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PEDs in sports and analyzing the validity of its 3 “ethical wrongs”

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As long and tired as performance enhancing drugs stories in sports, Bill Simmons breathed new life into it with this article, arguably his best in years. He followed it up with discussing it on a podcast with Chuck Klosterman.

What is left out of the article is questions about the ethics of PEDs. Are we sure they’re bad and deserve to be illegal? As far as I’m concerned, the “ethical wrongs” of PEDs comes down to 3 statements

Ethical wrong #1: Cheating is bad and unfair

Very simply, sports players are playing games with specific outlined rules. When they cheat, it’s submarining the purity and fairness of the game. The athletes who don’t cheat and thus perform worse, or get paid less, get screwed out of glory and salary. We also hate the idea of a dishonest sport where players are lieing to us.

Well the way to flip this ethical wrong is pretty simple: Cheating only happens because of the rules we create. If PEDs are made legal, nobody will be concerned about the moral wrong of the players’ cheating, because it’d be no longer against the rules or in secret. They’d be reacted to no differently than legally medical technology used to recover from injury. Cheating is an “ethical wrong” that plausibly, could be eliminated with the rules of the game changing.

Ethical wrong #2: PEDs can have unhealthy consequences

This ethical wrong is based on that legalizing PEDs could push players to extremely dangerous levels altering their body, both in the short term and the long term. The competitiveness of players and the financial pressure put on their success, could lead players to total long term damage physically – it’s their sacrifice to make.

But wait a second, don’t we already live in a world where players dangerously sacrifice their bodies for the glory of sports? Look at football, a violent sport with players out there smashing each other’s heads and bodies in, often leading to long term mental and physical damage for retired players. Hockey is another sport where hits and fighting takes its toll. But the biggest example is boxing, a sport where the goal is literally to knock the opponent’s brain in their skull around until they pass out. Everyone who participates in boxing is sacrificing their health and possibly life, for the short term glory of sports. Professional wrestling is also a legal “sport” with an immense physical toll where many former wrestlers are irreversibly wrecked by the end of their careers. Sports has not set a precedent where its gladiators putting themselves on the line physically, is against our code. If so boxing would’ve been made illegal decades ago. We accept the players’ decision and prerogative to sacrifice themselves physically for us. Because it’s their decision to make. Likewise every “extreme” PED user would making the decision themselves to risk their long term health. If they’d prefer glory and money to health, that’d be their decision. Just as a boxer or football player or professional wrestler knows full well the danger he’s putting himself into. If one is concerned about how it’s unfair that the athlete who’s not willing to sacrifice himself physically for the sport ends up having a much worse or no career at all because of legal PEDs – once again, this is no different than what is the case in boxing, football and wrestling. Either be willing to face the danger, or find another profession.

Ethical wrong #3: Players’ bodies react to PEDs differently, so it creates an unfair playing field

This wrong essentially boils down to that allowing PEDs, means players are rewarded for how well their body reacts to them. Even if a player wants to take PEDs, if his body biologically doesn’t improve from it as well as his peers, he’ll slip through the cracks and have a much worse career than he deserves. One can make the case that Lance Armstrong’s dominance in the Tour de France simply comes down to his body taking a greater leap forward from the PEDs he took, than everyone else’s did. So a guy like Lance ends up the benefactor mainly by biological luck.

The reason this isn’t a valid ethical wrong? Because it’s no different from what the case is now. Individual greatness in sports is already determined by who’s body suits their sports’ requirements the most. Calling it “unfair” that Lance Armstrong won the genetic lottery among cycling PED users and thus dominating, isn’t any different than calling it unfair that Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps’ freakishly perfect physical gifts for running and swimming respectively, gave them an insurmountable edge over their opponents. Sports is already unfair when it comes to talent and who has the chance to be great. Extending that unfairness to the athletes who don’t have the bodies to grow performance wise with PEDs, only fits with what is already the case in regards to talent and performance.

Does this all mean I like PEDs? No, in an ideal world everyone would play fair. But the combination of competitiveness and financial pressures make it inescapable and it’s time to start asking – is it that big of a deal if players’ are allowed to enhance themselves in any form possible?

Written by jr.

February 6, 2013 at 4:10 pm