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Let them use ‘roids

Jan 31, 2011, 8:48 AM EDT

syringe

One of these sorts of articles comes down the pike every six to eight months or so, and I usually link them:

Laws and ethics are not based on what is easy and what is hard to control. They are based on standards of justice and what is ethically right. The reason I believe doping should be allowed is that I see nothing unjust or wrong about professional athletes using chemical compounds and medical knowledge to improve their abilities and performance. Let me rephrase that: there is nothing wrong with taking steroids.

The reason I link them: I’ve yet to have a reader refute the central logic.  At least not one who actually reads the article and meets the argument on its own terms rather than one who engages in the circular “steroids are bad because they’re banned and they’re banned because they’re bad” logic that the linked article criticizes.

If performance enhancing can be safely used under medical supervision — and that’s the big if, and where my knowledge on the subject is the most hazy — what’s the problem?

(thanks to Ron Rollins for the link)

  1. paperlions - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:05 AM

    The thing is that steroid can be used without health risks. They were not made illegal because they are dangerous, per se, they were made illegal as a political ploy. Every single US medical organization opposed the 1991 law making anabolic steroids a controlled substance because there was no medical basis for the law.
    .
    Anabolic steroids have been around for a long time. If used properly, with medical supervision, every side-effect is of anabolic steroids is minor and temporary. Indeed, they are less dangerous that many prescription medications doled out for minor ailments and no more dangerous than many OTC medications/substances.
    .
    Hysterics by the ignorant are no basis for law.

    • ta192 - Jan 31, 2011 at 1:28 PM

      Correction: Hysterics by the ignorant should be no basis for law.

  2. amhendrick - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:06 AM

    ” . . . illegal doping is under the watchful gaze of a team of professional athletic doctors, trainers and nutritionists.”

    Is this true in baseball? Are Brian McNamee and Greg Anderson really the kind of supervision this article is talking about?

    As long as PEDs are illegal, then I think players are wrong to use them, and they are rightfully banned by MLB. Whether they should be illegal is the bigger question, which depends on their safety.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:09 AM

      They’re legal if prescribed. It’s not like they’re totally banned substances like cocaine.

      And no, I don’t think the usage in baseball was supervised like that. But, were PEDs permitted, one would imagine that it would be under the caveat that they be administered under a doctor’s care and supervision.

      And to be clear: no, I’m not sitting here advocating for PEDs to be legalized. I just think that this sort of argument is a good thought exercise in that it helps us get away from the notion that everyone who used PEDs was some monster, motivated by evil, and doing things that were blacker than night.

      A thought experiment if you will, that I believe helps us better understand what it is we actually object to when it comes to PED use.

      • amhendrick - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:21 AM

        I take your points, and don’t think I’d have any problem with it if they were legal and supervised. As for what actually happened, I think it was cheating, but not really evil or monstrous.

      • crotchjenkins - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:33 AM

        Cocaine is also legal if prescribed in the US.

    • bigharold - Jan 31, 2011 at 7:08 PM

      “Are Brian McNamee and Greg Anderson really the kind of supervision this article is talking about?”

      No, that’s the kind of supervision you get when the substance in question is banned.

      When I was younger I worked in a very popular night club with a significant security, (bouncer), presence. Most of these guys were serious weight lifters and or body builders and most used steroids in copious quantities. No supervision, no strategy no oversight at all. They took whatever they got their hands on and could afford. Everything they knew about steroids was told to them by their buddies or the guy that as selling them the steroids. From everything I’ve read, baseball players were only slightly more advanced over the last two decades but with more money.

      Could steroids be used with proper medical supervision with great benefit and with minimals risk, .. I’ve no doubt. Should they is a far more dubious proposition. Is it cheating the game? A philosophical question you will never get a satisfactory answer to as you will never get either side to concede to the other. At what point does it become excessive, even under proper medical supervision, and limits are placed on it? Regardless of the drugs or protocols that would be allowed there would be limits that players would naturally try to circumvent to gain competitive advantage. Then you have the worst of both situations. You’ve allowed PEDs and there is still cheating with PEDs.

