Performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) have been used by athletes for decades. The first appearance of anabolic steroids was in the 1954 Olympics by the Russian weightlifting team. Once the Americans found out about this, they started putting their athletes on steroids and the rivalry was born. The east Germans were famous, or infamous, for their rigorous doping program lasting from 1968 to 1976. In that eight-year span, they dominated in the women’s sports and demonstrated the significant effectiveness of doping. This is thought to be what started the widespread use of doping in sports.

One of the most vilified athletes in modern Olympic history is Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson. He ran the 100-meter sprint in a world record 9.79 seconds, winning convincingly. Johnson tested positive for several different PEDs, including anabolic steroids, and was stripped of his medal. What is seldom talked about, however, is the case of Janet Evans. She was an Olympic swimmer who won the gold medal in the women’s 5K swim on the same day as Ben Johnson won his tainted medal. In a press conference following her victory, she bragged about her special high-tech swimsuit that the Americans had been keeping a secret. Janet Evans wasn't stripped of her medal. However, she was applauded for the use of “American ingenuity.” So the message this sends is that it isn't OK to use something that is widely available to all competitors, although illegal, to gain an advantage, but it’s OK to use something that isn't available to any of your competitors to gain an advantage.

In professional baseball, players like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Jose Conseco, and Jason Giambi were called in front of Congress to discuss steroid use in baseball for two weeks. Congress insisted that steroids were ruining the sport and needed to be banned when, in reality, reported revenues were vastly increased during the steroid era. Congress, as well as the Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner, preached about a level playing field, but the New York Yankees have a payroll three times that of average teams (Grossman et al 2005).

One study conducted by the MLB on the use of PEDs in professional baseball found that only about six percent of all athletes in the MLB were taking PEDs. They then hinted that because 94 percent of pro baseball players were so called “clean,” the use of PEDs in baseball was unnecessary. If we look at the way the study was conducted, we can see some flaws in the data. First off, they only tested for anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) and stimulants. They tested for about sixty different substances falling under the two categories. For players, this was probably not too hard to work around because the list of substances was available. All you would need to do is take something that wasn't on that particular list and you were in the clear. The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) was made famous for providing undetectable PEDs to athletes in the MLB. Secondly, the players knew when they were going to be drug tested. This is because random drug testing is against the players' Fourth Amendment rights. Thirdly, they didn't test during the off-season. This is significant because you could theoretically gain up to fifteen pounds of muscle during the off-season using AAS and retain anywhere from eight to twelve pounds after cessation (Grossman et al 2005).

There are also financial benefits for athletes who use PEDs. A study done at Berkley College regarding the potential economic benefits from pro baseball players taking PEDs concluded that the average team revenues increased from $140 million in the pre-steroid era (early 1990s) to $332 million in the steroid era (early 2000s). The study also calculated that on an individual level, an athlete who takes PEDs can gain an additional $8.8 million over his career if he never gets caught. Even if the player did get caught and received the maximum penalty from the MLB, he would still net $2.5 million after all of the fines (Grossman et al 2005).

Figure 2.

(Grossman et al 2005)

The figures above show how the average franchise revenue and overall value has increased since the beginning of the steroid era in baseball in 1995. These figures have been adjusted for inflation.

In the past month, Lance Armstrong went from being an American hero to being a name synonymous with cheating. The man who beat cancer twice and overcame it is still the greatest cyclist in history. The reason that everyone turned on Lance Armstrong so quickly is because for over ten years he was fighting allegations that he was taking PEDs. He went out of his way to say that he was clean and then ended up being the ring leader of the U.S. cycling team’s doping program. So to say that PEDs are ruining American society would be false. In fact, they are responsible for saving millions of lives. Testosterone is considered a miracle drug by doctors everywhere (Silvester 1995). Being lied to by their heroes is what people have a problem with. If Lance Armstrong had just admitted to doping from the beginning and apologized, he would still be stripped of his titles, but people would move on faster.

To the same extent that Barbie dolls are an unrealistic personification of the female form, GI Joes are doing the same thing to young boys. If you look at the differences between toys from the 1960s and today, there is a large size disparity.


Figure 3.

Left: (Land L Collectables 2012); Right: (Toy Haven 2008)

This figure shows how toys from the 1960s had an average build for a man of that time, and toys from 2012 have an excessively large build compared to a normal adult male. Toys from today’s era more accurately represent pro bodybuilders than normal adults.

One study that looked at the self-image of bodybuilders, weightlifters, and untrained individuals found that bodybuilders have higher levels of self-objectification, body dissatisfaction, and drive for muscularity than weight lifters and untrained individuals (Hallsworth et al 2005). It is unclear in the study whether the individuals started bodybuilding because they felt body dissatisfaction or if they started bodybuilding, started seeing results, and then felt the desire for more and more muscle (Hallsworth et al 2005).

Another study on whether exposure to ideal male figures impacted the self-image of adolescents found that only subjects with a previous history of body dissatisfaction were affected by looking at pictures of so-called “ideal male figures.” The adolescents with a history of body dissatisfaction were very affected by these images. So what this potentially means is that the increased muscularity of children’s toys won't affect everyone’s body image, but the ones who are affected will be severely affected by it (Humphreys P et al 2004).

Fitness and bodybuilding magazines like Muscle and Fitness and Flex are loaded with supplement ads that feature pro bodybuilders, who are taking steroids, holding supplements that claim to give you results that would only be attainable if you were taking steroids. The supplement industry is a $27 billion dollar industry, and a survey on supplement dealer showed that on average their patrons spend over $100 per month on dietary supplements like protein, creatine, and pre-workout drinks. On the less legal side of the equation, you can usually buy a one-month supply of the steroid Dianabol for under $40. Another survey on a different bodybuilding website asked its users why they choose not to use anabolic steroids, and the most common answer was that it is illegal.

America is a country that spends $27 billion each year on drugs (Humphreys et al 2004). We have pills for headaches and backaches. There are pills to wake us up in the morning and pills to help us go to sleep at night. Students use drugs like Adderall to enhance their ability to do homework and study for tests. Musicians use beta blockers to help get rid of pre-performance anxiety. So it is only natural for athletes to want pills to help them run faster or lift more weight.

Athletes are allowed to use technology to enhance the equipment that they play with in nearly every sport. In the 1972 Olympics, pole vaulter Bob Segran was the first person to use a fiberglass pole instead of the traditional bamboo one. He wasn't banned from the Olympics, and today the fiberglass pole is the new standard for the equipment. Science and technology has improved baseballs, hockey sticks, football pads, and swimsuits, and the list goes on from there. It seems as though the only thing that we can't use science to improve is the athletes themselves.

Athletes are using human growth hormone (HGH) to extend their careers by up to one to two years. The facts that it speeds up recovery and stimulates protein synthesis are very attractive to athletes of all ages, but especially to those nearing the end of their professional careers. Playing an extra year or two can be worth millions of dollars to a professional athlete.

Within the next twenty to thirty years, conventional PEDs will be obsolete. The next big thing in performance enhancement is gene doping. Scientists are learning that one of the biggest differences between professional athletes and the general population is variations in genetics. Scientists have already been able to manipulate the genes of cows to inhibit the myostatin gene, which is responsible for inhibiting muscle growth. The result is that the cows produce twice as much muscle as a normal cow. It is only a matter of time before this technology is used in human trials (Riewald et al 2005).

Conclusion to come...


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