It’s been 12 years since I first remember hearing that Olympic Track and Field legend Marion Jones was accused of using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. At the age of 23, I was naïve to the realities of drug use in professional sports, and I didn’t want to believe that someone who seemed so innocent, clean-cut and pure would use drugs to win. Again, when Lance Armstrong was accused I chose to believe that he was being victimized by the media and that his competitors were just jealous. Wow, was I clueless.
Steroid use has been a problem since the ’60s and it only seems to be getting worse. Clearly something isn’t working within the system, yet society is outraged at the thought of being betrayed by the cheating athlete. We are not quick to forgive and these fallen icons seem to have no chance for redemption within society.
As such, it makes me wonder who creates the rules, and what the value system is. The World Anti-Doping Agency code declares a drug illegal if it is performance enhancing, if it is a health risk, or if it violates the “spirit of sport” (Savulescu, Foddy, Clayton). Here’s why those three reasons lack validity:
- The use of performance-enhancing drugs doesn’t have to be considered cheating. Perhaps if the rules of sport were changed and performance enhancing drugs were made legal with equal access for all athletes, it would no longer be unethical and unfair. Proponents of the legalization of drugs in sport argue that factors such as genetics and wealth contribute to unfair advantages in athletic performance, therefore “by allowing everyone to take performance enhancing drugs, we level the playing field. . . Far from being unfair, allowing performance enhancement promotes equality” (Savulescu, Foddy, Clayton).
- The use of performance enhancing drugs doesn’t necessarily pose a health risk. Knowing that professional athletes continue to use steroids and some slip between the cracks, while others don’t, consider what would happen if these governing bodies actually put the health and safety of the athlete first. Certain safe drugs should be allowed if under the instruction of a physician. Scientists currently struggle to make undetectable drugs, and little or no human testing is being done in the process of development. But if the performance enhancing drugs with a good safety profile (this excludes anabolic steroids) were legalized, the standards for research, development, and testing would be held to a higher standard, making these drugs safer.
- The use of performance enhancing drugs isn’t a violation of the “spirit of sport.” The spirit of sport embodies excellence, teamwork, fair play, commitment, respect for people and rules, and fun. Whether or not an athlete chooses to use performance enhancing drugs should not determine their level integrity. “Enhancing performance is a universal goal and behavior. . . If there is something immoral about any of this, sufficient to justify the witch-hunt that characterizes the current situation, the argument has yet to be made” (Fost).
If performance enhancing drugs are allowed in professional sports, many of the concerns associated with drug use could be reduced or eliminated. With a shift in policy toward the health and safety of the athlete, the paradox of liability and integrity will become less relevant.
ABC News, Point/Counterpoint: Allow Drugs in Sports, Fost
Why We Should Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport, Savulescu/Foddy/Clayton