      I don’t profess to have the answer but somebody a lot smarter than me needs to devise a strategy to deal with this because scientific advances are going to blur the line more and more in the very near future. And, it needs to be a strategy that includes the players union from the outset. It’s painfully obvious that with regard to steroids the truth is that the union did a great job of protecting the players from the owners did a crumby job of protecting the players from themselves. The union leadership needs to really demonstrate leadership here.

  3. aschwartz2011 - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    I have very mixed feelings on this subject. As someone who believes in limited intervention as a general rule I find it hard to come up with a reason to ban steroids.

    The argument that I hate the most is that players in the past didn’t have them, so it is unnatural. This is BS as the game evolves technology evolves with it and we should embrace that.

    The only argument I find somewhat persuasive is that by allowing steroids you virtually eliminate the choice for individuals to not use them if they want to go pro. In a world where it is totally allowed the competitive advantage of juicing will make it so that you would have to be really really special to make it without them. I realize that steroids don’t help you see the ball, or know how to throw a pitch, but at the point that there are only a few hundred jobs available you are likely going to find enough people that can do those things that also use steroids to get more power and possibly more importantly come back from injuries faster.

    This in an of itself is not enough of a reason to ban something. Because playing in the pro’s is not a right we have to defend. The problem is that pro athletes are at the top of a pyramid which has many levels below it, filled with people (children/teens) with an almost non-existent chance of making it all the way up. Now they will be pushed towards steroids, feeling the full blunt of the damage of the drugs.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:29 AM

      The only argument I find somewhat persuasive is that by allowing steroids you virtually eliminate the choice for individuals to not use them if they want to go pro. In a world where it is totally allowed the competitive advantage of juicing will make it so that you would have to be really really special to make it without them. I realize that steroids don’t help you see the ball, or know how to throw a pitch, but at the point that there are only a few hundred jobs available you are likely going to find enough people that can do those things that also use steroids to get more power and possibly more importantly come back from injuries faster.

      The problem with this line of thinking though, is that many people think all you need to do is take steroids and you are granted amazing strength/recovery/etc. Steroids, by themselves, don’t just enhance people. You have to use them in conjunction with working out, stretching, pushing yourself that others may not do to begin with.

      However, there are many other advantages that some athletes take that others don’t. Some people hire personal trainers to work on specific muscle groups pertinent to their sport. Others hire personal chefs to cook better meals. Athletes already have a multitude of ways and means to get better at their sport than others, what’s so different about finding chemical enhancements to do the same?

      • umrguy42 - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:13 AM

        I think the relevant point of concern is the last bit: “The problem is that pro athletes are at the top of a pyramid which has many levels below it, filled with people (children/teens) with an almost non-existent chance of making it all the way up. Now they will be pushed towards steroids, feeling the full blunt of the damage of the drugs.” Yes, it’s another “think of the children!” argument, but one with some real truth to it – why make kids (and/or their parents) feel pushed towards using PEDs from an early age to try and get their kids into pro sports? Some of the parents now are bad enough WITHOUT the added incentive to push PEDs…

      • trevorb06 - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:40 AM

        That is his argument. Allowing steroids will make everybody, even the ones without a chance, have a higher incentive to take them. Then when steroid usage goes up 70% we’ll be scratching our heads wondering why.

  4. Jonny 5 - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    Let them use metal bats and spikes as they help them as well. Let them get a leg up by altering balls too. If guys have to use steroids to play, they shouldn’t be playing, plain and simple. I am not or ever going to support the use of steroids in sports at all. “If performance enhancing can be safely used under medical supervision what’s the problem?” The obvious problem is they will still be abusing, while saying they’re using “safely and under medical supervision” while jamming twice as many needles in themselves as allowed, getting bigger and stronger. While guys who decide not to do drugs get shuffled down to the minors for their careers. It will set a precedence where all ball players will think they need to use to compete. Because they will. It will set a precedence where baseball is looked down upon, and rightfully so. No true baseball fan with half a mind would suggest this.

