The steroids era in baseball is one of the classic examples of what can happen when there is doping in sports. This time in America’s pastime involved players using numerous performance enhancing drugs, resulting in an increased level of offensive performance. There is no “start” date to this era, but it is believed to have begun in the 1980s, and then it ran through the late 2000s. It should be noted that steroids were banned by baseball in 1991.
Doping has created several historical outcomes in sports which are not always treated with the reverence that they would have if drugs or hormonal treatments were not involved. The MLB single-season home run record is an example of this. Since Babe Ruth’s record season of 60 home runs, there have been four players who have held that record since: Roger Maris, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. All four of these players have their bats in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but they are not there.
Baseball is not the only sport which deals with doping. Every athletic opportunity at almost any age bracket looks at the use of performance enhancers as a way to get the “edge” needed for success. In a survey of student athletes in eastern France, 1.2% of students as young as 11 admitted to using steroids, salbutamol, and even marijuana.
These are the doping in sports pros and cons that we should be worrying about right now.
List of the Pros of Doping in Sports
1. It gives athletes the freedom to take risks that they feel are appropriate.
Performance enhancing drugs give the human body a short dose of medicine that allows people to work out harder, faster, and longer while reducing their risks of suffering an injury. Whether it is applied through a cream, an injection, or pills, athletes can use these items for short periods, and then stop the cycle to allow their bodies to recover. Although this action does come with a risk to their health, that choice should be theirs to make instead of dictated by someone else.
2. Competition is not impacted by the use of performance enhancing substances.
The nature of humanity creates unfair competition at times without the use of drugs or hormones. If we wanted to create an environment that was truly fair, then we would need to ban training and coaching altogether. People who train harder will always go further than those who choose not to train at all. Although competition is unfair if there is unequal access to enhancements, leveling the playing field through deregulation instead of prohibition would create results that were more authentic.
3. Doping doesn’t shift the skill that is required to perform.
Hitters like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire are often criticized because of their ability to hit a baseball further because of the real or perceived notion that they took drugs to do so. Even if they took performance enhancing drugs every day, that doesn’t change the fact that these men must hit the baseball in the first place to get a home run. Doping might help people perform better on some level, but it doesn’t shift the foundation of their skill at all. You must be able to compete naturally in the first place for this issue to be problematic. If Sosa and McGwire struck out all the time, no one would care about the performance enhancers because they wouldn’t have been in MLB in the first place.
4. It is another tool that athletes can use to reach their personal goals.
Although some athletes might feel pressured into the use of performance enhancing drugs, the results at the end of the day always come back to a choice. No one forces someone to become a competitive athlete, just like no one holds down someone to administer a PED injection unwillingly. People who commit themselves to winning games, performing to high standards, and competing at higher levels feel compelled to make themselves stronger and better. Is it unethical for one athlete to train for 4 hours per day while another only practices for 60 minutes?
5. Doping is something that is a part of sports for generations already.
Even in 2000, when testing for PEDs and doping during the Olympics reached a feverish pitch, only eight people out of 110,000 athletes testing positive for a banned substance. The fact is that athletes who choose to take these methods use the advice of sports physicians and other specialized work from the medical community to “beat” the tests that would detect their usage of these substances in the first place. Athletes who want to compete at the highest level will look for ways to win. That has always been part of the game. Technologies make humans faster and stronger. Should they be banned as well?
6. The rules of fair competition already use manipulative tactics.
We draw a thin line between what is morally acceptable in sports and what is not. People think of doping as something that is unethical because it gives someone a potential “edge” in winning. Then something like loading up on carbohydrates before an extensive endeavor is seen as acceptable because it gives that person “energy.” One could say that it takes more courage to place your health at risk through the use of PEDs than it does to eat four potatoes the night before a competition.
7. Items classified as doping products are often vouched for as a safe item.
The Food and Drug Administration in the United States, the National Institutes of Health, and even the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists all vouch on some level that human growth hormone is safe to take. This substance appears on the WADA code as a prohibited substance or method that runs against rules of fair play and character. Isn’t it time we look at the purpose of what an athlete is attempting to accomplish instead of how they take care of themselves? People who follow the “spirit” of a sport will continue to do so, whether they take HGH or like to eat steak every night for dinner.
8. Performance enhancing drugs are often see as illicit drugs by students.
There will always be some students who take steroids or other PEDs because they see their favorite athlete doing the same. That element of permission has always been involved in the youth-athlete relationship. Students will drink the same sodas, buy the same foods, and purchase the products that their idol pitches because it makes the relationship feel closer for them. Survey data suggests that steroid use amongst teens is similar to the trends of other drugs that young people take, including marijuana and cocaine. There’s a good chance that teenage boys taking steroids to workout longer are wanting to look more attractive more than wanting to perform better.
9. Fans are interested in the outcome of the game more than player health.
Did you know that there were only 10 players in the NFL that weighed more than 300 pounds in 1986? There are more than 300 professionals at that weight limit or higher today. No one cared that Mark McGwire was taking nandrolone when he competed during the 1998 season to break the all-time home run record in baseball. Although there are always exceptions, fans are generally more interested in the outcome of a game more than they are the way a player gets ready for it. They want results. Doping, right or wrong, helps to create those results.
