Why Steroids Have No Place in Sports

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Category: Sports & Law
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Ask anyone with a decent knowledge of sports and current events, and they will tell you: doping in sport is a problem. Nearly every week, another high-profile doping story makes its way to the headlines of newspapers around the world. A quick Google News search for “doping” revealed over 7,500 results from the past week alone. The stories ranged from the lesser known 2 Youth Olympic Games Wrestlers who were recently suspended to the more famous 2010 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador’s positive test.

Earlier this month, Brent Musburger (an ABC/ESPN  sports commentator) told a group of students at University of Montana that steroids work. Musburger blamed “journalism youngsters” who “got too deeply involved in something they didn’t know too much about” for the negative image steroids and doping now have. He went on to say that steroids had no place in high school, but “under the proper care and doctor’s advice, they could be used at the professional level.” (Quotes take from the Missoulian article.)

If you know me (or have been in a class with me), you know how I feel about doping in sports. In fact, anti-doping was one of the reasons I came to law school, and more specifically to Marquette. My view is that doping has no place in sport. The story of how I came to become so staunchly against doping is for another day (and perhaps a different venue), but basically involves my love for the sport of cycling and the systematic doping that plagues that sport. Suffice it to say that I take a firm stance against doping in all sports in all forms.

It probably goes without saying that I could not disagree with Musburger more. Doping, least of all in the form of anabolic steroids, has no place in sports – amateur or professional. I think all anti-doping arguments come down to two basic principles, only one of which Musburger addresses in his blanket approval of steroid use in professional athletes.

First, doping threatens the health of athletes. Musburger argues that with proper medical supervision, steroids can be healthy. While this might be true in some (and I would suggest limited) cases, it would certainly not be true in all cases. The use of steroids can have serious health repercussions, including affected liver, endocrine, and reproductive function, tumors of the liver and kidneys, heart conditions, and psychiatric symptoms. Additionally, the article just linked goes on to mention the increased probability of side effects when 1) steroids are used more than the recommended dose, 2) steroids are used in conjunction with other performance enhancing substances, and 3) counterfeit or tainted steroids are used.

Legalizing steroid use would not solve these problems. The side effects listed in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (a part of the National Institute of Health) article are not restricted to improper use of steroids. I will not detail out the side effects of not only steroids, but also the use of hGH and EPO (often used in cycling), the NCBI does a nice job of listing those and providing citations to studies. Furthermore, the drive to win will always encourage athletes to take “just one more.” Sure, proper medical supervision would ensure that an athlete receives the proper dose from that doctor, but when that athlete fails to win the next race, game, or match, he or she is more likely to increase the dose or combine other methods of doping.

Second, and unaddressed by Musburger, doping affects the integrity of sport. Sport is not about simply winning. The saying “It’s not about whether you win or lose, it’s how you played the game,” although cliché, is absolutely correct. The Olympic Movement identifies the Olympic spirit – mutual understanding, spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play – as fundamental to sport. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was founded on the principle that integrity of sport is fundamental to the spirit of sport, and that integrity is threatened by doping. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) division on anti-doping believes that “doping jeopardizes the moral and ethical basis of sport and the health of those involved in it.” The National Football League itself created its own steroid policy because steroid use threatens “the fairness and integrity of athletic competition“ and “sends the wrong message to young people who may be tempted to use them.” Sports are about competition on equal footing, with respect for the opponent, and with respect for the rules of the game.

Permitting the use of steroids under proper medical supervision would threaten the fairness and integrity of the game. First, athletes who choose not to use steroids are at an unfair advantage – most will be unable to compete at the same level as athletes who are using steroids. Second, the integrity of the game is compromised because it is no longer about which athlete has the best skills or talent, it’s instead about which athlete has the best steroid cocktail or the money to buy the best steroids. Thus, steroid use is contrary to the spirit of sport – fairness, respect, and solidarity. The concept of mutual respect between competitors is thwarted when one (or both) athletes would rather use steroids to improve his or her performance than compete based on individual strength, skill, or talent.

However, if health and integrity concerns aren’t enough to convince you, consider this final point. Law students, and indeed lawyers, are fond of the slippery slope argument. I think it finds a comfortable place in this debate. It’s a slippery slope between allowing steroid use with proper medical supervision and eliminating anti-doping regulations. Where is the line to be drawn? Will it now be illegal to use steroids only if taken without proper medical supervision? How can proper medical supervision be proven? How does an athlete prove that the steroids in his or her body were as a result of proper medical supervision and not other means? What about athletes who use more than the recommended dose? What about other forms of doping (hGh or EPO)? Are those next to be permitted under proper medical supervision? It’s difficult to see how regulating the use of steroids in sport is workable.

The only way to preserve integrity in sport and protect the health of athletes is through a serious anti-doping approach. Anti-doping efforts are most successful when the “law” (anti-doping policy) sets forth clear, bright-line rules about when and what substances are prohibited. Although a long way from perfect, WADA has created the most comprehensive anti-doping program in the world (indeed the only anti-doping program most of the world outside of the US models and implements). American professional sports leagues should be looking at ways to model the WADA code in its own anti-doping policies (like the United States Anti-Doping Agency is doing), not seeking ways to excuse steroid use or compromise anti-doping efforts. Steroids have no place in sports.

