by Josh Hodnik
Athletes have always pursued a way to gain an edge over their opponent. Drug use among athletes since sports were able to create large paydays and fame. This can be traced back to the Ancient Greek Olympics, where Greek athletes would attempt to increase their performance by ingesting raw testicles. As with modern-day athletes, Greek Olympians were competing for cash prizes, fame, and prestige. The methods used today to increase performance by athletes has evolved in a dramatic way, but the reason for it has remained the same. Athletes simply want to win.
Spectators push athletes to be their very best, and that has created a culture where performance enhancing drugs are needed. Fans want to see faster sprinters, bigger bodybuilders, and more homeruns. Athletes are praised when records are broken, but they are shamed if they are caught using a performance enhancing drug. You can’t have it both ways. If you were to completely wipe out anabolic steroids and HGH from the NFL, the game would slow down and there wouldn’t be the bone crushing collisions that the fans have grown accustomed to seeing. If you look back at film on a professional football game from the 60’s (before steroids were commonly used), you will see a much slower game. It might even resemble a high school game of today in many ways.
All professional sports have evolved. Athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever. Of course, this can be attributed to advanced training methods, better nutrition, and even increasingly advanced supplements. But we can’t ignore the fact that performance enhancing drugs have been a huge factor in the advancement of sports overall. Many believe that using anything to enhance performance substances is cheating, but in many ways, it could be viewed as a way for athletes to bridge an unfair natural gap. One male athlete may have natural testosterone level of around 300, and the next guy’s levels could be upward of 1,000. The guy with the lower number would have a big disadvantage in regards to recovery, the ability to increase muscle mass, and possibly strength. It is not accepted to use testosterone to increase levels to level the playing field. On the other hand, altitude chambers are used to recreate training in thinner air, giving the athlete a larger oxygen capacity. There is not much difference from this and an athlete injecting EPO. While the World Anti-Doping Agency approved the use of altitude chambers in 2006, EPO is still banned, and they continue to hand out suspensions and even lifetime bans for its use.
Enhancement has become more common and acceptable in everyday life. Laser surgery is performed to improve vision and medications are used to help children focus better. The line between what is natural or normal is beginning to become blurred. Genetic profiling is becoming more common, as people are being screened for diseases from birth. The techniques being used for genetic screening will soon carry over to the sport’s world. Gene therapy may be used to turn on and off genes associate with muscle mass and sprinting speed. This is referred to as gene doping, and it is a banned practice in most all sports; but it is something that could be done and would be completely undetectable with the common drug test used on athletes today. As testing for performance enhancing drugs become more advanced, so do the methods being used to enhance performance by athletes. The way athletes enhanced performance several decades ago was fairly simple. Anabolic steroids were used in sports where strength and size matter. Endurance athletes got help from EPO and a few other drugs, but that was about it. The crackdown on steroid use in most sports has forced athletes and their trainers to take different avenues to improve performance while still passing drug tests. Anabolic steroids are still used in most professional sports, but the dosage of these drugs and the type of steroids being used has changed. Back in the 90’s, MLB players could take just about any kind of steroid they wanted and at whatever dose without fear of failing a drug test. That has all changed. Testing has increased in a big way and the penalties for a positive test have become more severe. Due to this, players have had to only use steroids with short detection times, and at much lower doses. Due to this, a variety of other performance enhancing drugs are now being added to the lower dosed steroids to increase effectiveness. HGH, growth-hormone-releasing peptides, and a variety of other peptides are now being used to improve recovery and to help with the healing of injuries.
There is no doubt that performance enhancing drugs have helped athletes to gain an edge. Athletes are able to bounce back from injuries much faster today. Much of this is due to an advancement in medicine, but performance enhancing drugs play a major role as well. Some may view this as an unfair advantage, but as common as performance enhancing drug use is in professional sports, the playing field is actually pretty level. Anabolic steroids didn’t make Barry Bonds a great baseball player. He was an excellent player before he ever used steroids, but these drugs did help him hit the ball farther and it allowed him to play a much longer career. Since steroid use was actually pretty common with all players during his career, Bonds could easily be viewed as the best baseball player of his era.
It may sound crazy, but what if performance enhancing drugs were allowed in sports? Fans do want to see bigger, faster, and stronger athletes. It’s easy to see that the war on doping in sports has failed miserably. Instead of chasing athletes around with urine cups, maybe these sports organizations should employ a program that allows their athletes to take steroids and other performance enhancing drugs that could be prescribed by a team doctor. Instead of wasting time and money on trying to catch cheating athletes, this would be a way to help keeps athletes safer. Most athletes get their steroids on the black market. Most of the time they are uneducated on what they are taking, and have to rely on the word of a friend or trainer on what to take and how to take it. This can turn out bad. If this was monitored by a team doctor, the athlete’s health could be monitored. Let’s face it, professional athletes are always going to pursue a way to improve their performance. Regardless of testing or policy, steroid use will never go away in the athletic world. Society has accepted enhancement on many different levels, but hold a completely different view when it comes to athletes.