List of the Cons of Doping in Sports
1. Performance enhancers have a negative effect on long-term health.
Doping activities create the potential of long-term negative health effects, even if they do offer added strength to a person’s tendons, bones, and muscles. What is often ignored are the long-term consequences of taking this drugs or hormones, which can include acne problems all over the skin, impotence in men, issues with balding, and difficulty in controlling one’s emotions.
Performance-enhancing drugs in children can also stunt a child’s growth. Anyone who is actively doping creates a higher risk of liver or heart damage for themselves, including a higher risk of blood clots.
2. It could create an unfair playing field for the sport.
Despite numerous tests that were “clean,” Lance Armstrong eventually admitted to using banned substances throughout the majority of his cycling career. That included the use of erythropoietin and human growth hormone. He also stated on the Oprah Winfrey show that he had been blood doping. Armstrong won seven Tour de France titles during this time, which shows how dominant someone can be when they go to extreme lengths to manipulate their physical health. Doping can set the stage for unfair play, putting athletes who aren’t taking drugs or hormones at a disadvantage.
3. Elite athletes respond differently to performance enhancing drugs.
PEDs to the average person might produce slightly better results than diet and exercise alone. For the elite athlete, however, the results tell a very different story. That is because the drugs and hormones they use allow them to improve at a much greater extent than any other type of intervention that is found on the market today. Training regimens, biomechanical measurements, and complex physiological responses cannot match what the enhance effects of doping provides. When you’re looking at the “best of the best,” it is clear to see that there are “natural” results, and then there are “enhanced” results.
4. It creates a competitive environment which encourages coercion.
Once a single athlete decides that using performance enhancing drugs is to their benefit, then it creates a powerful effect of peer pressure on the remainder of the individuals involved in that competition. Sports Illustrated demonstrated this effect by surveying Olympic athletes about using doping as a way to experience success. Over 50% admitted that they would be willing to take a drug, even if it eventually killed them, if it would allow them to win each event they entered for five consecutive years. Performance enhancers speak directly to the “win at any cost” mentality that athletes feel pressured into when performing.
5. It holds the athletes hostage physically and competitively.
The International Olympic Committee retains ownership of every urine and blood sample given by an athlete for eight years following the Games in which they competed. As part of their rights in this manner, they are able to re-test samples using new techniques that are developed to determine if a prohibited substance was in use during the event. They can then go back retroactively to change the outcome as a way to hold the person accountable to their actions. That means if a shift in the rules takes place, it is possible for doping activities, real or perceived, to be used as a way to control the outcome of events from an organizational level.
6. It creates a situation where athletes are often operating outside of medical supervision.
The legalization of performance enhancing drugs in competitive events could help to reduce the risks to the health of the athlete because it would place them under medical supervision for their activities. Instead of using doctors to look for ways to beat doping tests, these medical professionals could consult with each athlete to determine the best training regimen to follow that maximizes results. Without this supervision, athletes are often forced to work on their own, which creates a higher risk to their health.
7. Doping changes how the games would be played.
If doping continues unchecked in athlete competition, then it would require changes in the rules to accommodate the shifts in performance. We’ve already seen this happen without the involvement of PEDs as well. Goaltending rules in basketball were introduced to prevent removing the ball from the cylinder after players grew tall and strong enough to get above the rim. The end result of such an action would be a change in the rules, which would create the need for more doping, and that creates a cycle that would continuously repeat unless the performance enhancers were removed from the equation.
8. Sportsmanship is reduced when doping is present in sports.
Programs that seek to remove doping as a viable activity for athletes want to preserve what is valuable about competition in the first place. Athletic competitions and games should be fun, build character, and offer a foundation of honesty. People excel through fair play, ethics, and teamwork. You must have a respect for oneself before there is an embrace of the true competitive nature that occurs during these events. Doping takes this away because there is no long-term self-respect involved. PEDs give you short-term gains at the expense of your long-term health.
9. Doping as a professional teaches kids that it is an acceptable form of conduct.
Many student athletes, including those in youth sports, look up to professionals who play the same game or a similar position as a role model. These people are a significant influence on the life of the child. Many will emulate how they train, work, and play the game as a way to get better. When these kids see their idol involved in doping as a way to get ahead of the competition, then they will be tempted to do the same thing. Professionals might have access to specialized medical care, but most youth will not.
10. Sports would become an issue of access if doping were allowed.
The issue with doping often comes down to this specific disadvantage. Results in any event, at any level, would be based on the amount of access to pharmacological substances more than it would be skill and endurance. The teams that would win most often would be the ones where a majority of the players could afford PEDs and use them most effectively. Fans might be interested in outcomes, and players might be willing to trade glory for a longer life, but none of that changes the fact that taking drugs in sports becomes a competition between the haves and the have-nots.
The pros and cons of doping in sports always come back to choice and fairness. Should an athlete be able to use PEDs as a tool to help them be successful? If they make that choice, does that create a game or competition that is unfair? Sammy Sosa never won the World Series, hit over 600 home runs, and may never make it to the Hall of Fame. Others from the steroids era in baseball face similar circumstances. They might have another opinion on the matter.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.