Friday, September 21, 2012

What should the discussion be on performance-enhancing drugs?

After reading about how the Twitter-verse was all abuzz Thursday regarding the rumors surrounding New York Yankees star Robinson Cano and performance-enhancing drugs, it would seem appropriate to discuss doping in sport. (USA Today reported that Cano has not failed any drug test. A discussion about Twitter and journalistic ethics will be saved for a future blog post.) 
While the Cano rumors are false, the impact of performance-enhancing drugs on sport cannot be ignored. Within the past 30 days, Major League Baseball suspended two prominent players for doping, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency moved to strip Lance Armstrong of his Tour de France victories.

The use of performance-enhancing drugs at one level can be traced to sport’s place in the global society. It is extremely capitalist in nature – extreme competition where there can be at most a few winners and plenty of losers. The resources (read money) go to the winners. There is a constant push for innovation. Innovation is a positive thing, but it can easily become warped as can be seen with doping in athletics.

The reward for doping seemingly outweighs the substantial health risks for some athletes. Opportunities for scholarships or multi-million dollar contracts provide big temptations that overwhelm a few competitors.

The genie is not going back in the bottle. For those who decry the win-at-all-costs nature of sport, there is too much money behind it to eliminate it from its prominence. The billions of dollars in ticket and merchandise sales, the billions spent on TV commercials, and the media industry created on the backs of the athletes are strong indicators that the capitalist nature of athletics is here to stay. ran a strong series of articles analyzing doping from a variety of perspectives: whether testing should even be done, the dangers to youth and society’s hypocrisy when it comes to cheating.

Jen Floyd Engel’s piece on hypocrisy is truly thought-provoking. Why does society place different levels on cheating? Some rule-breaking is OK, but others are not. This sliding scale indicates a society that encourages the bending or breaking of rules or norms to get ahead.

Maybe the discussion needs to shift away from improving PED testing to an honest discussion about why people permit violating some rules and not others.

But are capitalist societies destined to have cheaters because of the potential rewards? Are there any societies that do not have cheaters?

-- Steve Bien-Aime

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