Athletes, whether within the college, professional, or Olympian arenas, often find themselves under a great deal of pressure to succeed and achieve victory. In this context, at least some (if not many) athletes may give in to the temptation of using performance enhancing drugs. The purpose of the present sample essay is to delve further into this issue of athletes and the use of performance enhancing drugs (also commonly known as doping). The essay will contain four main parts. The first part will describe the concept of doping itself, and what it means within the field of athletics. The second part will consider the laws that currently govern doping within athletics. The third part will then consider Lance Armstrong’s career as a case study of how an athlete’s reputation can be ruined by allegations of doping. Finally, the fourth part will reflect on the moral question of whether doping should in fact be permitted and not prohibited within the context of athletic competitions. It’s this “moral question” that often spurs professors to assign performance enhancing drugs as a debate and research paper topic
The concept of doping
To start with, then, doping is when an athlete consumes some drug in order to enhance the level and quality of his performance within the context of an athletic competition. This is how the BBC has put the matter: “The use of stimulants and strength-building substances is held to date back as far as Ancient Greece, but it was during the 1920s that restrictions about drug use in sport were first thought necessary. In 1928 the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)—athletics’ world governing body—became the first international sports federation to ban doping” (paragraph 3). The most common of the performance enhancing drugs used by athletes are known as steroids; they tend to generally improve physical performance and athletic capacity, although their use can also cause significant side effects for the users, including kidney damage.
The very nature of the concept of doping is such that there would seem to be something of a fuzzy line between what does and does not actually qualify as doping. For example, some athletes have injected themselves with their own blood before a competition, in order to enhance oxygen capacity and endurance. This would qualify as doping, even though one’s own blood is not exactly a drug of any kind. The BBC has indicated that a practice qualifies as doping if it meets “two of the three following criteria: they enhance performance, pose a threat to athlete health, or violate the spirit of the sport” (paragraph 4). The last of these criteria is clearly the most ambiguous and subjective one: it is difficult, of course, to define what the spirit of the sport actually is. Among other things, it surely encompasses values such as fair play, sportsmanship, and basic honesty.
Laws that govern doping
There are various organizations that engage in anti-doping monitoring for athletes. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is one such organization. The IOC itself has written the following statement:
The IOC’s fight against doping began in earnest in the 1960s. It is currently carried out in close cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)—which was created in 1999 in Lausanne under the initiative of the IOC—and with the support and participation of intergovernmental organisations, governments, administrations, and other public and private bodies involved in the fight against doping in sport (1)
Organizations such as the IOC implement serious sanctions against athletes and crews found guilty of doping, including banning those athletes or even those nations from participation in competitions held under the auspices of those organizations.
For the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, for instance, the nation of Kenya has come under close scrutiny for alleged violations of the anti-doping standards and criteria established by WADA. As Koren has reported:
The world’s anti-doping authority has declared that Kenyan national athletics do not comply with international standards, putting the country’s participation in the Rio Olympics this summer at risk. The World Anti-Doping Agency announced the recommendation from its independent review committee . . . on Twitter. (paragraphs 1-2)
Again, WADA works in close cooperation with the IOC, and the IOC is responsible for putting on the Olympic Games. If Kenya is actually banned from participation, this would be a huge blow for that nation, insofar as athletic prowess is one of the few things in which that nation can now take pride on the global stage: Kenyan athletes have won numerous gold medals in past Olympic Games.
In any event, the IOC has indicated that in response to increased allegations of doping against athletes, the organization has taken the initiative of significantly increasing the number and kinds of tests carried out to monitor drug use among athletes. Insofar as the drugs used by the athletes are themselves inherently illegal, athletes who are caught using them could potentially face criminal charges. However, it is also possible that the athletes are using drugs that are technically legal, but outside the bounds of the standards and criteria established by organizations such as the IOC and WADA. In this case, the athletes would perhaps not be open to criminal charges per se, but they could still experience tremendous harm to their careers and reputations. Aside from being banned from competitions put on by the relevant organizations, the athletes may also gain a public reputation for being a cheater or a fraud. This could substantially affect all aspects of the athletes’ professional lives, including the capacity to find endorsements and the like.
Case Study: Lance Armstrong
The cycling athlete Lance Armstrong’s career arc provides a paradigmatic example of what can happen to an athlete’s career if he is to be found guilty of allegations of doping. Armstrong was widely seen as a hero for a long time, due to the fact that despite his fight against testicular cancer, he still managed to win multiple Tour de France titles. However, Armstrong’s fortunes took a serious turn for the worse after allegations of doping were brought against him. As Fotheringham has indicated, the following occurred in the year 2012: “[Armstrong] declares he will no longer fight charges of illegal doping. Shortly after Armstrong’s announcement, Usada says it will strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and impose a lifetime ban on him” (paragraph 12). Moreover, sponsors of Armstrong, including the US Postal Service, began bringing lawsuits against Armstrong, on the grounds that their sponsorship had been won by Armstrong on false pretenses.
