“Do drugs! Drugs are good for us!”
These statements look bizarre. That’s because the opposite has been enthusiastically drilled into our heads for a long time. We’re averse to the idea that drug use might actually lead to a positive outcome. This sentiment can be seen in how professional athletes are treated after being caught using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). These athletes are seen as criminals, gaining an unfair edge. However, there is no logical argument for why PEDs should be banned.
The fact that athletes caught using PEDs are shamed and cast out of ‘sports Eden’ shows that the drugless athletes are held in a high-regard. The player who ‘cheats’ by using drugs is dishonourable. The public believes that their performance is not based on hard work and strength of will, but on the simple act of popping a couple pills.
If we consider a player’s worthiness of reward, I don’t think that athletes completely deserve all the accolades they get. Athletic talent is largely due to genetics — being born with the right body. One doesn’t choose the body they are born into. Athletes who have won the genetic lottery simply got lucky.
To deserve praise, the outcome has to have been brought about by choice, not accident. Even willpower is arguably largely determined by genetics. If we think our value of athletic achievement is predicated on desert, we’re deluding ourselves. Realistically, I think our value of athletic achievement has more to do with spectacle. Everyone wants to see a guy throw a ball over 100 m.p.h.
Is a PED like a magical potion that results in superhuman strength? No. It gives one the same edge another athlete has genetically.
We set a precedent by the way we treat athletes. We establish social values through the way we deal with athletes and talk about them in media. Our current shaming practices send out arbitrary and confused messages about what constitutes desert. We shouldn’t be publicly enforcing an athletic value that we don’t even have a clear and consistent conception of.
Is it fair that one athlete is born with a higher red blood cell count which allows them to run a sub-two-hour marathon, and another athlete with a lower count cannot take drugs to be given the same advantage? Suddenly the drugged athlete no longer deserves the praise for the sub-two-hour marathon because they chose to raise their red blood cell count?
I think the disapproval of athletes using PEDs is due to a lack of understanding. If we understand what taking PEDs actually amounts to, I think we will become more accepting of them. Is a PED like a magical potion that results in superhuman strength? No. It gives one the same edge another athlete has genetically.
What does it take to earn or to deserve reward? We’re taught value through social practices. We watch esteemed athletes get punished for choosing to level the playing field in order to make competitions fairer. We dole out reward and punishment without a coherent rationale. Here we seem to be perpetuating a system of values without an underlying logic, and that’s kind of scary.