Today’s Solutions: October 17, 2021

Condemning drugs in sports is hypocritical.

Marco Visscher | October 2007 issue
Baseball player Barry Bonds, who broke the major-league home-run record this summer, is said to have used steroids and amphetamines, and so fans usually jeer when he enters a stadium. Sports and artificial performance-enhancing measures simply don’t mix—well, except in the Tour de France. The 2006 winner, Floyd Landis, may still have his title stripped from him, after tests raised suspicion. Doping is why the legendary cycling event’s popularity is waning considerably.
The use of steroids and other drugs is against the rules and therefore wrong. But isn’t this collective disgust just slightly hypocritical? After all, in the rest of society, performance-boosters have become increasingly commonplace. People take Prozac so they can better manage psychological pressure. Students take Ritalin to improve their grades. Middle-aged men take Viagra to spice up their sex lives. Shy people take Paxil so they can handle social situations. Writers, musicians and other artists take other stimulants to stand out in their fields. Where are the strict rules and doping tests when it comes time to hand out diplomas or Grammy awards?
The essence of sports, critics say, would be damaged if we tolerated drugs. But in reality, play has long been corrupted by the big bucks, which also helped introduce the concept of “unfair competition.” Still, aren’t steroids and blood doping unhealthy? Yes, but so are a lot of other things: Prozac, Ritalin, alcohol, caffeine, aspirin…
In modern society, athletes have become heroes. Sports stars aren’t so much role models for society as reflections of it, albeit reflections with exceptional talent. Athletes take performance-enhancing substances mainly as a consequence of our sky-high expectations and the huge commercial interests involved.
Ultimately they are part of the same achievement-oriented society we are, in which the use of stimulants has become normal. The appropriate response is not moral outrage, but a relaxing of the enormous pressure we put on them: Just do your best, son. That’s all you can do.
 

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