Because of the doping allegations, then, Armstrong’s career was almost retroactively destroyed: in the eyes of the public, he went from a hero to a zero in the matter of a year, with all of his past achievements being effectively nullified as a result of his admission to the doping charges. Much of the reaction here was likely attributable to a sense of betrayed trust: people who identified with Armstrong’s challenges and victories now felt that he was only able to do all this because he had effectively cheated, as opposed to playing fair and square. However, the fact that the doping allegations could so thoroughly destroy such a magnificent career almost calls attention, by way of converse logic, to the question of whether the public reaction to the allegations was marked by a kind of disproportionality. That is, the following question can be asked: is doping really all so bad, that Armstrong deserved to have his career annihilated as a result of the allegations?
Should doping be allowed?
Several stakeholders have actually argued that the anti-doping crusade within athletics is in fact misguided, and that doping should in fact be legalized and considered a legitimate part of sports competitions. There are a few different arguments that could be made in support of this position. One such argument is that genetics already gives some athletes an “unfair” edge over other athletes, and that performance enhancing drugs could perhaps just help level the playing field. Regarding a drug called PED, for example, Humeniuk has written the following: “Is PED like a magical potion that results in superhuman strength? No. It gives one the same edge that another athlete has genetically” (paragraph 5). Seen from this angle, performance enhancing drugs do not give an unfair advantage but rather remove an unfair advantage—and thereby help ensure that the results of athletic competitions are more accurately reflective of training, willpower, and skill alone.
Gladwell has picked up this line of argument, suggesting that the enormous role played by genetics in performance in athletic competitions makes it difficult to identify an actual baseline that could be called real fairness or a sporting chance. For example, Gladwell has written that,
the greatest athletes are different from the rest of us. They respond more effectively to training. The shape of their bodies is optimized for certain kinds of athletic activities. They carry genes that put them far ahead of ordinary athletes. (paragraph 3)
In other words, certain athletes would seem to have what could be called performance enhancing genes, which gives them a natural edge over other athletes from the very start. Insofar as this is the case, it becomes difficult to see why it should be so problematic for athletes who do not have the good fortune of possessing such genes to do everything in their power, including using performance enhancing drugs, to balance the scales.
Finally, it is worth considering the question of whether the use of performance enhancing drugs would in fact constitute a real violation of what has been the spirit of the sport: that is, whether such drugs interfere with values such as fair play, sportsmanship, and dedication. The default view is that the use of performance enhancing drugs violates the spirit of the sport. As Savulescu, Foddy, and Clayton have put it, however:
But this is not the only view of sport. Humans are not horses or dogs. We make choices and exercise our own judgment. We choose what kind of training to use and how to run our race. We can display courage, determination, and wisdom. (666)
PED’s can take a particularly sinister tone in combat sports. These are not sports with a goal of moving or hitting a ball. These are sports that involve direct human versus human combat like boxing, or even the UFC. While the UFC is enjoying the fruits of a $4 billion dollar buyout, the organization is also getting rocked by PED scandals. The UFC has seen an explosion in PED use over the last few years, and has taken steps to hand out harsh punishments for violators. Testing positive once can result in a six-month suspension, and a second positive can result in a 2-year suspension and a life-time ban.
In this context, the use of performance enhancing drugs could perhaps be understood as a kind of calculated risk taken by certain athletes in their quest to fulfill their highest potentials. Of course, drugs that are outright illegal would still not be permissible under this model of sport. But other drugs that are legal but prohibited for use by athletes could potentially become included as part of fair play, insofar as they could be seen as technologies utilized by athletes to improve themselves, just as they use various other forms of technology over the course of their training regimens.
In summary, the present essay has consisted of a discussion of athletes and the use of performance enhancing drugs. After describing the concept of doping itself, the essay considered the laws regulating doping within athletics and the catastrophic effects that allegations of doping can have on the careers of professional athletes. From this point, though, the essay proceeded to a reflection on whether doping really is as bad a thing as people imagine it to be, and whether doping should actually be permitted within athletic competitions. The main conclusion that has been reached here is that although this is ambiguous terrain, there is probably room for certain kinds of doping to be included as a legitimate part of the spirit of the sport.
BBC. “Doping in Sport: What Is It and How Is It Being Tackled?” 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 27 May 2016. .
Fotheringham, William. “Timeline: Lance Armstrong’s Journey from Deity to Disgrace.” Guardian. 8 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 May 2016. .
Gladwell, Malcolm. “Man and Superman.” New Yorker. 9 Sep. 2013. Web. 27 May 2016. .
Humeniuk, Tanya. “Athletes Should Be Allowed to Use Performance Enhancing Drugs.” The Peak. 19 May 2016. Web. 27 May 2016. .
International Olympic Committee. “Factsheet: The Fight against Doping and Promotion of Athletes’ Health.” Jan. 2014. Web. 27 May 2016. .
Koren, Marina. “Kenya’s Anti-Doping Crisis.” The Atlantic. 12 May 2016. Web. 27 May 2016. .
Savulescu, J., B. Foddy, and M. Clayton. “Why We Should Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 38 (2004): 666-670. Print.