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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Performance Enhancing Drug Use in Sports

      Performance enhancing drug (PED) use in sports is still a very controversial topic, with many valid arguments, that are both for and against its use. In today’s world of sports, winning is everything, especially at the professional levels. Many people think that PED use is a recent development. History shows that PED use has occurred long before organized sports were created. Some accounts of PED use date back to ancient Greek Olympic athletes. Athletes from all sports, have used and are using PEDs to enhance performance, to recover quicker, to relieve pain, for quality of life enhancement, and for many other reasons. Governing bodies, such as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), have been established to regulate and control PED use in sports. The effectiveness of these agencies continues to be questioned. The various arguments for and against PED use is a raging debate, which will probably continue indefinitely. As long as there are competitive sports, with high stakes and stressors, there will be athletes looking for different ways to enhance their performance and ultimately, to win (Coakley, 2015).

    The ethical dilemmas surrounding PED use in sports are many. Some argue that PED use gives athletes an unfair advantage over other athletes who do not use PEDs. Because of this unfair advantage, many believe that PED use should be banned outright. Others argue that as organized sports evolved, sports nutrition has evolved alongside it.

    Many of the nutrition supplements and drugs that are common today did not exist fifty years ago or longer. Science has made great strides in analyzing the nutritional needs and requirements of modern athletes. Sports maybe generally the same as they were many years ago but a lot of variables have also changed. The demands on athletes today are far greater than they were in years past. Today, on average, athletes are bigger, stronger, faster and more powerful than the athletes of the past. The levels of performance and competition are far higher and the correlating stress levels are much greater. Sports nutrition has a higher level of importance as the demands on athletes are now so much greater than the past (Reardon & Creado, 2014).

Other ethical arguments surround the morals and values of PED use. Some say that PED use is cheating, it diminishes the accomplishments of clean athletes, it sends a negative message to youth, it creates unequal playing fields, it gives athletes unfair advantages and makes success far too easy to achieve. Counter arguments discuss the increased sports nutritional needs of today’s athletes and the remaining requirement for technical skill. Many argue that to throw, hit or catch a ball with professional level skill, it still requires thousands of hours of training and practice that PED use can never replicate. Another argument refers to athletes who use PEDs do not deserve credit for whatever they accomplish, in an enhanced state. Counter arguments discuss advances in equipment, training, technology and uniforms that also increase athlete’s performance but are not banned (Beck, 2013). Another interesting trend, noted by Beck (2013), points out that competitive swimmers now use specially designed swimsuits, developed with the assistance of NASA, which has been shown to undoubtedly increase performance. There is no requirement to use these swimsuits and they are allowed. Swimmers who do not use these swimsuits stand little chance of any equality with swimmers who do use them.

It is apparent that the ethical arguments for and against PED use are numerous and both sides have many valid points. Doping and PED use has been considered unethical since the ancient Greek Olympics. Beck (2013) points out that back then, when an athlete was found to be using PEDs, they were sold into slavery. The solution will not be a simple one. It will require some serious thought and application, to devise an answer that makes the playing fields as fair and equal as possible, in light of modern athletic demands (Coakley, 2015).

Another major argument against PED use in sports is the potential hazards and health issues. Many claim that the unregulated use of PEDs can cause all sorts of dangerous side effects and health problems for athletes. While many drugs and supplements have already been banned, many are still used today, by athletes from all sports. Each drug and supplement has its own list of risks and rewards. Some are more validated by science than others. The fall of the Berlin wall, gave the world its first look into eastern bloc, European PED use, which was highly suspect for many years. It is now known, that almost all Soviet bloc countries used government sponsored PED programs. Many Soviet and eastern European athletes suffered numerous side effects of PED use, especially with anabolic steroids. Several athletes died at an unusually early age. Science has now shown the disastrous effects of anabolic steroids and it has been banned in sports for many years now (Reardon & Creado, 2014).

Despite the known and potential health hazards of some PEDs, there are those who still argue for it to be legalized. Many people say that modern, professional sports are dangerous and full of risks anyway. Calling it a known, high risk event, somehow makes it easier for some people to want PEDs legalized. Some think that if PEDs were legalized, it would truly even the playing fields of professional sports. Sports medicine doctors could administer the drugs in a controlled setting, athletes could be monitored for health issues, the high cost of drug testing could be eliminated and the entertainment value of sporting events would be much greater. The drug testing procedures are not fool proof and many athletes learn how to slip through the cracks and avoid detection. Many other athletes are accused of PED use because of increased performance but manage to pass the drug tests. And there are still many athletes who are genetically gifted, train ridiculously hard and achieve record breaking performance, without the use of PEDs (Smith, 2012).

There are also many PEDs that are not on the banned list and are legal to use, such as caffeine and creatine. It is assumed that all modern athletes are taking some form of PEDs, whether it is banned or legal. And the simple question is, in light of advances in science and sports nutrition, if some are legal, why shouldn’t they use them? Some of the legal PEDs have been shown scientifically to be generally safe and of great value to athletes. These arguments go back and forth between those that are for and against PED use. Until a logical answer or middle ground is achieved, PED use will remain a controversial topic, for many years to come (Beck, 2013).

Who do I believe is the all-time home run leader in Major League Baseball, Bonds or Aaron? I would have to say it is not a simple answer. The fact is that regardless of PED use or not, Barry Bonds still hit 763. Did his PED use contribute to this number? I would say, of course it did. But he still had to have the technical skill to hit the ball. PEDs were banned and he knowingly broke the rules and the law, so I would have to give the title to Hank Aaron. But do we know for sure, that Hank Aaron wasn’t using some form of PED? There weren’t any formalized drug tests back in his day and there weren’t any governing agencies, with lists of banned PEDs. 

It can be said that comparing athletes from different eras, isn’t a valid comparison because of all of the changes and the evolution of modern sports. Does it even really matter? Some say it doesn’t. Others still argue that it does. There have been so many changes in sports over the years, such as baseball’s racial integration in the 1940s and the mound being lowered by five inches in 1969, that comparing athletes from different eras, doesn’t even seem logical. The one constant that has remained true throughout the centuries, is that athletes have an indomitable spirit and desire to win. They will always do whatever it takes, to try to excel and win, with PEDs or without (Smith, 2012).


Coakley, J. (2015). Sports in society: Issues and controversies (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Beck, J. (2013). The Only Good Reason to Ban Steroids in Baseball: To Prevent an Arms Race. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Reardon, C., & Creado, S. (2014). Drug Abuse in Athletes. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from

Smith, C. (2012). Why it's Time to Legalize Steroids in Professional Sports. Forbes. Retrieved from

Eric Dempsey
MS, ISSA Master Trainer
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