Professional athletes who want to use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) shouldn’t face penalties. The athlete’s body is the source of their income as well as their own property. It is their right to choose how to train and condition themselves for competition.
Sporting events, especially those at a professional level, are nothing more than entertainment. We attend sporting events because we enjoy seeing competition at a level that far surpasses average human ability.
PEDs, as the name suggests, can improve the athletes’ training results; enabling them to jump higher, run faster and become stronger. PEDs can make world-class athletes seem superhuman.
The use of PEDs like anabolic steroids and human growth hormone are almost universally prohibited in professional athletic competitions but that doesn’t stop some athletes from trying to gain a chemically induced edge on their competition.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the agency responsible for enforcing federal drug laws, possession of anabolic steroids carries a penalty of one year in prison and a minimum $1,000 fine for first time offenders. Trafficking the drugs carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $250,000 fine. The penalties can double for repeated offenses.
PED use has been a concern for a while. In 2004, during State of the Union address, President G.W. Bush called upon professional sports leagues to supervise their athletes and reduce PED usage. The clubs apparently didn’t follow the President’s request well enough because Congress introduced legislation in 2005 that took a harder line against athletes testing positive for PEDs.
The controversies around the use of PEDs include the adverse health effects on athletes and the claim that PEDs give an unfair advantage to those who use them over those who don’t. Legalizing these drugs would level that playing field without having to get Congress and the President involved, and fans would benefit.
DEA information claims steroid abuse can cause psychological effects like depression, mania, and aggression as well as addiction in some instances.
The DEA states side effects can differ depending on gender, age, duration of usage and the quantity used. For example, females can experience increased facial and body hair growth, deepening of voice and menstrual irregularities. Males can experience shrinking of testicles, enlargement of breasts, sterility and an increased risk for prostate cancer.
Athletes should be made aware of the side effects and risks of taking such substances. However, that idea is not an enforceable policy as long as PEDs are banned. If they were legal, leagues and governing bodies could require PED education and training. At least then the athletes can say they made an informed decision.
Not all sports ban PEDs, though. Competitive bodybuilders for instance are not barred from using drugs to better their chances of winning. As a result, these athletes are open to talking about their steroid use and they’ll be the first to tell you that PEDs are no substitute for hard work.
This past September, a documentary entitled “Generation Iron” was released by The Vladar Company. The movie featured the world’s top bodybuilders as they trained to compete for bodybuilding’s highest prize, the title of “Mr. Olympia.” Arnold Schwarzenegger won the title seven times and he was on enough ‘roids’ to turn a high school football team into the Green Bay Packers.
“People don’t respect (bodybuilding,)” 2013 Mr. Olympia contestant Ben Pakulski said in an interview during the documentary. “They go, ‘ahh I could do that with steroids.’ No, you couldn’t. You couldn’t do what I do.”
The illegality of PEDs doesn’t stop the use of these substances in professional leagues. Let’s take the face of baseball’s proclaimed “steroid era,” Barry Bonds. The slugger spent his first seven MLB seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he averaged just over 25 home runs a year. Impressive.
But in the 13 seasons that followed, Bonds might as well have had a baseball official inject him with the HGH he was using because the 43 home runs he averaged with the San Francisco Giants weren’t fooling anyone. It was clear that he was up to something. Bonds was convicted of steroid use in 2011.
But don’t fans want to see huge baseball players trying to crush 600 ft. home runs in Home Run Derby contests? Don’t fans want to watch NFL players who can run as fast as Usain Bolt even while wearing football pads? Of course they do.
But PEDs can’t magically turn every athlete into Arnold Schwarzenegger. In baseball, Ichiro Suzuki is going to reach base one out of every three at-bats even without PEDs. An elite NBA point guard like Rajon Rondo can practically put a basketball on a string and zip no-look passes into the paint 11 times per game. An NHL scoring magician like Patrick Kane has enough accuracy to consistently ricochet the puck off the post of the 4’x6’ goal and into the back of the net.
These are attributes professional talent scouts call “intangibles.” Skills like spatial awareness, finesse, accuracy and ability to perform under pressure are unteachable. You either have them or you don’t. Intangibles distinguish the elites among the professionals.
According to DEA “Steroids are purported to increase lean body mass, strength and aggressiveness.” There isn’t any proof PEDs enhance intangible skills.
The point to be made here is that some players won’t even consider taking PEDs whether they’re permitted or not because their game won’t improve. PEDs won’t raise their teams chances of winning the way it would for a player whose game is based more on size and strength.
A good football example would be quarterback Michael Vick. The undersized speed demon can throw a football nearly 80 yards, but not as accurately as some Philadelphia Eagles fans would appreciate. If he were to take a PED such as steroids, it would probably make him faster and stronger, thus enabling him to throw the ball further, but it’s not going to help him become any more accurate.
There are even certain aspects of an athlete’s game that will diminish if they choose to use PEDs.
Barry Bonds is the perfect example yet again. The MLB’s all-time home run leader entered the league at a very average 185 pounds. During which time he was known for his speed; he had great range in the outfield and stole bases at will.
During his first seven seasons (as a Pirate) Bonds averaged 36 stolen bases a year and ranked among the league leaders in that category. In Bonds’ 15 seasons as a Giant he added more than 40 pounds of bulk thanks to HGH but he lost his speed and quickness. As a result he averaged less than 19 stolen bases a year from his eighth year in the league until his retirement.
In fact, Bonds stole 251 bases in seven years with the Pirates but was only able to steal twelve more bases in twice as much time (15 years) with the GIants. This suggests PEDs don’t improve every aspect of a given player’s skill-set, and in some cases natural abilities can diminish as chemically acquired abilities increase.
Barry Bonds famously broke Hank Aaron’s career home run record eventually retiring with 762. But the forgotten statistic is Bonds was on pace to finish top 10 all time for stolen bases had he not sacrificed his speed for power. It was his choice to make, but it demonstrates that Bonds was a freak athlete even before using performance enhancers.
The choice to use PEDs doesn’t just effect on-field performance and athletes should be aware of the side effects. But who are we to tell others how to treat their own body? Especially when their body is what ensures their living.
When it’s time for the PED-using professional athlete to “hang em’ up,” they can say those enhancers helped them earn vast sums of money and accomplish feats that few others could.
They can say they brought excitement and entertainment to other humans through larger-than-life physical accomplishments.
If they’re lucky, their conduct off the field of play may have made them a role model.
Perhaps an athlete’s chemically enhanced body won’t prevent the fans from remembering that through the lens of sports, we see competitors become champions; gods among mortals; but most importantly, sports teach us how to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.
PEDs are a personal choice; their gains come with potential risks. Therefore they force a person to give their all in order to be the best they can be. After all, that’s what sports are all about.