If you’re my friend, you’re probably wondering what happened to me. I go to work, ride my bike, manage my team, race my bike, and do a SHITLOAD of research for my graduate program. Sorry I’m a terrible friend. But I finished my final paper for my first class, and I think it’s okay. It’s not as cool as drinking tequila at DeSoto, or throwin’ down beers at The Wedge, but it might get me a real job some day. Or maybe it won’t. At least I’ll have another degree to add to my collection.
Also, if you read this, be nice or constructive. Don’t be a dick.
Performance Enhancing Drugs and the Sustainability of Professional Sports
Contemporary Issues Assignment
Megan K. Archer
North Carolina State University
October 12, 2015
What is sport? Many have defined sport as a pastime, or an escape from the drudgery of one’s work life. Sport, by definition, is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment” (Sport, n.d.). Philosophers credit sport with engaging society’s emotions, arousing senses, and intriguing challenges of uncertainty within its participants (Kretchmar, 2010). It can be viewed as the merriment of the human spirit, and contributes to a community of veneration and trust between competitors and in society.
Humans have been testing their physical prowess for years. It is believed that Hercules, the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene, founded the Olympics, which eventually became the most popular Greek festival of 6th Century B.C (Hercules, n.d.). Since then, the influence of sport and competition in our society has flourished. Professional sports, in particular, have developed a grandiose culture of fame and admiration, with increasing emphasis placed on commercial profits and personal wealth. Society views winning as a measurement of success in sports, and it has become more important than the essence of the game itself. College football coach, Red Saunders, was once quoted as saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” (Austin, 2010), and some would say we’ve taken his mantra too far.
The integrity of sport has been infiltrated by a small population of athletes and promoters, who’ve taken Saunder’s mindset to heart. The use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) have given athletes the impression their best efforts are no longer good enough. These frailties are not a new phenomenon; history suggests the Ancient Greeks used combinations of various potions in an attempt to strengthen themselves, and the first reported case of PED use dates back to 1904 (Charlish, 2012). PEDs were banned in the 1920s and 1930s, but it was difficult to address the issue properly without the ability to test for these substances. This issue was brought to light during the 1960 Olympics when Danish cyclist, Knud Jensen, crashed and died during competition. An autopsy showed amphetamines in his system (2010).
1966 was a pivotal moment in the progress of testing protocols, as the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) used drug testing in their national championships that year (World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA] 2013). The loss of world championship cyclist, Tommy Simpson, in 1967 resulted in a massive push for the advancement of new testing strategies, as athletes were finding ways to cheat the system. The 1988 Canadian gold medalist, Ben Johnson, was stripped of his title after testing positive for anabolic steroids. Johnson’s incident, along with the expelling of the 1998 Festina team in the Tour de France for drug use, were catalysts in the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999 (WADA, 2013).
The 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney revealed new technology, as blood samples were collected from athletes for the first time (Ashenden, 2004), and the results were astounding. PEDs once undetectable, had become the new target of the war on drugs in sport. These testing programs were developed in order to preserve “what is intrinsically valuable about sport” or “the essence of Olympism”, better known as “the spirit of sport” (Charlish, 2012). WADA defines the characteristics of the spirit of sport as: “ethics, fair play and honesty; health; excellence in performance; character and education; fun and joy; teamwork; dedication and commitment; respect for rules and laws; respect for self and other participants’ courage; community and solidarity” (2013).
Ethical practices in sport have become less about moral relativity and more about the perception of virtuosity. Professional sporting events have become major contributors to their surrounding economies, as well living, breathing billboards for financial gain. Marquee athletes increase ticket sales and draw attention to events, and the lure of triumph is abundant. Sport on an elite level has always been appreciated for its competitiveness, but also for its performance value.Jim Murray, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former LA Times Columnist, described what it was like watching Michael Jordan play basketball in 1996:
You go to see Michael Jordan play for the same reason you went to see Astaire dance, Olivier act or the sun set over Canada. It’s art. It should be painted, or photographed. It’s not a game, it’s a recital. He’s not just a player, he’s a virtuoso. Heifetz with a violin. Horowitz at the piano. (Loumena, 2013)
Despite the negative implications that cheating in sports is immoral, it has been argued allowing PEDs in sports would “level the playing field” and “remove the effects of genetic inequality” (Clayton, Foddy, Savulescu, 2004). Should we give up and accept this as the norm? Is everyone really doing it? Clean athletes want their success to be recognized as a result of dedication and hard work, but rampant drug use has produced skepticism among spectators. The virtues of competition have been lost, and the reputation of professional sports has been tainted. What was once a display of physical and mental strength, is now a vehicle for personal wealth and corruption.
One of the most notable cases of PEDs in professional sports is that of seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong. He was stripped of his titles and received a lifetime ban from cycling in October 2012 (Karlinsky, 2012). This was the pinnacle of skepticism and venality within the industry, and illegal performance enhancing finally held a value similar to other economic crimes. Armstrong’s trial brought national recognition to the underground reality of black market drugs, which enabled professional athletes to cheat the system, and obtain greater physical gains. This also highlighted the lack of enforcement within the system, further contaminating the true spirit of competition, and overall integrity of professional cycling.
Despite the notorious history of PEDs and convictions of well-known athletes, Lance Armstrong’s case single-handedly intensified the negative public image and respect of professional sports. These indignities also translated into financial loss, not only for the athletes, but the industry as a whole, with testing expenditures surpassing $228,000 in 2013 (Maennig, 2014). According to Plunkett’s market research, the national sports industry is currently worth 498.4 billion dollars, and 1.5 trillion dollars globally (“Sports, Teams & Leisure”, 2015). Many cities are dependent on tourism dollars generated by sporting events, and are impacted by the ebb and flow of the industry. Doping scandals affect more than just the athlete; they influence economical and societal growth.
These historic events have shifted the real focus of athleticism and sportsmanship on a global level. Ethical behavior in sport is no longer taught as an absolute value; it is now viewed as a practical means of avoiding the appearance of cheating (Charnofsky, 2003). We no longer teach our children to honor fairness and respect in athletics; we teach them to measure success by winning and financial gain. What was once considered an honorable, almost magical profession, is now riddled with corruption and cynicism. The use of PEDs have tarnished the credibility of elite sports, affecting future endeavors of young athletes and local economies of tourist-driven cities.
As professionals, should we be concerned with the trajectory of our industry? Some argue performance enhancement is not against the spirit of sport; “it is the spirit of sport”, and allowing it promotes equality among athletes (Clayton, Foddy, & Savulescu, 2004). I believe in a more ethical approach; one that transcends competition and encourages personal development. Sports cultivate honor and integrity, and build a sense of trust among athletes and their respective communities. In order to preserve the integrity and growth of this industry, we must continue the dynamic pursuit and regulation of the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport. Government agencies and athletic officials must be held responsible when they fail to reprimand athletes accordingly, and communities must be diligent in promoting their need for fair and ethical sportsmanship. Derek Bouchard-Hall, the newly titled chief executive of USA Cycling, stated, “Doping will always be part of sports. It’s like alcoholism. You don’t just kick it; you just keep fighting it and fighting it” (Macur, 2015)
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