Marolt: Time to legalize Performance Enhancing Drugs
November 28, 2017
In a sports headline you may have missed a two-time Russian bobsled gold medalist was busted for using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and stripped of his awards. He is fighting the allegations. There must have been some mistake in the testing. He is attempting, of course, to garner public sympathy in his plight, but nobody cares anymore.
I fondly recall the halcyon days of rampant PED usage amongst athletes and the utter widespread outrage it caused amongst fans in those days we fondly refer to as the steroid era. Scandal rocked baseball when big name after big name succumbed to blanketing investigations — Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and on and on. When Roger Clemens was nabbed in a dragnet of syringes and client lists discarded in the dumpster behind a Miami testosterone clinic, he claimed the drug shipments tracked to his house were his wife's, who was toning up for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo shoot.
Medals were stripped. Record books were expunged. Jose Conseco wrote a book fessing up to drug use and laying out the truth about everyone using them and was blackballed from baseball. Then there was Lance. He was the ultimate icon of the period, holding the dubious distinction as one of the worst offenders of chemically enhanced cheating while at the time sucking in the largest cadre of staunch defenders in complete denial.
And, what did all of this lead to? I'm not sure. We have either been anesthetized into oblivion or have quietly capitulated to the reality that drugs are now and forever a part of sports. In the summer that just ended, baseballs were hit harder, farther and more frequently than in the steroid era. Meanwhile the once elusive 100-mph fastball has become almost commonplace. And, amidst all this going on before our very eyes, we explain it away by saying the balls are being wound tighter? There is no need to call the players "cheaters" when the fans are lying to themselves.
In the past two decades technological advances have grown coincidentally in lockstep with the money tree blossoming in sports. Meanwhile, as fans have become bored with PED news, those running high-level athletics have lost incentive to clean sports up. All things considered, it is easy to see who has the upper hand between those who create brand new synthetic PEDs and those trying to catch athletes abusing them.
Not since Waterloo has there been a battle less worth waging than this war on PEDs. Is using them really cheating when everyone in the game is on them? It seems that we have achieved a level playing field in that regard.
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We have been told that PEDs are dangerous and in turn have passed that information down to our children. But do we know that PEDs are, in fact, dangerous? We know there are powerful effects and, undoubtedly, when it comes to unsupervised abuse of these potent substances there will invariably be seriously bad outcomes. Yet, even though their use has been widespread in professional sports for years, the evidence of massively damaging consequences on athletes has not been widely publicized. We know they are only psychologically addictive. CTE appears to be a far greater concern than PEDs in football, where steroid use has been anecdotally reported as rampant for years, if not decades.
While the thought of turning athletes into medical crash-test dummies to ascertain the long-term effects of PED use is utterly repugnant, if they are voluntarily choosing to use them and there is no feasible way to stop them from doing so, doesn't it nonetheless make sense to introduce some sort of professional supervision and monitoring into the equation?
Of course, there is the issue of children. If we legalize PEDs for adult athletes, doesn't that send the wrong message to kids? There is a high probability that when children realize their idols are using steroids and growth hormones and such, they will be enticed to use them, too. We have to decide if that is a risk we are willing to take since it is unlikely that young athletes will take PED use on under anyone's supervision but their own.
There is a model, though. We have taken a similar tack on the legalization of pot. We argued that pot was no more dangerous than alcohol, and I will argue that PEDs are no more harmful than legalized pot for adults. How can that possibly harm kids? This seems like a good place to end.
Roger Marolt thinks snow is one of the few slippery slopes worth navigating. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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