There are a number of arguments about the various reasons that performance-enhancing drugs should (or should not) be illegal in Olympic and most professional sports. A discussion on the ethical side usually winds up in an argument between those who say that the conflict would evaporate if there were no such things as banned drugs, since no athletes would have to worry that others were using something that they themselves refused to use. But that opens the door to the question of whether athletes should be protected from themselves, as the untrammeled use of many PEDs is unquestionably dangerous in both acute and chronic ways. (This is where the idiot brand of libertarian likes to jump in with his two cents that ignores everything about the essence of athletic competition, example-setting, etc. in favor of the tunnel-vision “no rules! If they want to take chances, let them!” ethos.) There’s mention of how allowing currently banned substances would favor richer countries, but this disparity is already evident in so many ways that it’s a non-starter of an argument.
So I was thinking, what’s the main thing that would keep me from using PEDs in a world in which they remained illegal but I could be assured of not getting caught? With the parameters defined in this way, the possible answers are essentially two:
1. I would know that my achievements were tainted even if no one else ever found out.
2. I’d be worried about the physical consequences.
I didn’t have to think much about this. In earlier years I might have been torn, but I now realize that I often don’t act in ways emblematic of someone who is really concerned about making it to age 80 intact. Sure, I avoid most bad habits; I don’t smoke or drink and, though little fault of my own, I am a picture of cardiovascular health and would probably never be able to be overweight or jack my cholesterol levels far about 200 even if I wanted to. Even when stressed enough to unconsciously grind my teeth, my blood pressure is about 100/65. Nevertheless, my diet basically sucks, at least by my standards if not by those of the average American slob. My sleep patterns can be sketchy. I drink alarming amount of coffee. More to the point, apart from the actual consequences of any of this, I’m not a health-maintenance type. I haven’t been in for a regular check-up in a long time and more or less shun the health industry. I’ll only take prescription drugs if I can catch a buzz from them and now that I am unlikely to have any more root canals done I probably won’t be offered gratuitous narcotics and so that one’s out. I guess what I’m saying is that although I am a healthy person, it’s not because I desperately care to be. So for me, being concerned about what might happen down the line from taking EPO or hGH or whatever is far further down the list than the effects on my conscience would be. I’m far from the most morally upright soul on the planet, but I couldn’t take anything that would let me do anything my own unvarnished body and mind wouldn’t allow me to do. It’s likely that had I gotten my hands on some blood-boosters a half-dozen years ago I would have run in an Olympic Trials marathon without having ever needed a genuinely great day in order to qualify. But what of it? I couldn’t even train seriously for a race I knew I didn’t belong in.
I suppose this is one good thing about never having been good enough at running to even be tempted by PEDs; it’s easy to say what I never would have done in such-and-such a situation, but on the other hand I’ve also never been up against the wall of my own limitations as a 13:15 5K runner knowing I was 20-25 seconds from making s serious living in the sport in the ten or so years I had to do it. One need not be a moral cripple to look upon this tableau in frustration and say, “fuck it. Those guys are doing it and laughing all the way to the bank, so count me in.”
I was going to post this as an actual poll, but since responses are likely to be relatively few, I decided to go this route so that people can comment if they want.