If we really want to talk about safety in sport, we should also be prepared to discuss changes to the rules and equipment of sports that are themselves inherently dangerous. Formula One motorsport, once the deadliest sport, hasn`t killed a driver in more than six years, largely due to sweeping changes in track technology and car safety. Meanwhile, professional boxing remains inherently dangerous; David Rickman died in a fight in March 2004, despite having a physical exam the day before.36 The World Anti-Doping Agency Code declares a drug illegal if it enhances performance, poses a health risk, or violates the “spirit of sport”.10 They define this spirit as follows.11 The spirit of sport is the celebration of the human spirit, Body and mind and is characterized by the following values: So if we really want to create a level playing field, maybe it`s time to go the other way: legalize performance enhancers. We can continue the trend of cringing and hysteria, with one doping scandal after another further embarrassing professional athletics – or we can legalize and regulate performance-enhancing drugs, to the benefit of both sport and sports fans. Let us do ourselves and our athletes a service by allowing them to do their best. Not everyone looks up when a top athlete dopes. Some offer excuses: the pressure to perform is overwhelming and the rewards are too tempting to resist. We allow special diets, scientifically optimized training, and new devices, so why ban drugs or, in Lance`s case, whole blood bags? Aren`t all these technologies designed to deliver exceptional performance? In some sports at certain times, almost all competitors dope: how could an athlete have a chance to win? Classical musicians often use β blockers to control their stage fright. These drugs lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce the physical effects of stress, and have been shown to improve the quality of a musical performance when the musician takes these medications.12 Although elite classical music is arguably just as competitive as elite sports and the rewards are similar, the use of these drugs is not stigmatized. We think no less of the violinist or pianist who uses them. If the audience deems the performance enhanced with drugs, then drugs allow the musician to express himself more effectively. Competition between elite musicians has rules – you can`t imitate the violin on an accompanying CD.
But there is no rule against using chemical enhancements. “As a father and sports enthusiast, I understand the dangers that performance-enhancing drugs pose to athletes, as well as teenagers trying to emulate them, not to mention the effect these drugs have on the integrity of sport. As president, I would use the tyrannical pulpit in my office to warn Americans of the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs, and I would invest more resources in enforcing existing drug laws. I would also convene a summit of commissioners of professional sports leagues, as well as university presidents, to explore options to reduce the use of these drugs. “Yes, athletes will always try to cheat wherever the line is drawn. But by focusing on measurable physiological parameters and applying only zero tolerance to drugs that are dangerous at any dose, we have the opportunity to change the balance so that the rules we have are enforceable and it is rational not to cheat. We will also be able to tell athletes, teams and national agencies that these rules are really important. Does it matter if someone increases their hematocrit by sleeping in a hypoxic pneumatic tent or by using erythropoietin if the result is the same? No.
But the doctrine of strict liability makes sacrifices for athletes like those on the East German swimming team, who compete in good faith but have been forced to take medication. It also seems dogmatically punitive to athletes like British skier Alain Baxter, who accidentally inhaled a banned stimulant using the American version of a Virks decongestant inhaler without knowing it was different from the British model.42 We argue that it is clear that children who are not allowed to refuse harmful drugs should not receive them from their coaches or parents. But the same principles that make this point obvious should also make it clear that these kids shouldn`t be involved in elite sports in the first place. However, if children are allowed to train as professional athletes, they should be allowed to take the same medications, as long as they are not more dangerous than their training. In addition, players undertake to dispel any suggestion that becoming a major league athlete somehow involves taking illegal performance-enhancing substances such as steroids. You don`t have to be a doctor to realize that steroids are powerful drugs that no one should fool. This is especially true for children and young adults, as medical research clearly indicates that illegal steroid use can be particularly harmful to them. Athletes who are clean face a clearly doped terrain and a climate of denial. They face a perverse dilemma: they must choose between living with the disadvantage and accepting the likely financial losses, or joining the scammers.
If they do, they risk complete ruin as a scapegoat if caught. American runner Justin Gatlin, for example, has complained that previous doping suspensions have led to biased and unfair coverage of his performance. The main reason why performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are banned in professional sports is that they give users an unfair advantage over the rest of the field. Various professional sports leagues have tried to create a level playing field by testing for drug use and suspending those convicted. It`s a noble effort, but it`s clearly not working. The harsh penalties have done little to reduce the number of cyclists caught cheating each year. As Deadspin usefully points out, the heirs to Lance Armstrong`s seven titles on the Tour de France have all been implicated in doping scandals. Major League Baseball also imposes bans each season on players caught with banned substances, and it`s absurd to think that these players are the only ones guilty of juice.
Doping then becomes part of the big question that humanity is beginning to ask itself as nature is increasingly improved with technology. Just as innovations in Formula 1 cars eventually trickle down to your humble sedan, the pills and serums athletes take to reduce their personal best by an extra 0.01 seconds can later usher in a common life-enhancing drug. If it is this climate of cheating that is our main concern, then we should try to design sporting rules that athletes are willing to follow. The result will be that the winner is not the person born with the best genetic potential to be the strongest. Sport would be less of a genetic lottery. The winner will be the person with a combination of genetic potential, training, psychology and judgment. Olympic performance would be the result of creativity and human choices, not a very expensive horse race. Take Barry Larkin, for example, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier this year. Larkin has never been accused of using steroids to my knowledge. But the shortstop hit 33 home runs in 1996, right in the middle of the steroid era. Larkin`s power this year was a career anomaly, as he hasn`t hit more than 20 home runs in any other season. I can`t say that Larkin used steroids, but I also can`t say that he didn`t.
The simple fact is that any player recently inducted into the Hall of Fame will enter under a veil of suspicion and uncertainty, regardless of the evidence. If EPRs are legalized in professional sports, then suspicion would no longer have to apply and the best players would be fairly rewarded for their achievements on the field. Americans love high performance and we love technology. So why do we have problems when it turns out that professional athletes — think Lance Armstrong or A-Rod — have achieved their great feats through performance-enhancing drugs and other banned technologies? “With athletes taking drugs all over the world, many believe that legalizing steroids will solve the problem.