    • billtpa - Jan 31, 2011 at 12:22 PM

      But if you’re accepting the central premise here, that they can be used safely, then there’s no reason for those guys to “decide not to do drugs.” Guys who decide not to exercise, or decide to eat McDonald’s and down a case of Schlitz every night, are already shuffled down to the minors for their careers (generally speaking). If the danger and illegality of steroids are removed, why should guys who chose not to take those substances be treated differently?

      • Jonny 5 - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:00 PM

        Wow, you stamped an “excellent point” on my post. Thanks. People should not have to do drugs to compete, and that’s why making it “ok”, is not OK. OK?

        Is Schlitz still even being sold???

      • billtpa - Jan 31, 2011 at 6:27 PM

        No, not OK. Your only basis for saying that, as far as I can tell, is the stigma attached to the phrase “doing drugs.” If the reasons for that stigma — illegality and health reasons — are both removed, then it makes no more sense to say “people should not have to do drugs to compete” than it does to say “people should not have to exercise to compete.” IMO.

  5. sabosgoggles - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    Games are constructed from arbitrary rules – that’s pretty much the whole idea. You lay out an objective and restrictions on how that objective can be achieved, and then you see how well you and your opponent can perform within that artificial environment. With your devil’s advocate point in mind, I think the discussion about using steroids is probably best pursued not in the realm of morals and medical risk, but, simply, do we want steroids to be a part of how baseball is played? The question is really no more complicated than whether or not scuffing or base-stealing should be allowed (that’s not to say that it is a simple question, but no one really debates the social or cultural ramifications of scuffing a baseball).

  6. adenzeno - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    To me, steroids are an artificial means of increasing strength and combatting fatigue. Getting stronger by lifting is one thing, adding steroids to the mix, with the unknown health risk is another. Do we really know the long term affects of long term steroid use? Even if they are doled out under supervision, once the steroids become legal, then athletes will go the “more is better” route. Younger kids (and many no doubt have already) will be tempted and will use them in an unsupervised environment. Athletic competition should be about one’s natural talent and preparation, not an externally provided source.

  7. mcsnide - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    This is a tough call for me. First, I generally believe adults should be able to do whatever they want to do with their own bodies. I understand why many athletes have used, and have no animus toward them. Yes, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are Hall of Famers in my book.

    On the other hand, I don’t know enough about the science of the issue to know what the long-term health implications are. Unless safety can be guaranteed, I’d find it hard to say it’s ethical to condone usage of a substance that can, say, substantially shorten an athlete’s life just so I can see more home runs or strikeouts.

    Throw in the fact that legalizing will result in tremendous pressure for everyone who wants to play pro ball, and we’d quickly see it throughout all of baseball’s feeder system. While I understand those at the top doing it, I really don’t think it’s something we want to encourage every kid with a D-I baseball scholarship to do.

    The civil libertarian in me says legalize. But I’m not sure how the benefits (better baseball players!) outweigh the societal costs. It seems to me that those most tempted by PEDs would be those who are most marginalized by society and who see sport as their only way to improve their lives, even if it’s a long shot. And those people also would have the least money to make sure they’re getting proper supervision and “good” drugs.

    In short, I have no idea what should be done, and this issue isn’t as easy as folks on both sides of the argument typically make it out to be.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:42 AM

      On the other hand, I don’t know enough about the science of the issue to know what the long-term health implications are. Unless safety can be guaranteed, I’d find it hard to say it’s ethical to condone usage of a substance that can, say, substantially shorten an athlete’s life just so I can see more home runs or strikeouts.

      But why are we such sticklers on steroids only? Many drugs, both OTC and prescribed by doctors, are harmful, both short and longterm, to people’s health. Things like aspirin taken in large doses can be harmful. The problem with steroids, as mentioned by Craig above, is the circular logic people use. They can have harmful side effects so they are bad for you. And they are bad for you because they have harmful side effects…

      • mcsnide - Jan 31, 2011 at 2:08 PM

        But those other things you mention have legitimate medical reasons to do them. The negatives of the side effects are generally outweighed by the positives of pain relief, disease control or, you know, not dying. Needing to get better at baseball is not a medical condition. If it were, my insurance company would be broke.

