Steroid Use in Sports and Its Broader Implications
by Julien Haller
With Lance Armstrong’s recent admission of steroid use, the discussion of performance enhancing drugs’ role in modern sports has been rehashed. I did not watch the interview myself (I don’t even own a television), but I have heard the topic come up often amongst coworkers and other acquaintances, so I thought I would throw in my two cents here. There are two contexts within which this issue can be addressed: its effects on the competition of sports and the broader implications for human existence. I will begin with the former.
Most point out that the use of these drugs gives the user an unfair advantage, but this is only so because other competitors are not using the drugs. If they were legalized within the rulebooks of every sport, and the amount that could be taken regulated, no unfair advantage would be gained by any single user. This is how the competition measures up without the use of performance enhancing drugs:
Notice that the ability of each individual varies, thus giving us a way to understand the rankings of each within the scope of the competition. If only one person uses the drug, say ‘z,’ it would give the competitor the unfair advantage mentioned above and skew the results of any match:
But if every participant takes the same drug in equal amounts, and we assume that the proportional boost each one gets from the drug is equal, the results would look more like this:
So the rankings return to their original form without being skewed. However, it should be mentioned that the proportion would not be equal. Every person’s biochemistry is different, thus resulting in different effects of the drug. But this should not translate into “unfair advantage.” In sports, natural inclinations give many competitors an edge and we do not consider this “unfair.” Think of Shaq. Do you believe he would have made the NBA if he had been two feet shorter? Probably not. I mean, have you seen his free throw? Therefore, any individual’s response to the drug would just be an addition to the list of natural inclinations which make him more suited for the sport in question.
Okay, so we answered the question of unfair advantage within the narrow scope of sports. But what of the broader implications? Of what human issue does this question play a smart part in influencing?
For me, that broader issue is how we approach the journey of life. Do we wish to partake in the machine or the gardens? This is a metaphor which has influenced a large part of my life, and will probably become more and more prevalent in my posts as time goes on; however, as this is my first time using it, I will give a brief explanation.
Our higher order functions, that which separates us from other animals (and that which I will leave rather vague for now in the interest of time and space), come with an added relationship to existence that only humans can attain. I see in this relationship a choice, or a tradeoff to be more specific, between the gardens and the machine.
The machine is the processing power we gain by chaining nature to our desires. We are able to construct systems by which the output we desire is increased over and beyond what could be naturally produced (e.g. a cotton gin system for extracting cotton from the earth). In this framework, we ourselves become a part of the machine as labor inputs, and we gain more material wealth for it.
But, to concede to this position, we must trade the gardens. In the gardens, the majesty of life reigns. By dint of our higher functions, we are able to escape our limited separateness and meld together organically. Our consciousness is raised and joy and love prevail over ego and greed. But the gardens can never provide the creature comforts of the machine.
So how does the steroid question inform this broader issue? The use of steroids is to treat the body like a machine, the processing power of which can be increased by fomenting a more efficient chemical balance. What is the result? A better chance at winning in competition and one more drop in the machine’s proverbial bucket.
And that’s the rub of the gardens and machine choice. The machine always wins (and Lance Armstrong gets his seven Tour de France titles). The earth’s ecology is predicated on competition, and using our higher functions to serve the machine gives us the power to win the game of survival. It is our evolutionary advantage. In game theory, the machine would be considered a “dominant strategy.” Any that choose the gardens will simply be out competed, thus the failure of most human attempts to create a better world. So, in effect, we are left with the choice of the machine or to die for the flimsy hope of a return to the gardens.
So am I for or against the use of steroids? Well, I do not follow sports and have the athletic ability of a retarded baby seal; therefore, within the scope of how steroids might change the way sports are played, I do not care, though it was fun to point out the fallacies of the “unfair advantage” argument. But, as for its implications to the direction human society takes and our relationship to existence itself, I am very much against them. It might seem silly and hopeless, but I do wish for humanity to do a one-eighty and fly in the direction of the gardens, even if it means I have to give up my computer and stop blogging.