Another Look at Performance Enhancement

Here’s a question for us. Why is it that we come down so hard on professional athletes in regard to their usage of performance enhancement substances? For as things are hardly a day does go by without an accusation of drug use being leveled at some well known performer, be it  among the participants in the recent Tour de France, in the New York Yankee establishment, the MLB (that’s baseball), the NFL, the NBA, and the other professional sports organizations, although for some reason I encounter accusations leveled at NBA players much less often (why is that?).

Again the question, why doesn’t this performance regulation happen anywhere else to the same degree? Isn’t it well known, and accepted that professional artists and musicians carry out their work, do their performances under one or more artificial stimulants? For example haven’t many professional musicians died of drug overdoses, close to or even during their performances? And haven’t drugs contributed to the most successful performances of professional rock stars with their thousands of paying listeners?

Now there is a difference here that needs to be recognized. As far as I know, unlike in the world of professional athletics, there are no regulatory organizations overseeing the drug usage of the performers in these other fields —only the one that we are all subject to, the law, and its first upholders, the police.

Otherwise actors, musicians, artists, circus performers, even preachers, bankers, and teachers, in short, all of us, are free to make our own personal choices of what enhancing and perhaps addictive substances we choose to indulge, imbibe or inject.

So to say it once again, the difference between professional athletics and almost every other activity, is the presence in the one and the absence in the other, of a regulatory organization. Is this the way it should be?

And if you think it should be so, why? Is what athletes do so somehow special and different from what most of us do? Perhaps you would say that their activity, the one being enhanced, is clearly physical and therefore subject to special regulation? But that’s not so, think of day laborers and circus performers, wouldn’t they make themselves much more valuable to their employers by being on a regime of steroids? And don’t you think they’re probably doing it? And aren’t people also paying to employ and/or to watch them?

What would happen if professional athletes, like the rest of us, were subject to just the one law of the land, and also like the rest of us, free to make their own personal choices of what enhancing and perhaps addictive substances they chose to indulge? Would that be so wrong? Would that take away from the delight of the superb performance, knowing that steroids had had a role to play? Perhaps not if everyone had been free to use steroids in whatever manner he or she might choose.

Sure that kind of freedom would make professional athletes even more different from the rest of us than they are now. Probably more like circus performers and professional wrestlers. But look closely at the members, say, of an NFL or NBA team. In regard to their physical characteristics aren’t they already totally different from most of us?

And this situation came about, probably not from drug use, but most probably from an artificial (as opposed to natural) selection of physical characteristics over time. In basketball such characteristics as floor speed, height, and jumping ability were selected again and again, until eventually these characteristics became essential if one would even play the game. With drug usage to enhance these characteristics and others of similar importance to the game would the resulting situation be so much different?

The truth is that we are, like every other form of life on the earth, an evolving species. And by what we do we are helping, not slowing evolution. Probably speeding it up. We’ll never be the same again. Now it’s probably true that many don’t like that, don’t like the fact of change, for we are changing every instant that we are alive. Many, too many don’t like to think that past ages, so-called golden ages, are no more, and would try to bring them back (these past ages, of course, never were).

There perhaps was a past age of Olympic glory (although I don’t believe it), when the young men (and women?) great of heart and great of soul, would turn their attention to running the race, just for that moment, and give absolutely all that they had. Well our sporting events are no longer like that (and to say it again probably never were). Now it’s a business, and as a business constantly trying to sell itself, —the Tour de France, for example, constantly trying to display its pure, amateur face, and hence its loud pursuit of its riders suspected of being on drugs.

As I write this I find that I may be treading on libertarian ground, ground that the libertarians have probably already well covered. Without knowing I think the libertarian would probably say, as I seem to be saying, let the athletes be free to choose whatever they might want to do to their own bodies to help them win the race or contest.

When everyone is on blood boosters, growth hormones, anabolic steroids and all the rest, perhaps then heart and soul will stage a comeback and be the difference, and the outcome of the race become exciting once again.


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