRESS.COM Photo via Newscom

The beginning of his article uses cycling (something James is undoubtedly familiar with) and the Floyd Landis escapades to demonstrate the current landscape that has become a part of this high level endurance sport. He goes on to discuss two principles that supporters of PED legalization use as their foundation. One, that the sheer number of scandals in the sport prove it to be endemic, and two, that legalizing its use would allow regulation to make it safer. He even cites Stephen J. Dubner’s (co-author of Freakonomics) article in the New York Times where Dubner actually supports the idea of “regulated doping.”


James counters with some well-written and well-thought-out statements that go far beyond the surface of this issue. His comments dig much deeper than the shallow thought processes mentioned above (things he details further in his piece) by focusing on a much broader perspective. James writes,


“If doping were to be allowed, rising to the highest levels of sport becomes contingent not upon only hard work, talent, and perseverance, but also upon an athlete’s willingness to take risks with their health.”


With regard to regulation he states,


“Allowing for the regulated use of performance-enhancing drugs does not stop the arms race of doping among athletes, but only sanctions it. If a formerly banned substance were to be allowed at a particular level (which is lower than that at which one can maximize one’s performance) one can almost be certain that there will be an athlete willing to take the risk of using the substance not at the regulated medically safe level, but rather at a level sufficient to yield the greatest competitive advantage.”


The weight of these statements should play a big role in determining any direction toward legalization of PED’s, that’s for sure.


James concludes his piece with very level headed thinking that infers how different the landscape would become if steroid and PED use were to become decriminalized. In fact, I could not possibly do justice to his words and must encourage you to read his entire article using the link I have provided at the beginning.


However, I would like to leave you with one other quote he has, one I especially like:


“There will always be champions and also-rans, but doping makes it impossible to discern one group from the other.”


I couldn’t agree more, James!!!

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