Monday, December 31, 2007


What's the difference between the Tommy John surgery and steroids? One is the use of science to improve performance and the other is... the use of science to improve performance.

All right, there are differences. The surgery is the use of medicine to repair a damaged arm, whereas steroids are injected into a healthy body to make it "unnaturally" stronger. The surgery is not available on the street to teenagers who are desperate to compete in sports.

Sports science has for decades improved athletic performance in countless ways. I myself have paid an instructor who used a computer to analyze my golf swing (in my case, no improvement). People in general, not just athletes, are bigger and taller than they were 100 years ago because of improvements in medicine and nutrition.

We're heading for the day when computer chips are integrated with natural brain activity. People will be hooked up to computers and the internet 24/7 through satellite connections that go directly into their head. They will be able to see print in front of their eyes. (Teachers will play hell trying to stop students from cheating on tests!) We will be a civilization of cyborgs. It will be impossible to stop athletes from exploiting these internal computers in their sport. People will accept it: why shouldn't an athlete use computer help to analyze the arc of a thrown football when everyone in the stands is doing it?

We accept all these developments of science and technology, but we draw the line at drug use. Drugs are too easy; inject the needle and a month later you have muscles the average halfback 80 years ago would have envied. I wonder if our objection to drug performance enhancers is a remnant of puritanism.

What if someone discovers a drug that helps the brain function more efficiently and turns an average IQ into a genius? Do we allow students to take this drug? What about when they take their SAT or GRE? Would chess players be tested for this drug?

Olympic athletes from around the world train in the USA because it has the most resources and best training. Often every runner in a 100-meter dash will be an American or will have trained in America. Those athletes are taking advantage of technological and economic progress that much of the rest of the world lacks. Is this a level playing field? Absolutely not.

What would happen if steroids were legal in all sports? Very likely, the science would improve and the dangerous side effects would be cured. Athletes would follow the ideal of the Olympic motto and go faster, stronger and higher. New standards would be set in all sports and athletes would go about attempting to meet and exceed the standards -- as they did before steroids.

We would see our favorite athletes have longer careers. Athletes would no longer be forced into retirement at 35, but 40 or 45 might become the norm. We might see some remarkable specimens last into their 50's.

Instead of dictating from the top down, I think we should try giving freedom and individual choice a chance in the realm of performance enhancing drugs. Let each adult choose for himself how he wants to train for his sport. Freedom often has unintended consequences that make life better in utterly unexpected ways.


Galileo Blogs said...

I couldn't agree more. Already, our lives are legally enhanced through:

caffeine (coffee and Coca-Cola)
sleep aids (prescription and non-)
anti-anxiety medication (Valium)
diet pills
memory enhancements (Gingko biloba)
sexual aids (Viagra, et al.)

Why not use medicines to further build our muscles, improve our brain function, improve our stamina, improve our sexuality, relax, alter our moods or simply to have fun?

If steroids or marijuana or cocaine were legal, I expect that people, through custom, trial and error, and sometimes with the aid of a doctor, would discover acceptable and safe doses of these drugs.

Drugs are life-enhancing, if used responsibly. The biggest threats to responsible usage are the laws against them, and the Puritan/hedonist anti-self elements of our culture.

By the way, on the subject of steroids, the only authority who should have a say on their use should be team owners and the private sports associations. They can decide whether to allow steroids or not. I suspect they generally would allow them, if they were legal and could be safely used.

It is a sad spectacle when congressmen waste their time holding hearings and legislating on such private, irrelevant issues in this age of terrorism.

Anonymous said...

I agree that research should be allowed to reduce the negative effects of drugs while retaining the benefits. I think one of the major problems with steroids is the fact that when some people use them and others don't then we have an unfair advantage even though two competing athletes may have had equal access to the drugs. I think random drug testing is a problem. Either everyone gets tested or no one.


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