Growing up in the heart of Toronto, I found myself surrounded by a city of fans that eat, sleep, and breathe professional sports. Whether it was watching Hockey Night in Canada almost every Saturday or skipping school with friends to watch the Champions League, it was almost inevitable that I would eventually succumb to this exposure and become a “die-hard” fan.
That being said, as a fan, I rarely found myself thinking about some of the ethical issues, regarding sports, which seemingly plague modern philosophers. However, upon exposure to the world of sports ethics and an increased knowledge about the healthcare system in Canada, several of these issues have begun to surface and alter my views in the world of professional sport.
One such issue is the currently “illegal” use of performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). On one hand, we have Corlett and colleagues arguing against the use of these substances due to their underlying influence on the health of an athlete and the subsequent cost of health care for the general population. Paradoxically, Julian Savulescu and colleagues unequivocally support the use of PED’s based on several factors including, but not limited to, the potential to embody the human spirit, a removal of the effects of genetic inequality, and a push to focus on the safety of athletes through regulation rather than prohibition.
When examining the ethics of athletes using PED’s, we have no reason to look any further than the case surrounding the infamous New York Yankees’ slugger, Alexander Rodriguez.
Rodriquez, or “A-Rod”, has had one of the most illustrious careers in MLB history. Despite his successes, the one-time World Series winner has been consistently ostracized and thrown into the limelight over his well-documented use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Recent reports have suggested that, despite his initial denial, A-Rod has admitted to the DEA that he used PED’s in his career. In addition, these reports also claim that he paid approximately $12,000 a month to Anthony Bosch, an ex-clinic owner in Florida, for testosterone treatment.
Relating back to the ethics of using PED’s, this case demonstrates several of the key points that were used in both supporting and opposing arguments. For example, based on the high price paid by Rodriguez, this exemplifies one of the arguments proposed by Julian Savulescu and colleagues stating that banning these substances may foster economic inequality. Based on the assumption that permitting these substances may eliminate the need for testing, the money could be used to provide less fortunate athletes with PED’s, thereby eliminating economic discrimination.
On the other hand, when considering the arguments of Corlett and colleagues, the underlying health consequences of PED’s and their subsequent effects on the cost of healthcare for the general population may provide justification for the banning of these substances. According to their report, even if these drugs were available to every athlete, there could still be a large number of athletes that may not be able to afford the drugs and ultimately the long-term health expenses associated with PED use. This view states that professional athletes, who typically have the disposable income to purchase and use PED’s, should take responsibility for their actions and be prepared to cover their own health care costs.
Another significant issue regarding the use of performance enhancing drugs revolves around the potential intentions of an athlete. For example, Chael Sonnen, a retired 3-time UFC champion recently had an interview where he discussed failing a drug test and his use of PED’s:
“People were saying, ‘Why won’t he say he’s sorry?’ I’m not. I’m not going to apologize because I’m not sorry. I’m a consenting adult. I knew exactly what I was doing. This was a premeditated decision … I’m talking about, am I holding something in my possession and then a police officer sees me, am I allowed to have that? If the answer’s yes, then I’m in. That was my test. If I could get this legal, if there’s a legal medication, I’m taking it. I’m not cross-referencing it with the commission.”
This clearly exemplifies the willingness of an athlete to take PED’s despite acknowledging that they were illegal within his professional sport. This confirms Savulescu and colleagues’ claim that the ramifications associated with cheating may be too small to be a deterrent when using PED’s. In addition, because of advances in technology, a majority of these drugs are become increasingly harder to detect. As a result, with minimal risk for detection and marginal ramifications for exposure, this may create an environment where, assuming PED’s are still illegal, cheating may become inevitable for athletes.
In addition, what many fail to consider is the cases wherein athletes are either unaware of the substances they may be consuming or have been coerced or pressured into taking them. For example, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Carter Ashton was suspended by the NHL for failing a drug test. However, according to reports, Ashton was exposed to the substance clenbuterol unknowingly as it was present in an inhaler he had taken following an asthma attack.
Furthermore, the issue of coercion is of greater likelihood within children sports. As Savulescu and colleagues stated, children are more likely to succumb to pressure from their coaches and parents due their lack of power. Therefore, making assumptions based on the intentions of an athlete has become increasingly problematic due to external factors that can influence the athlete to take the PED’s in the first place.
All in all, the arguments regarding the use of PED’s are more complicated then the average fan, including myself, would initially think. Because of complications regarding the ethics of using these substances, the current status of PED’s in the world of professional sports probably requires further analysis from athletic officials, athletes themselves, and sports fans.
Abel, G. (2014) Carter Ashton [Online Image]. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/sports/leafs/2014/11/06/suspended_leaf_carter_ashton_should_have_known_better_feschuk.html
Corlett, J.A., Brown Jr., V., Kirkland, K. (2012). Coping with Doping. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 40:1, 41-64. DOI: 10.1080/00948705.2012.725897.
Hughes, T. (2014, November 6). Carter Ashton suspended 20 games under NHL’s performance enhancing drug policy. SBNATION. Retrieved from http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/2014/11/6/7170587/carter-ashton-suspension-leafs-drugs-clenbuterol
Heinis, J. (2014, October 15). Chael Sonnen Says ‘ I’m Not Sorry’ for Performance Enhancing Drug Test Failures. Bleacher Report. Retrieved from http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2232438-chael-sonnen-says-im-not-sorry-for-performance-enhancing-drug-test-failures
Morin, J. (2014). Alex Rodriquez [Online Image]. Retrieved from http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/11/13/editorial-cartoon-alex-rodriguez/e36eM9rrEBnFtCEcZ8VtnO/story.html
Savulescu, J., Foddy, B., Clayton, M. (2004). Why we should allow performance enhancing drugs in sport. Br J Sports Med, 38, 666-670. DOI: 10.1136/bjsm.2004.005249
Terril, M. (2014, November 5). Alex Rodriguez Admitted to DEA He Used Performance-Enhancing Drugs. Rant Sports. Retrieved from http://www.rantsports.com/mlb/2014/11/05/alex-rodriguez-admits-to-dea-he-used-performance-enhancing-drugs/