A number of commentators have postulated recently that steroids aren’t the health menace that they are purported to be. The gist of the argument is that the dangers of steroids are often overstated and that they can be relatively safe when given under a doctor’s care.
It follows, then, that adults should be able to choose on their own whether to use the steroids to enhance performance.
This logic has a strange and creepy feel.
First, some background. Here are a couple of recent discussions on the topic:
Much of this commentary seems to branch from the work of Eric Walker, a former National Public Radio correspondent whose lengthy examination of the matter has provided fodder for columnists and bloggers for a couple of years now.
The central confusion is that scientists have different perspectives on the long-term adverse effects of steroids. Walker’s piece lays out a contrarian view in considerable detail, but there’s a lot of information on the web and elsewhere that argues to the contrary. With so much discussion, everybody should be able to develop a personal attitudes about performance enhancement if the issue matters enough to them.
My question is this: What about the athletes who don’t believe steroids are safe for performance enhancement? If steroids are made legal, doesn’t that create a de facto condition in which every athlete must take them to keep up?
On this point, the Walker piece relies heavily on the thoughts of noted steroid authority Charles Yesalis, whose views reflect the complexity of the entire discussion.
As knowledgeable as Yesalis is (and he is knowledgeable), he appears to espouse a fragile view that the use of performance-enhancing drugs might not be different from other tools that enhance athletic performance but invite risk (aspirin, fiberglass poles for vaulting, weight training, etc.). The message: If you can’t accept the risk, then don’t get in the field.
Should people be persuaded by such an argument? After all, it would continue to espouse free choice even if steroids were unequivocally proven to have serious adverse long-term health effects.
In fact, the ethical discussion leads to a warren of seeming inconsistencies, regardless of your position. This was examined in detail by Thomas H. Murray, president of The Hastings Center, a nonpartisan research institution dedicated to bioethics. Murray raises the key question: “What do we value in sport? Emerging technologies − from hypoxic chambers and carbon fiber prostheses to genetic manipulation − will force us consider what, after all, is the point of sport?”
For what it’s worth, those who advocate for the controlled use of performance-enhancing drugs support the concept only at the professional level. Whatever the level, the bad taste remains. Coerced drug use is a bad idea.
What do you think? Are current controls on performance-enhancement drugs appropriate? Would relaxing laws and rules in this area encourage steroid use by younger athletes? To what degree is a philosophy of “better athletics through chemistry” justifiable?
NCAA Insider is an occasional take on college sports issues, as viewed by NCAA communications staff member David Pickle. Opinions are his alone.