The Alex Rodriguez case has brought the issue of steroid and performance-enhancing drug (PED) use in competitive sports kicking and screaming back to the headlines for another spin.
And, once again, some responsible journalist types are calling for the legalization of said drugs, so that – and I admit this is some crude paraphrasing – we can just let athletes get on with it and entertain us because, well, they are going to do it anyway.
So, in light of articles like Huffington Post’s recent ‘Is It Time to Say Yes to Steroids in Professional Sports?’, I feel suitably compelled to respond.
If I could write the rest of the article using just the word ‘no’, it wouldn’t even convey how much I disagree with the idea of legalizing steroids and PEDs in sports. However, instead of childishly stamping my feet, I’ll try and justify my point of view.
Legalize steroids and PEDs tomorrow and you will have several very big problems present themselves very quickly. The following points are in no particular order of importance or immediacy.
Problem: Total Loss of Control
The system of detection of these drugs might be flawed and there might be more athletes out there using than the authorities know about, but it is only the law’s relatively black and white position on this issue that stops it becoming a complete farce.
What’s the plan if PEDs are legalized? Try and control their use somehow? Allow them but limit them? Good luck with that. If it’s difficult to police their use at all, it’s going to be a nightmare to regulate them, with a myriad variables to consider.
Problem: Who Gets To Use?
So, in this hypothetical steroid-filled fairy land, who can use them and who can’t? Are we saying only pro-athletes? Are we going to have licenses issued? Do you have to be a professional to get the license? Do the rest of us live under a different law?
I can see it now…
– “Shame you didn’t make the pros, bro.”
– “Would have if I’d had my ‘roid card, bro”
And, if there’s no regulation, what then? Free-for-all? I mean, I’m not saying everyone will suddenly start buying steroids but the current law probably dissuades quite a few that are on the fence. If there’s no law, there’s no more inhibition.
Problem: Increased Accessibility for Everyone Else
Even if the legalization could be limited to card-holding sports players or some similar system, the rest of us would be able to get hold of it much easier as a result. Controlled substance or not, there’s no way the law could be enforced with so many cases.
Within two generations, it would be a moot point because people growing up where steroids are the norm in sport would become the policy makers and the tide of pressure would overrun anyone still weakly fighting against legalization.
The implications of that are mind-boggling.
Problem: Rise In Medical Cases
Professionals and the coaches thereof might know what they’re doing with PEDs. Pro Bodybuilders are a good example of that; their knowledge of the relevant parts of the human endocrine system is pretty much unparalleled, save for scholars in the subject.
Even some dedicated amateurs know their way around a steroid cycle, but can you imagine average 21 year old Joe popping some Dianabol and then wondering why he’s growing man-breasts and his balls are shrinking, or even worse (depending on your definition of worse), his liver starts to shut down?
Multiply that problem by many more and you can envisage the overnight increase in load on the medical system.
Problem: Athlete Mindset
Pro level athletes and top level amateurs have a different mental composition than most of us.
They are driven, competitive to a fault, and some of them are literally willing to die to win. One person starts doping, they all have to, otherwise they can’t stay competitive. And how much is too much? They won’t know when to stop if their competitors are getting better and better.
That knowledge and control I was talking about that coaches and athletes have about using steroids will be replaced by desire and greed. It’s happened before with individual cases, groups even (*cough* Russian weightlifters *cough*) and the results were not pretty.
Problem: What About The Abstainers?
There’s a lot of athletes who would start using, especially in the billion dollar US team sport leagues like the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. There are probably several players doing it anyway, but it will become the norm once it’s legal.
But, what about the guy who doesn’t want to? The health risks are enough to put a good portion of people off, not to mention some that will simply not agree with doing it. Will they be sidelined, forced out if they don’t sign up?
The owners will pressure the managers, who will pressure the coaches, who will demand it from the players. Hell, the owner probably won’t need to say anything, the coaches will know what’s at stake. These leagues are a far cry from the ideological pure sport concepts they originally were; it’s all about money now. You think the player that doesn’t commit is going along for the same ride as the ones that do?
Problem: What Happens When Steroids Aren’t Enough?
Think of the precedent it would set for the future of sport if we allowed PEDs. Now, I’m stretching the brew a bit here but stay with me.
Say steroid use somehow becomes the standard and, through all the mishaps and deaths (because there will be deaths) they have figured the perfect balance of just the right amount to induce peak performance in the athlete, but not to overreach and cause damage. In other words, we’re back to square one, but everyone is bigger, tougher, stronger etc. than before: a level playing field, so to speak.
What will be the performance enhancer after that? Will it even be drugs or are people going to start suggesting genetic engineering or implants? Let’s build perfect athletes from the DNA level up, that sort of thing.
The idea sounds far fetched, but we’re about five evolutionary picoseconds away from completely understanding both genetic engineering and nano-technology. My point is: there is no going back once we step through the door.
And The Circus Comes to Town
In my opinion, the desire to be the best would be a stronger pull than any conservative notion of holding back to be safe. Sporting rivalries that exist today would quickly put paid to the idea of using PEDs in moderation, and despite what anyone says, the drugs would make it to the top level amateur world as well.
Can you imagine a weight-lifting team from the Eastern Bloc being told they’re allowed to use Trenbolone? “Have at it, boys.”
I know what people are thinking: Bodybuilders seem to control themselves. My first reaction to that is: really, that’s control?
Anyway, say it is, and they are a model from which we could extrapolate, to give us an idea of where this could lead; it still scares the living daylights out of me. At least a bodybuilder’s goal is to have all-round perfection. They look balanced, in their own exploded way.
Now think of a power sport where the athlete needs less muscle groups. Take the muscles he or she uses a lot and expand them like some grotesque comic book character. That will be actuality. This doesn’t happen now because it’s still illegal and even the people doing it under the radar won’t want to give the game away by looking freakish, and they wouldn’t want to be singled out for looking strange anyway.
But once the ban is lifted and it’s a money game – just you wait, because the Circus will roll into town…and the bearded lady might even make an appearance.