        As for circular logic, if steroids are bad, it is precisely because of the side effects. Restating my view twice, and changing the sentence structure the second time doesn’t make it circular. That argument would be circular only if the first statement was “Steroids are harmful because they have side effects” and the second statement was “Steroids have side effects because they are harmful.” That formulation, besides being circular, would be absurd. Craig’s point was about legality, and is well taken.

        What’s funny about this conversation is that my default position is “let them do what they want.” But the more I think about it, the less ethical I believe that position is. The real problem with not legalizing, though, is enforcement. Only a polyanna could believe the dopers aren’t way ahead of the enforcers, and if there’s not a credible means of enforcement, what’s the point of a ban, anyway? In the end, that’s the reason this debate rages on and on – because both sides have valid, strong arguments.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:26 PM

        Needing to get better at baseball is not a medical condition. If it were, my insurance company would be broke.

        True, but what about getting back to health faster? Some PEDs aid in recovery, getting a player back to “game shape” faster than a typical rehab.

        Only a polyanna could believe the dopers aren’t way ahead of the enforcers, and if there’s not a credible means of enforcement, what’s the point of a ban, anyway?

        100% Agree

  8. holliswatson - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:46 AM

    Shouldn’t the central question here concern the quality of the game? Is the action on the field more or less entertaining when the players are juiced? To me, that’s easy; less bulky players equals more entertaining baseball.

    I mean, I don’t actively want to see players having health problems, either. But it’s really none of my business if they want to take that risk. What I care about is *baseball*.

  9. bcopus - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    I would like to see more questions raised about the overall effect legalizing steroids would have on the game of baseball itself. MLB is an entity of it’s own, outside of the players who are playing it. Take away the question of whether steroids should be legal, and whether players should be allowed to take them, and you are still left with the question: is it good for the game itself? It’s hard to say what could happen. One theory would suggest we would have an arms race of PED’s. Would that be healthy for baseball? It’s impossible to say for sure that would happen, and if it did, if it would have a negative effect on the sport. Another set of questions I would raise would be something like the following: is there any one particular aspect of baseball that would get more net effect from legalized steroids than another? For instance, if everyone took PED’s, would we see 15-12 scores on a regular basis, with most of those runs coming from homeruns? Would we see 20K games on a regular basis? In other words, would taking PED’s change the overall balance of the game, and if so, would fans respond positively or negatively to that?

    • ta192 - Jan 31, 2011 at 1:32 PM

      attendance :: scoring

  10. sdelmonte - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    It’s worth noting that the author of the blog entry writes for Discover about “transhumanism.” As odd as that word sounds, it’s a word we will be hearing a lot in this century. Like it or not, we are on the edge of radical changes in the human experience. Steroids are only the tip of the iceberg, and we face a potential choice between relentless regulation and demonization of every advance that comes along, or possibly adjusting our long held moral and ethical codes to allow for things that are difficult to regulate or prevent. Gene therapy, advances in surgery, cybernetic enhancements, and drugs that make steroids seem like snake oil are all coming in the next fifty years.

    By raising the question of how we should or should not deal with steroid use beyond the knee-jerk WADA approach, we stand a chance of being ready for the next wave and the wave after that. We might still ultimately decide it’s wrong. We may change our perceptions. We might find a middle ground. But we need to be thinking about it, and so I applaud bloggers who raise the question.

    • Kevin S. - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:06 AM

      “possibly adjusting our long held moral and ethical codes”
      -
      We’ve been doing that in the social arena for decades. Many things that were long held to be moral and ethical turn out to be at odds with the basic freedoms that are the cherished basis of this country. Morality and ethics changing with the times is neither new nor evil.

