As was expected, the London Olympics has again brought to the surface the continued debate over what to do about performance-enhancement drugs in sports. I can’t count the number of articles I have come across the past couple of weeks where the author of those pieces supports simply legalizing and monitoring them, and be done with it.
Their assumption is that all are using anyway and that making them legal allows legitimate control and monitoring of these substances; thus, making it a “healthier” situation for athletes.
Now, if you frequent my articles, you already know my position on all of this. However, in this two-part piece, I would like to discuss several reasons why I am so adamantly opposed to the use of PED’s in sports.
As you will see, it is a much more complex issue than many are willing to admit, as each reason I list below has either a direct or indirect impact on the others.
One of the major reasons given for keeping PED’s illegal has to do with the health consequences that they may, and do, bring to the athlete. For the most part, athletics is supposed to be a healthy endeavor (minus the risks of playing sports in general). It is counterproductive to think otherwise.
So what health risks?
Well…a lot depends on what the athlete chooses to take (what will enhance his/her performance in their sport), and it is something that extends a little beyond the scope of this piece. However, for those interested, the following links from expert sources will give you a good rundown on some of them.
- Performance-enhancing drugs: Know the risks (Mayo Clinic)
- Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids: Incidence of Use and Health Implications (Older but still valid piece from one of the most credible experts available on the nonmedical use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, Dr. Charles E. Yesalis)
Just looking at the list of negative side effects for anabolic steroids (only one form of PED) from the Mayo Clinic link gives you 22 of them (for men, women, and both). Some of these include hypertension, higher risk of tendonitis, higher risk of ruptured tendons, increases in bad cholesterol, decreases of good cholesterol, other heart and circulatory problems, and abnormalities and tumors of the liver, amongst others.
In addition, many of the risks are unknown at this point. Sure, some are known (short term especially); however, many of the long-term effects of playing around with the chemistry of the body through the use PED’s are not.
Remember, athletes are usually dosing themselves with much more of these substances (in order to gain the effects they want) than what medical professionals might prescribe for medical reasons.
Yet, there are some who take the stance that if an athlete wants to inject themselves with chemicals in order to win and make money, then what business is it of ours, it is their choice. Basically, what right do we have to place any regulations on choices such as these, the consequences are theirs alone so whatever happens to them, if anything, is their own fault.
On the surface, I have a hard time arguing against that thought process. You make the choice; you suffer the consequence of your own choice. Nevertheless, there is much more to this debate than what might happen to the individual user.
Now think for a moment about all that was discussed, and linked to in the above section on health risks, and then apply those possible consequences to college, high school, and maybe even junior high age athletes. As much as we might want to draw a line between professional, national, and elite level sports and their counterparts at the younger levels, opting to say PED’s are “ok” for the elite but not for younger developing athletes, well, that’s just not going to happen.
Whether we like it or not, there is a trickledown effect, and blanket legalization of PED use at the top levels of sports would have a genuine and harmful impact at younger ages. Athletes will aspire to reach the levels of the athletes at the level above them. And if that next level is, basically, required to use PED's to stay competitive, they will do the same.
In a sense, when you legalize PED’s (regardless of monitoring), you essentially force ALL to use them in order to reach higher levels of competitive sport. Their use completely changes the field of play where athleticism is a major component.
Why would anyone think that this would not become a bigger and more immediate issue at not only the college level, but also the high school and club level where athletes are still mentally and physically maturing? To think otherwise demonstrates a lack of understanding of the real issue at hand. Something I will discuss further in Part II London Games Bring out “We Should Legalize Steroids and PED’s” Discussion…AGAIN!!!