The case against drug testing

Most people, when and if asked, would consider the use of performance enhancing drugs to be negative. They would see it as giving one athlete an unfair advantage over another and worse, it doesn’t accurately represent the capacity of an athlete because they have been artificially enhanced. As a result of this moral imperative, we have organizations like the World Anti-Doping Agency and Senate Committees on doping in sport. My question, frankly, is why? Why do we care? Why are we so offended by this?

I suspect the answer to this question is really rooted in the Olympics where obviously juiced athletes from the former USSR won Olympic medals when competing against US and Western European Athletes who were either not doping, or not doping as well as the Soviet athletes. It wasn’t until some time after the iron curtain fell that we got a full look at how pervasive the doping was in places like East Germany. Stories arose of shot-putters going through female/male sex changes because of the amount of testosterone they were given. The way these athletes were treated was terrible and serves as a good example of the negative consequences of doping.

Fast forward to 2014 where we have had a rash of high profile doping cases. Many great careers have been tarnished. Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, and Marion Jones, among others, have been implicated and subsequently made an example of. The question remains, why are we so offended by this. In a country where we take a pill for literally anything (erectile dysfunction, restless legs syndrome, feeling sad, not able to sleep, not able to wake up, not being able to pee, peeing too much) including enhancing ones’ life – how is it that we are outraged that Lance Armstrong took EPO so he could better entertain us.

Let me qualify that statement, the point of sport is to entertain fans through competition. It is not really the competition itself. Lance Armstrong’s job was to cycle well so that fans would watch the Tour De France, buy Lance Armstrong jerseys, buy Trek Bicycles, and generally further the sport among non-professionals. Barry Bond’s job was to hit when he was at bat, so fans would buy jerseys, stadiums would sell tickets, and generally further the sport among non-professionals. How is it that it is acceptable for us to enhance our performance, whether it is in bed or otherwise, but a professional athlete can’t?

Besides the fake moral outrage we hurl at athletes, the question of fair play is a valid one. When Lance Armstrong was stripped of his TDF wins another cyclist wasn’t given those titles because all of the top finishers were in one way or another implicated in doping. Since that was the case, wasn’t the playing field effectively level? Of all the athletes that doped, Lance was the best. We know that minor and major league baseball is practically oozing doping, pro football players have been known to dope, and whatever shadows lurk in the NBA (besides illegitimate children) will eventually be exposed. The question is whether these revelations really change the nature of the sport. We expect our athletes to run faster, cycle faster, hit harder, jump farther, dunk from farther away, hit the baseball farther, and swim faster every subsequent year we watch them. If people aren’t breaking records we aren’t happy. Eventually, in order to keep that streak alive, people will resort to the only other way they can keep improving – pharmaceutical enhancement.


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