Why not allow sports icons like Lance Armstrong to use performance enhancing drugs? A more laissez-faire attitude on doping in sports and in cycling may benefit humanity in the long run.
Millions of sports fans throughout the world were greatly disappointed with startling sports news that champion cyclist Lance Armstrong was stripped of his titles in winning seven Tour de France competitions following release in 2012 of the U.S. Anti- Doping Agency (U.S.A.D.A.) report recommending this. Later, in 2013, Lance publicly admitted to “doping” or using performance enhancing drugs (P.E.D.s). The actions taken against the Champion cyclist resulted in tremendous public humiliation not only for him, but for the many others involved including medical doctors, organizers, and his team mates. Two obvious questions immediately come to mind: (1) Why is there the need for anti-doping regulations in professional sports? (2) Is it realistic to expect reliable and equitable enforcement of anti-drug rules and regulations? Before delving into these issues, let’s examine the origins of human sports.
The Origins of Human Sport-Expert Scientific Opinion
In “Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex” (1871 ) naturalist Charles Darwin, best known for his theory of natural selection, put forth another lesser known one called theory of sexual selection. That’s correct, the amazing philosopher was also an expert on the subject of sex! His theory implies that what we humans refer to as “sport”, is actually a form of animal sexual selection practiced by many species. He presents an abundance of supporting evidence from the animal world including birds that play a form of “baseball” with sticks, and “soccer-playing” red kangaroos. In nature, it is generally the males who engage in sports-like competitions within their species for the opportunity to win them and consequently mate with the females. Those male specimens with “desirable” qualities such as strength, agility, and coordination, are at an advantage toward winning the “sporting competitions”, and to mate and pass along their genes, giving future generations a survival advantage. It was true throughout the ages that certain human qualities such as physical strength and superior hand-to-eye coordination were essential to human survival; the former being important for personal defense, and the latter essential for successful hunting. Currently, these qualities play a relatively minor role in the survival of modern man, and so the original purpose of that form of sexual selection that we call “sports” is becoming somewhat obsolete. Nonetheless, interest in, and the enthusiasm for sports remains deeply engrained in our human genetic character. Make no mistake, I am not arguing against sports. Non-professional competitive sports remain valuable from a fitness perspective by allowing individuals who may find workout routines boring to engage in a more interesting and social form of physical activity. On the other hand, most professional sports do involve pushing the upper limits of human endurance and can occasionally lead to serious physical injury.
Why are performance enhancing drugs in sports prohibited?
It probably has to do with a sense of fair play, don’t you think, and a psychological need on the part of the audience to believe that the players are performing “naturally”; or possibly, it is out of concern for the players themselves with regard to “performance enhancing drugs side effects”. Whatever the reason, we all know that none of us is truly “endowed equally by our Creator”, and that we all display bio-individuality with respect to personal hormonal levels and the quantities of performance -enhancing substances that our bodies naturally produce. In short, nature has given some of us an advantage over others when it comes to physical performance abilities. Ironically, according to Darwin, these genetic differences are largely attributable to the form of sexual selection that we call “sports”.
Are anti-doping rules enforceable?
In the case of Lance Armstrong, it took over 15 years for the truth to surface. According to the 2012 U.S.A.D.A. report, Armstrong began secretly employing drug dealers and medical doctors prior to his 1998 world championship. His doctors went to great lengths to hide his illegal drug use including smuggling in saline substances during testing intended to lower his blood red cell count, which was artificially raised before racing through blood transfusions and erythropoietin (E.P.O.) use. (High red blood cell counts translate into greater quantities of oxygen being delivered to muscles for enhanced performance.) That same 2012 report estimates that approximately 80% of the Tour de France medalists between 1996 and 2012 have been tainted similarly by doping. (Where the hay were they?) These purported facts and statistics do not bode well for the ability of professional sports to enforce bans and to police itself, in my opinion.
Prohibited P.E.D.s, including Human Growth Hormone (H.G.H.) and Anabolic Steroids
It is not my intention here to comprise a complete performance enhancing drug list with side effects; but, I will mention the most commonly used ones relevant to the Lance Armstrong case. (1) Human Growth Hormone (H.G.H.) is comprised of amino acids and is secreted naturally by the pituitary gland of both women and men. It’s what assists in development of bone and what makes us grow in childhood. In men, it also allows the testes to produce the steroid testosterone. Many researchers, convinced of its anti-aging properties, advocate prescribing it for that purpose, although it is illegal to do so. (2) Anabolic steroids, on the other hand, including testosterone-like substances , increase protein within the cells of our skeletal muscles. Gains achieved in muscle strength through high intensity exercise are accentuated by steroid supplementation. However, serious health risks are believed to be associated with this application. These include heightened L.D.L. (“bad”) cholesterol, hypertension, and possible liver and cardiovascular problems. Keep in mind that these problems may be dose-related. Other doping substances include (3) erythropoietin (E.P.O.) which stimulates red blood cell production, and (4) corticosteroids which act as anti-inflammatories. I, for one, have not used any of these substances for my personal workouts out of concerns for the possible side effects, and because off-label use of them is illegal in the U.S. I might add that I am far from a “champion” sportsman.
Why don’t we allow sport players to use what they wish in return for useful scientific data?
Since long-term benefits and risks of P.E.D.s including H.G.H. and anabolic steroids are unknown, and equitable enforcement of bans appears unrealistic, why don’t we simply permit players to use the dope-they-desire in exchange for potentially valuable health and medical information. Here’s the plan: Let’s have sports association doctors test players regularly and keep confidential records on the P.E.D.s they’re using. Medical exams would be performed on a regular basis and the players’ health would continue to be monitored on a prospective basis; i.e. into the future. An anonymous data base would be maintained whereby valuable health and medical data could be accessed and analyzed by anyone interested in doing so. It would enable us to perform risk/benefit analyses, and to determine if the medical benefits attributed to these substances by some are real and outweigh the risks. Naturally, changes in the legal status of P.E.D.s would need to be made. Please let me have your opinion on the subject. Doc Garrett
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