After many years, I’ve made a complete turn in my opinion about steroids in baseball or any sport. Yes many performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) can and do cause serious and permanent physical (balls shrinkage, hormone imbalance, etc.) and psychological (Chris Benoit, roid rage, etc.) harm. Yes it’s a great tragedy that our kids are taken in the web of illicit drug use and are being destroyed by the bad example professional sports has given us. From a moral standpoint PEDs are a huge question mark or exclamation mark even. But what we have here in the use of PEDs in sports of any kind is a business decision. We have a business decision, that is, made by adults for the most part, knowing, perhaps not the scope and scale of risk involved, but knowing there is a risk involved; and with that risk may or may not follow a reward.
Let us not forget that in every avenue of life as well as in sports, some sort of calculated risk precludes almost every reward. This does not mean the risk always merits the reward, but is this ethically calculated conclusion a reason enough to ban or outlaw a certain activity or substance? We can clearly see that in any sport what the athlete gives up, more than just his time, is his body. Any athlete will suffer wear and tear on his body. We are now having this debate in the horseracing world that the horses are not old enough and bodies not mature enough to take the pounding of the race.
So we have the ethical issue before us. However, we all know that not only is the world always changing, but also we can change the world; therefore our ethics can change too. The practical reality is both that sports will always have a risk/reward aspect to it, but as with other advances with science and medicine, there is always the potential to cultivate a sports world in which the rewards of PEDs can greatly outweigh the risks.
One practical solution to the problem of PEDs is to have sports organizations designed to legally study and improve the science of PEDs. Not only that, but also there needs to be a more open discussion about what these drugs can and cannot do, how they should and should not be administered and if there is any way in the world some of these banned substances can be legalized either now or in the future. If you look at the surprising breadth and longevity of PED usage in sports, the inconsistency of testing and administration of standards, and the widespread ignorance of PEDs in general, you will conclude that the public certainly is grossly undereducated on the matter.
Let us take a look at some of the PEDs on the banned substances list for the Olympics. Things so ridiculous such as nasal spray and caffeine even are on the list. If these substances have the potential to empower the athlete, I say seek ways to harness that power to give a more effective yet safer outcome to the athlete’s performance. Don’t throw the sweet sweet baby out with the rancid bath water.
Ask yourself what that term performance enhancement means. If an athlete trains his body to withstand the rigors and harshness of his sport, would he not always want to be in the process of enhancing his performance? Would he not want his skill, mental understanding of the game, vision, physical stamina, joint health, etc. to be constantly improving or at least maintained as he ages? If he were given a magical pill that could do all this, would it not only be to his benefit to do so, but also his right to pursue that benefit, that happiness, have you? Whatever edge he gains, would not that be the product of the knowledge he has obtained, the dedication he has garnered, and the work he has endured? Would not the fallout from any side effect suffered from such magic pill be his fault alone to own?
We can’t fool ourselves to think that any activity is without risk. Certainly, weight training and playing the sport itself could produce a negative result. I know of some sports fans that are angry with Tony Dungy, because he apparently neglected his son to the point that his son started using illicit drugs and committed suicide. I would be the last person to blame him for that, but even the best of us can make mistakes based on good intentions. Even the simple reading of a book to gather knowledge can result in the neglect of another more noble activity, perhaps, which only God could understand the magnitude of it’s importance. So who are we to judge another man’s decision to pursue an activity that could gain him fame and fortune? Yes, as reasoning, moral agents, we should judge people and situations, but are we always so sure that we are right, especially in matters of which we do not fully understand?