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Monday, May 24, 2010

Performance Enhancers

Several events over the last week have brought Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) to the forefront of the sports blathersphere and because we here at the SKOHRboard are no better than that we'll augment the hot air swirling around the topic of PEDs.

Performance enhancers have been a part of sports since the beginning and they have taken many many forms over the years. It's probably up to the individual to determine what exactly is a performance enhancer. Now we think of things like Steroids, HGH, and EPO. But I have to imagine (mostly because I wasn't there but a little bit because I don't want to research it to type this post) that at one point things like helmets and cleats were considered unfair performance enhancers.

It must have been real tough to play against the first football team that wore actual helmets not those silly leather caps. They would have been fearless of smashing into anyone and anything. Think about how much faster people are capable of running in grass with cleats than they can with regular sneakers. The difference between those and the current notions of what is a PED is that the modern day idea of a PED is often times very illegal not just in sport but also in the state or nation that they are being used in.

Floyd Landis "came clean" last week by admitting that he used PEDs during almost his entire career. There is some question as to what exactly he was using and I'm sure we'll get a chance to read all about it in his next bestseller, "The First Book About How I Never Used Any PEDs Was A Total Sham But This Book Explains The Real Truth So Please Buy It Because I'm Broke; A Book By A Guy Who Rode Behind Lance Armstrong." In cycling there is the very common practice of blood doping which is when a rider has oxygen rich blood taken from him after a workout then put back in shortly before a big race where oxygenated blood will allow him to keep riding far beyond his normal limit. Is using your own blood illegal? Sure it's been enhanced beyond normal blood but it was done by the body that will ultimately be using it... Is that illegal or just a competitive advantage? Perhaps it's just gamesmanship taken to the extreme.

In the NFL steroids give the players a very clear advantage. A league that demands it's players to be bigger, stronger, and faster to succeed is clearly a prime candidate for steroid abuse. If the players are able to take it for even one year during their contract year and not get caught they stand to make tens of millions of dollars and if they don't they could very well get cut from the team and replaced by a guy who was willing to take that risk.

Baseball is a funny sport in that its' fans are just as much historians of the game as they are fans of their team. While on one hand they want to see their team do well, god forbid some muscled up DH smacks a few too many home-runs and ruins everything "pure" about the game. It's this attitude that I really can't stand. People have to accept that athletes are constantly getting bigger, faster, and stronger naturally that is just simple evolution.

The real question about steroids is; "What makes them so wrong." They are classified as a controlled dangerous substance by the Federal Government and therefore illegal to posses, buy, or sell in any state in the US. However, it seems that more and more these days people are realizing that they can be a positive side to these drugs. Not to mention the obvious muscle building and retaining effects it possesses for those with certain diseases. Is it possible that a small and continuous dosage could yield tremendous health benefits and an increased lifespan for entire populations? Maybe. But this is about sports. So although they have clear health benefits the abuse of these drugs for exagerrated results is the main problem. In some cases athletes are literally killing themselves by taking far more than a safe amount in order to increase their performance to the limit of human capability. We are dealing with ultra competitive people who are already pushing themselves to their physical limit so PEDs just allow them to continue pushing those limits.

It seems like there should be some serious science going on to determine exactly how much is a safe amount and how much is too much. Perhaps PEDs should be regulated rather than banned? Unfortunately it doesn't seem like that could ever be possible because people will always try to get an edge either with the rules or without.

In the meantime though I really wish the media would stop being so outraged every time we find out that another superstar athlete is using PEDs. At some point it just comes across as naiveté on their part or it's just insulting to me that they need to feign some moral high ground in order to keep my allegiance. Who are they kidding? If I were a pro athlete and had millions of dollars coming to me if I could just boost my numbers a little bit this year and all it would take is the cream, clear, and a whizzinator I'm not sure what I would do but it would certainly be a tough decision. What would you do if you were in such a position?


3 comments:

Justin! said...

Seriously man, where does the sports media find the effort to actually act horrified by this stuff?

Wade Garrett said...

I think that the leagues ban those substances for a different reason than the federal government bans them. Even if a majority of high-level athletes would be willing to take those substances in order to improve their performance, the leagues do not want to put any player in a position where they would have to make the same decision, and possibly jeopardize their health, merely to keep pace with their peers who are juicing. Even if 80% of the players are willing to take those risks, they don't want to make the other 20% have to decide between losing their job (for inability to compete) or else take drugs they would otherwise not choose to take.

Having said all of that, the days of Lyle Alzado dying of steroid-induced cancer are getting more and more remote, as science improves. Some performance enhancers, like vitamins, are not banned, because they are not dangerous, except in super-extreme doses. Perhaps as research imprives, scientists will find that more performance enhancers are not as dangerous as we once believed, as the chemistry etc improves. I would be open to changing the rules someday, but I don't think we are there yet. Let's wait and see how this generation of baseball players looks 15 years from now.

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