  11. Walk - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    I am a little divided on how i feel about the use of steroids. Used under a doctors care for recovering from surgery, limited knowledge here i think this is mostly hgh, i am fine with. Used every day as part of a workout regimen? I still need to be convinced on that one for a controlled substance. Use of non allowed supplements that are illegal, those that are on baseballs banned list but you can buy at general nutrition centers? I am fine with those. Banning players that take drugs that help you recover from usage of such drugs? That is going a bit far as players may not take those drugs and cause themselves further harm in trying to distance themselves from a hot test, i would kinda look the other way on such a test and make sure that got tested every time.

    • Walk - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:34 AM

      My apologies, i should have proofread my statement. I need to clarify the following sentence. Use of non allowed supplements that are illegal, those that are on baseballs banned list but you can buy at general nutrition centers? I meant the drugs that are on baseballs banned list but legal to purchase over the counter.

  12. tbinger - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    Steroids aren’t like Popeye’s spinach…you still have to lift to build muscle. They probably allow elite athletes to recover faster from injuries, although the data on this isn’t conclusive. But to me, steroids and other PEDs aren’t any different than the myriad of modern advantages today’s players have over Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. Current players travel by chartered plane instead of train, have personal trainers and nutritionists to sculpt their bodies, have Dr. James Andrews to repair their arms and shoulders, have video of every at-bat and opposing pitcher to study, have LASIK surgery if they need it, etc. Why aren’t these things considered “cheating”? The players are still human, it’s still 90 feet to first base, and 4 balls equals a walk. The fundamentals are all still there.

  13. BC - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    Let ‘em load up on whatever they want! I’ve long since given up on this topic. Bring back the 60 home run seasons, they’re more fun to watch.

    • ta192 - Jan 31, 2011 at 1:34 PM

      Amen!

  14. dan1111 - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    This article is deeply flawed. It states: “the only ethical reason to ban steroids if they are dangerous and harmful even when used properly.”

    Since when do athletic organizations have an ethical obligation to allow anything that can be done safely? These bodies can arbitrarily set any rules for participation that they want. The MLB has every right to ban steroids because of health risks, because of the way they alter the game, because baseball players with huge muscles look funny, or even just because public opinion is against them. There is nothing morally wrong with any of this. Athletes may freely choose to either abide by these rules or not participate.

    In my opinion, health risks are a very good reason to ban steroids, even if they can be used safely (which is in itself a debatable proposition). The author of the article concedes that steroids are dangerous; legalizing them would certainly create great pressure to use them unsafely. High school, college, and foreign players who aspired to the MLB would feel the need to use them, and many of these people would not have access to the right medical supervision. Professional players would be tempted to get an edge by going beyond safe levels–and if it is hard to detect steroid use now, imagine how hard it would be to detect excessive use of an allowed substance. These dangers are real, and they matter.

    • Kevin S. - Jan 31, 2011 at 12:35 PM

      I think you’re misreading how that was meant. In your interpretation, Craig said any reason other than the one he gave is the antithesis of ethical, and thus argues they are invalid. If I’ve read him correct, however, he’s saying that *if* one is to use an ethical argument, this is the only one that applies, but there is no necessity to use an ethical argument, and other reasons, drawing from different bases, can be argued.

  15. trevorb06 - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    Craig,

    Let’s broaden this a little bit and look at steroids much like the medicinal marijuana debate. Many people will argue that marijuana is bad, even for a medicinal purpose, but for the sake of arguement let’s say California has this one right and that marijuana is good for medicinal purposes. Steroids are also very good for medicinal purposes and are used in many different ways in the medical field. Now, to use steroids recreationally (like in sports) can and will get many feathers ruffled, much like using marijuana medicinally. One can argue that both steroids and marijuana really are not that detrimental to the health (and studies have shown alcohol and cigarettes are worse for a body than marijuana). So, just because a drug can be okay in a medicinal way doesn’t necessarily justify its recreational use, does it? Same can be said about other drugs such as Xanex, a popular anti-anxiety drug that has found a recreational following. Regardless of baseball’s rules there are laws against recreational use of these drugs. If I got caught with an ounce and a container of Xanex I bought from a buddy I’d find myself in the clinker for a little bit, just like if I were found with a couple syringes of steroids. If a doctor illegally prescribed me some marijuana or Xanex when it was not medically necessary, we’d both find ourselves in some trouble if caught and proven guilty. Same with steroids.

