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Performance Enhancing Drugs

Scoring For Liberty: Public Demand for Clean Athletes

I had an interesting conversation recently over the use of performance enhancing drugs within athletic organizations.

The person I was discussing this with felt that the audiences of these sports would provide demand for bigger and better athletes if there wasn’t a government campaign against these substances.

I argued that I feel the public wants clean athletes because it puts all players on an equal playing field in regard to their ability to become stronger, faster, and more effective sportsmen.

I do not believe that performance enhancing drugs should be illegal, but I feel that public demand would call for no “cheaters” and that would cause organizations like the NFL, NBA, and MLB to have rules about use of performance enhancing drugs.

Since my argument was based on speculation, I decided to research whether or not audiences actually demand clean athletes and if the government had had any influence over this matter.

Although the drug that would become the most common anabolic steroid was synthesized in 1938, it didn’t gain prominence among athletes until the 1960’s and mostly stayed within bodybuilding circles.

In 1969, Sports Illustrated released a three-part investigation on steroid use in sports and predicted use would evolve into an epidemic. It would be another seven years before steroids would be added to the banned substances list by the International Olympic Committee.

The next 14 years saw more and more sports organizations implementing drug testing policies and stripping the honors and records of those athletes who failed drug tests.

In 1990, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroids Control Act which changed anabolic steroids to a schedule III substance and “establish[ed] penalties for physical trainers or advisers who endeavor to persuade or induce individuals to possess or use anabolic steroids.”

Even more public attention was garnered toward steroid use by professional athletes with the release of  former Oakland Athletics outfielder Jose Canseco’s 2006 book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big where he spoke of his 20 years of steroid use and claimed that many other players – known for home runs – were also using them.

With the rise of steroid abuse being reported, public opinion has become more vocal in their views of professional athletes and abuse of performance enhancers.

While the amount of people concerned about steroids use has decreased over time, the majority of sports fans still believe that steroid use is concerning and most would agree that honors, titles, and medals of abusers should be removed.

A New York Times poll from 2003 found that 61% of participants were troubled by the use of steroids by professional athletes and 75% were troubled by use for Olympic athletes.

Two years later, Gallup found that 63% of baseball fans felt that steroid use was a “serious problem” and 23% said it was ruining the sport.

Concern for abuse began to fall around 2009.  A CBS poll showed that it “matters a lot” to 60% of participants if athletes use PEDs, and an Associated Press poll demonstrated that 62% of participants took records set by players less seriously because of steroid use.

A 2013 poll, conducted by The Washington Post, found that 52% of participants were bothered by steroid use in athletes and 68% believed that baseball players who use these drugs should not be eligible for the hall of fame. Another poll conducted by YouGov in the same year found that 53% of participants thought steroid use by pro athletes was a major problem.

From these polls, one could only conclude that the majority of sports fans want clean athletes, and they want PED users to have their honors and records removed. Because of this, sports organizations are going to create rules for use of performance enhancing drugs because it is good for business. The question that one must ask next is why this is the case?

Among the common arguments are fairness of competition and the dramatic health effects, but Brian Chase suggests that one reason for this is the cultural phenomenon known “pharmacological Calvinism” which he describes as “the belief that taking a pill or drug is morally wrong, because hard work, suffering and pain are essential parts of human existence.”

The author explains that players who use steroids are no longer thought of as pure and thus those players are ridiculed and called cheaters.

Another theory presented in a study by Jared and Gregory Rutecki, claims that public opinion was swayed because of an anti-steroid agenda held by the media. According to their findings, coverage of steroid use was rare before 1986 when Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson’s steroid use gained lots of media attention.

As the total number of articles on steroid use increased, an increase in public disapproval of steroids also increased according to gathered Gallup polls from 1986-2006.

Unfortunately, I could not find any studies on government legislation influencing public opinion, but from the history of steroid use and writings on public opinion, media and culture are larger factors with regards to if people have positive or negative opinions.

In the end, I believe that this information demonstrates that markets are the best way to prevent steroid use in athletes because the public wants to see athletes in their natural states when competing. Government regulations of PEDs were completely reactionary and did nothing to assist the problem that major league sports organizations weren’t already doing to satisfy their audiences.

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Luke Henderson

Since joining the Libertarian Party in 2016, Luke Henderson has been active in the liberty movement through journalism and political activism. Luke is a paraprofessional for the Special School District of St. Louis, composer of fine art and electronic music, and contributor to multiple libertarian news sites.


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