During the Olympics in London, female Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen was suspected of doping, as her time was a full five seconds faster than her best time. Longtime champion Lance Armstrong’s entire career may be in jeopardy if allegations of doping on his part prove true. In baseball, superstars like Roger Clemens are also being accused of using performance enhancing drugs. With the use of drugs seemingly so widespread, athletes face a difficult choice. Do you stay honest when perhaps the entire field has a competitive advantage?
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Both portd and pohnpei hit the crux of the problem. On the one hand, competition is inherently about sportsmanship and courage and discipline and (in a sense) valor. So the answer to the question of PEDs does lie with conscience, ethics, virtue and honor. On the other hand, competition has become an uncontrolled and seemingly uncontrollable monster. Amateur athletics is really un-paid professional athletics, or maybe Internship athletics. Virtually every advantage of professional athletics is available to "amateurs," at least to some degree and to some level.
Competition has come to be about out-performing: out-performing yourself, out-performing competitors, out-performing the field. Sports (amateur and professional and especially "amateur" Olympics) is a different package altogether now than it ever was before. A solution that will never come to pass is to elevate the package that pohnpei describes to "semi-professional" and the Olympics to "semi-professional" and introduce a renewed truly armateur athletics as a clean, stripped down third tier level of competition that recaptures what portd described. This might make nature (of sports competition) meet reality (of athlete behavior) at least in part, providing a safe arena for non-PED competition at least among amateurs.
I think that we have a variety of ways to test for the performance enhancers we know about, but there are plenty we do not have tests for. If we want to keep the sport honest, we need to teach athletes and organizers to be honest.
This problem has almost reached the point where it seems like everybody is doing it and only some are getting caught. It has really cast a pall of suspicion over everyone in sports. I suppose we have to try to keep the playing field level and keep trying to catch the guys, but it looks like an unwinnable fight. Athletes are going to keep trying to get away with it.
I think professional athletic organizations are already on the right track to combat performance enhancing drugs. Testing methods are extensive and frequent, and while there will always be some way around the testing, making it difficult to evade continually is achievable.
The key is to, like baseball, enforce strict, severe penalties for violating PED policy. Baseball has a 50 game suspension for a first offense, almost a third of a season, and a full season suspension for a second offense. This has made it so that teams are much more reluctant to sign a player with a history of failing tests because it is such a huge financial and strategic risk.
It is easy to talk about conscience when we are not in the position to have to decide. But we are generally not and so we pass judgement.
Steroids and other PEDs are very hard to forgo. Imagine knowing that you are just as talented as the next guy, but that he has taken them and is therefore beating you even though you work just as hard. It might be noble and more ethical to lose "clean" but it would be a very personal satisfaction that no one else would know about.
In addition, we have to think about the fact that athletes are already getting all sorts of "unnatural" advantages. What really separates the use of extremely high-tech medical procedures from using steroids in order to heal? Why is it right for American athletes to benefit from high-tech coaching techniques where athletes from other countries cannot? What really constitutes "fair" competition. It's so hard to say...
I firmly believe the best way to stop athletes from using PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) is to take away their incentive of using them. The temptation is still great to use PED's because the reward is greater than the risk... especially in American professional sports.
An excellent current example is the San Francisco Giant's Melky Cabrera (linked in the previous post). After testing positive for PED's, Major League Baseball fined him fifty games. That's less than a third of a season. While somewhat of a monetary loss, it certainly wasn't big enough in my opinion. He will be able to come back and earn millions of dollars, and if he is caught again it will result in another suspension. Some players only reach the major leagues due to PEDs, and may not get caught for a number of years. In that time they have bankrolled small fortunes, and if they get caught the punishment is relatively small.
I believe that if punishments were much more severe there would be a major decrease in the use of PEDs. I think the first positive test should result in a suspension for the remainder of the current season and the next full season. At that point they would be put on an extreme monitoring system (at their own expense), and any subsequent positive tests would result in a lifetime ban from the sport. With such extreme measures in place I doubt players would see the reward worth the risk, and the result would be a dramatic decrease in the use of PEDs.
If you subscribe to a moral and ethical code and also subscribe to the rules and regulations of the sport you are a part of, then yes, you do stay honest despite the fact that the entire field may have a competitive advantage. If honorable and honest effort is your goal - the desire to attain 'personal bests; without performance enhancing drugs - then, again, yes, you do stay honest. If winning is the only thing and everything to you, and the end justifies the means of getting there, then maybe the honest route is not your way of doing things.
In the end it's a matter of how your conscience affects your life. If you cheat, will you be able to sleep at night; will you be able to sign that autograph for a young fan that looks up to you, knowing you cheated, but also knowing that he or she believes you played by the rules. Your integrity, dignity and reputation is at risk, so therefore I believe it is not worth it to cheat to gain a possible advantage over others. I may be an idealist, but there has to be a gold standard to hold fast to if sport is to have any redeeming value.
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