    Now, I’m not going to finish this post saying what is right or wrong, or even what I believe is right or wrong. I’m just pointing out that you can’t seperate steroids from other things in this debate just because we’re talking about baseball.

    • trevorb06 - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:42 AM

      “Now, to use steroids recreationally (like in sports) can and will get many feathers ruffled, much like using marijuana medicinally.”

      This should say “much like using marijuana recreationally” my apologies.

  16. Tim's Neighbor - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:49 AM

    To me, yeah great, go big league usage of steroids. It’ll be monitored by a well-paid legit doctor if they were legal. I wouldn’t be worried at all.

    However, I think where we run into a problem is equal access. Wealthy athletes will have proper access. Poor athletes will have to cut corners to keep up. When you have kids trying to get drafted and all of their wealthier competition has this advantage of better chemicals, they’re going to want to go after that in order to keep up. And they’re not going to have the same access to proper medical supervision. I just feel like it would create an even bigger class separation in baseball than it already has. (Let’s face it, baseball can be an expensive sport for kids to play.)

  17. spudchukar - Jan 31, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    I take steroids every day, and have for the past couple of years. I also work out pretty regularly. My upper body development has increased significantly. I was diagnosed with extremely low testosterone, so low my physician was seriously worried. The body needs certain levels to function well, metabolically. The healthy range is vast, somewhere between 300-800,(somethings?). My level originally was in the 150-180 range, and my doctor hoped to get it up to 400-500. It has remained below the 300 mark even though I now take the maximum dosage, a gel, Androgel, that is applied directly to the skin.
    I had complained to my doctor that my libido was lacking, was tested and found to be spectacularly low. Fortunately, for me it is not accompanied by ED, which surprises my physician, but he warns that that could occur. The treatment returned my libido to levels I don’t remember ever having, even though the testing levels remain low.
    When I work out the results are startling. I had always heard that steroids make working out easier. I cannot say that I notice that as much as I do the results, which certainly encourage me to continue. Last year I also had knee-replacement surgery and when I notified the orthopedic surgeon, he encouraged me to continue the steroid usage, because the low test levels could alter my recovery. The recovery was slow, but the surgery was much more difficult than most because my knee joint had been destroyed by a staph infection ten years earlier during a minor meniscus procedure. I can now run for the first time in ten years. I will never know if the steroids helped. It isn’t like I have a “control study” to compare it to. I share this story only to bring some light to a very complex issue. What if a professional athlete is diagnosed similarly? Is it fair that one athlete has a natural level around 300 or lower, and others have naturally high levels of 800 or more? What if that athlete is injured? Should he be prohibited from usage even though it may retard his recovery process? I will be 60 in a couple of weeks and the steroids still have a significant muscular development effect. Would I be the size I am now in my 40′s, 30′s or younger if this issue had been discovered and addressed sooner? Where is the level playing field there? What if an athlete suffers from low libido or ED, should he not be able to address the problem? If his levels are so low that it affects his general health shouldn’t he be able to seek remedy? And if he is allowed to use the PED for health or injury assistance, should his records be tainted because of his use? I sure do not have all the answers, but these questions certainly muddy the waters of an issue that is considerably more complex that MLB has presented it to be.

  18. kellyb9 - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:06 PM

    It’s really a moot point since they are illegal. Most people will admit that players like Barry Bonds wouldn’t have been able to reach the milestones they reached without the help of performance enhancing drugs. Not all players are so willing to break the law in order to achieve these milestones. As long as they are illegal, they should be banned in baseball.

  19. indaburg - Feb 1, 2011 at 9:11 PM

    I’d go one step further and make steroids mandatory, like the All Drug Olympics.

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