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13 Responses to “Why Steroids Have No Place in Sports”

  1. Tom Kamenick Says:

    I dunno, does doping affect the “integrity” of a sport any more than money to afford top of the line exercise equipment, or brand new technology in shoes or swimsuits? What about medical technology that repairs worn-out human parts? How many athletes have had joint repairs?

    I think the health argument is stronger, although I don’t think it’s that strong to begin with. Many of these sports are already incredibly damaging to the athletes’ health, so choosing to participate in them is a big risk to begin with. Adding another risk on top of that is simply another dangerous choice made.

  2. Many people have been the beneficiaries of using illegal steroids. In baseball, it has made many owners and players very rich. The idea that no one knew players were using steroids and PEDs is preposterous. They all knew and chose to get rich rather than protect the integrity of the sport. Likewise, in cycling doping made many riders rich. In pro and college football, it created the modern monsters of the midway, but unlike baseball which was floundering, the NFL didn’t need to showcase players full of drugs to make the sport popular. Thus the NFL’s complicity has flown under the radar but it is just as guilty.

    We live in an odd country. Some people who use illegal drugs spend their lives in prison; others become rich. If there is significant money to be made, illegal steroid use is simply granted a free pass by all those involved. The fraud that baseball became, based on the illegal usage of steroids, HGH and other drugs, is a classic case. Given the choice between getting rich and exposing the fraud, baseball teams – owners and players alike – chose to get rich. They took the money and left the public holding the bag.

  3. Steroids are no good for health and have already ended many wrestler’s lives. I dont agree with the sentence – ‘Musburger argues that with proper medical supervision, steroids can be healthy.’ Allowing steroids will kill common persons interest in sports.
    - Jack

  4. Patrick Sterk Says:

    Steroids are a problem in sports to be sure, but the temptation is just too great to ever fully eradicate the matter.

    In Ken Burns’ new documentary “The 10th Inning,” his latest addition to “Baseball,” he sat down with Chris Rock. In the interview, Rock observed, “Who, in the whole country, wouldn’t take a pill to make more money at their job?” Rock then asked Ken Burns, if there was a pill that would make him as much money for his films as Stephen Spielberg, would Ken Burns take it?

    This question epitomizes the steroid problem in sports. Whether or not such substances are banned, there will always be the impulse by someone to try it anyway — to improve their situation and to garner ever greater fame, success, and wealth.

  5. It is interesting you cite Ken Burns’ “Tenth Inning.” I really liked his Civil War series, but his coverage of a decade’s worth of steroid abuse was a complete whitewash. He gave everyone a free pass. They all basically claimed the law, the CBA, or some other reason kept them from doing something about it.

    No, all Bud Selig had to do was speak out. As I recall, when the hitting explosion began first the baseball itself was blamed as being “juiced.” Then it was the bats. Finally it was the players but everyone claimed there was no proof even though formerly skinny players began to look like Hulk Hogan.

    Players cheating and breaking the law by even having steroids without prescriptions is one thing. The fraud that was perpetrated on the fans to induce them to buy tickets is another. In the end, it was Congress that exposed the fraud and demanded action, not MLB. Ken Burns’ coverage of this was a whitewash, thus making him just as guilty.

  6. Mitch Clark Says:

    I agree with the article, steroids truly have no place in sports. Steroids should not be used even for medical reasons because they have such a negative effect on the human body. Even looking from a non-heath point of view, when players use steroids they are giving themselves an unfair advantage. The stronger and faster players are also the ones going to be the one breaking the records. Which is unfair for earlier athletes, who might still hold some records in their desired sport, because they worked hard and did not use steroids.
    What Brent Musburger said to the Montana students is really quite disturbing. Being such a popular figure in sports and going and saying that steroids work really creates a bad image for him. Sure steroids work but are they right to use, no. Its bad enough we have professional athletes, who children look to as role models, using steroids. If kids see these athletes using steroids they will think it is ok and Musburger’s statement only reinforces the idea to the youth.
    The game has changed dramatically from what it used to be. Today, in most cases athletes are playing for themselves. They want to be the best and have the largest paycheck. It has really revolutionized from being a team sport into an individual sport. I personally think in order to completely stop steroids in sports every sports league needs to have a zero-tolerance policy. Having this zero-tolerance policy will hopefully send a message to all athletes to not use steroids.

  7. Adam Tanielian Says:

    This article takes the moral/ethical/legal approach, which is perfectly legitimate in the purely theoretical context. It’s ideal that we should consider there no place in any sport for cheating, but such is not a reality. In fact, next week in London, I dare say that 0% of the weightlifters, sprinters, hammer throwers, shot putters, speed cyclists and others will have a perfectly clean track record. It’s more likely that near 100% will have used banned substances, including anabolic steroids, at some point in their athletic careers. Doping scandals are increasing in frequency. Levels of competition at the Olympics, in professional and NCAA sports reflects an implicit mandate that illegal drugs be used by players, or that those players should quit and give up their aspirations to be competitive at higher levels. NCAA-affiliate institutions may qualify as Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, although some will hold that a) only players are responsible for their abuses; b) criminal negligence, contributory and vicarious liability cannot be proven to have existed on the part of institutional personnel; c) there’s no proof that players who don’t test positive have used; etc. The NCAA, like NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, FIFA, RLIF, etc. doesn’t test regularly enough to catch players. Infrequent testing completely nullifies the scientific reliability of testing as evidence of non-use. Methodological inadequacies undoubtedly exist intentionally, so that players can use in the off season and not get caught, and so universities and pro leagues can keep the big revenues coming in. At some top-25 universities, sports revenues are greater than tuition. Head coaches are often the highest paid person on the payroll at unis. Those same unis educate the nation and world, and they teach people to implicitly accept, support, and habituate negligence, inadequate testing, white collar crime, and abuses associated with sports doping. There are hundreds of billions, if not trillions of USD economic losses associated with the crimes, but as long as those real accounting revenue streams keep coming in, and the law doesn’t cramp the style of the sports, as long as there isn’t a backlash from the public, as long as the public keeps showing they like doped-up sports more than they like clean play, then steroids do have a place in sports. In fact, when it comes to offensive and defensive lineman on football teams, heavyweights on collegiate wrestling teams, plenty of swimmers, most competitive cyclists, virtually all competitive power lifters, sluggers on baseball teams, thugs on hockey teams, more basketball players now than ever, even golfers and tennis pros, including women – what doesn’t have a place in sports is clean athletes. They’ve been replaced by dopers and people seem to love it, or at least tolerate it. The division 1 state university football team wouldn’t win a single game if its linemen and others didn’t use anabolic steroids. The rest are somewhere in the domino line in the USA.

  8. Jay Reynolds Says:

    Mitch Clark said, “Steroids should not be used even for medical reasons because they have such a negative effect on the human body.”

    Steroids only have a negative effect given misuse and abuse. The suggestion that steroid hormones should not be used in medicine is flatly absurd.

  9. Kent Lambert Says:

    Taking these drugs could be considered cheating as well. While there are many players in sports taking Performance Enhancing Drugs, there are still many who do not. For the ones who do not use them, they put in hours of hard work to get stronger for the sport they play. Athletes that do take them get the same effect in a much shorter time frame and many of the drugs they take give them more energy to work out harder and longer.
    They also do not show the true skills that a player may possess. For example, if a baseball player is a weak hitter but then takes steroids and works out while he is on them, he will get really big and strong and start to crush the baseball, then he is showing the skills that the drugs helped him create. A Tuft University study showed that steroids can increase home run production by 50 percent showing that steroids are the reason why this weak hitter started crushing the baseball. Steroids help people get stronger a lot faster than if they did not take them.
    The focus of league officials would come back to the sport being played. Instead of them worrying about who has been taking Performance Enhancing drugs and how long they need to suspend that person for, they could worry about who hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th or who just won the gold in the Olympics all without worrying about what they did to get so good.
    Performance enhancing drugs should not be allowed in any sport ever and the government should stay out of the entire struggle with these drugs in sports. The problems with Performance Enhancing drugs has proliferated over the years but if the government stepped in and tried to deal with it, it would just give them another responsibility that they may not be able to handle. They may also be able to take steps that are too extreme, such as throwing people in jail.

    Performance enhancing drugs are profoundly harmful deleterious to the human body and should under no circumstances, be used in sports. They cause many life threatening illnesses such as heart attacks and disease. They also provide inequitable advantages and do not show an athlete’s authentic competence. Even with the good that can come out of Performance Enhancing drugs, they are not worth the fatal risks and being known as a cheater for the rest of an athlete’s career. Keep all Performance Enhancing drugs out of sports forever!

  10. Marc Velasquez Says:

    Steroids should be banned because in 2007 professional Chris Benoit murdered his wife, his son and then himself; the cause was from steroids. Eddie Guerrero was another professional wrestler who died from heart failure in 2005 from steroid use. Benoit and Guerrero were young.

  11. @Marc Velasquez Chris Benoit did use steroids but what they say drove him to kill his wife and child was tramatic brain injury from taking bumps to the head over and over again. They said his brain was that of a 80-year-old dementia patient. Eddy did steroids too but his heart problems were caused by years of hard drugs and prescription drug use not steroids.

  12. miranda malfavon Says:

    Steroids need to be illegal!! It is not fair for people who work hard for their big muscles and who go to the gym everyday, and someone else just injects themself with a needle or whatever. And it is so horrible for the people who take steroids because it messes up your body so much!!!

  13. Roderick Bargo Says:

    Steroids are just an excuse or an easy way to get bigger. People who uses steroids are just lazy to work for it or gain it themselves. I’m glad its banned in sports, because its just plain stupid for people to use it! I’m with @miranda malfavon–it should be illegal!

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