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OK, along with the other recent posts, you've now convinced me you need to do a book on the war on drugs. BTW, thanks for coming back to your blog.

Pete Mortensen

It's funny - people are perfectly willing to forgive "rehabilitative medication" while condemning performance-enhancing drugs, even though they often work out to be the same thing. For whatever reason, taking painkillers that make it possible to play at all is viewed as better than taking drugs that make you better than you other would be.

Another piece of hypocrisy to all of this is the we mentally separate mechanical from chemical enhancement; we celebrate people like Oscar Pistorius - http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.03/blade.html - but condemn Barry Bonds. Presumably, some form of synthetic muscle would be less objectionable than actual steroids.

I don't really understand where these odd frames around performance-enhancing drug use comes from. People favor fairplay, except when they don't. Thoughts?


Teenage girls are now taking steroids to get crazy abs. Soon enough everyone's genitals will be looking roughly the same.


The problem with allowing the usage of performance enhancing drugs is that it will do little to actually level the playing field. People will still bend and outright break whatever rules are in place, like in spending money on the latest secret "cocktail". So it won't be the case that sports will be better regulated, they really won't be and they will at the same time have the stigma of condoning the use of performance enhancing drugs. Sounds like a lose-lose situation to me.


It's abnormal and inherently injurious. That's what almost all major league pitchers do in every game, and half of all professional football players do on every play.

The Times Magazine did a piece on what happens to pitchers arms as they hurl. This was years ago. I think it was relating to Tommy John's famous surgery. It was awful. No wonder arms wore out.

Just imagine what happens on almost every tackle every Saturday or Sunday in the fall. Many would kill most 50 year old men, and probably a lot of 30 year olds unaccustomed to contact sports.

So what's the big deal about a few harmful drugs. Surely none can be any more lethal or poisonous than what happens to a wide receiver going across the middle at full speed, leaping off his feet, met by a defender going full speed in the other direction.


"The game brought it on itself by not having any testing."

Or by putting so much emphasis on the sorts of stats that can be drastically improved by taking performance enhancing drugs.


Being far more immersed in the world of journalism than I, I assume this article has been brought to your attention but just in case it has not, I found this history of the War on Drugs from Rolling Stone very informative.



I don't find the consistency "gotcha" games like this post convincing.

Yes, athletes will always look for an edge where they can get it, and will probably always be a half-step ahead of the rules or the enforcement of them.

So what? I'll trade smart-ass "hypocrisy" charges like this one for not giving tacit moral approval of performance enhancing drugs.


I think the best option would be end all restrictions on performance-enhancing drugs. I mean, for me, the spectator, they only enhance the viewing experience and--what's even better--I don't have to deal with all the nasty side effects. Why set limits? Architectural marvels aren't made of twigs and chewing gum, so professional athletes shouldn't be held to the restrictions of weight lifting and whey protein. Let's push the limits of human performance and see just how far we can take it.

Rob Mathewson

The quest for performance enhancement will cease when there's no payday waiting for the high achievers. Prohibition didn't work for alcohol, doesn't work for street drugs and won't work here.

The most tragic victims in the case of performance enhancers are those who follow the professionals example. They don't receive near the reward that the professionals do for this risky behavior, yet expose themselves to the adverse affects.

When someone can somehow turn public opinion against those who enhance (assuming you could identify them) and devalue their product by refusing to watch (or just not caring anymore.) Then the ratings will go down. The advertisers won't pay. The leagues, clubs and international organizations will go broke, leaving little incentive for anyone to abuse their bodies just to play a game.

After all that, the clock will have rolled back about 150 years and those who are interested in participating in sports will play them for the competition, the comradery and the love of the game.


I have yet to find a pattern or a standard for why certain enhancements or drugs are accepted and why others are not.

I have also yet to see the same for why certain players are villified and others are not. Shawn Merriman of the Chargers comes to mind as someone who seems to have suffered no harm to his reputation.

Magnus Lindkvist

The problem with allowing certain "performance-enhancing" drugs is that all the kids who idolize professional athletes would also start to dabble in EPO, nandrolon and testosterone. Drugs could be a part of NHL, NBA and NFL the same way fuel alternatives are a part of NASCAR or Formula 1. But in Little Leagues and school teams around the world, children would suffer immense damage.


cdg wrote...

"I have also yet to see the same for why certain players are villified and others are not. Shawn Merriman of the Chargers comes to mind as someone who seems to have suffered no harm to his reputation."


The Panthers and Steelers doctors were busted by the Feds.

There is no real testing. The league has A LOT more going on than baseball.

Of course, when a story breaks no one cares and it's largely because football doesn't count things like baseball does.

Without the numbers 61 and 755, how much play does the steroids era get?

Andy W

The problem with the war on drugs is that the "war" part of the equation makes no sense.

They will never stop unless it stops being a way to get an advantage. The rigors of high-level competition basically demand they use them to compete...


Sports have become what goes between the drug ads.


You should think about an article covering the work of Dick Pound.


I think the problem here is that all of the emphasis is on the detection & banning of performance enhancers, when the focus should more properly be on how their appropriate use. Is there a "safe" dose or regimen? Why shouldn't an athlete recovering from an injury use some of these techniques to improve the healing process? There will alsways be the possibility of abuse (just like Brett Farve abusing Vicodin), but regimens can be uncovered, the marginal value of risking your heath for better abs with an unhealthy regimen will go down.

Of course, this is fantasyland...


I think clearly the major sports need to draw a line in the sand between medical advance and cheating.

The most simple place to put it is at the athlete's baseline capability.

That would not only allow for the obvious performance enhancers that are legal (from cortizone shots to the dead man's body parts used in Tommy John surgery), but also allow them to use HGH and other drugs that are on the banned list during rehab like every other citizen with enough zeros in their bank account can.


There is a fairly obvious difference between the restorative use of drugs in an injured athlete and the use of drugs as a performance enhancer by uninjured athletes. Gladwell is citing quack remedies and borderline cases in order to attempt to blur the boundaries of fair and unfair usage, presumably because he still thinks that drug advocacy is somehow "cool".


Sorry Gladwell, but I think you're reaching here.

Account Deleted

Malcolm: In the 60’s some folks experimented with drugs to expand their consciousness, but the illusions ended in a big bust. Salvador Dali, when asked if he painted under the influence, replied, “Why should I take the drug? I am the drug,” disappointing any number of psychedelic, wannabe surrealists. The idea jumps off the cardboard box your mom put in front of you, the Breakfast of Champions. That’s clearly an ethical question. “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small. And the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all.” Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne understood that, though their simple message, focus on exercise and diet, sounds naïve now, not enough to feed today’s athlete’s (or fan’s) head.


Big bust? The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, The Grateful Dead? I'm pretty sure they're all richer, more popular, more influential and by any quantitative measure, better artists, than Salvador Dali. Maybe to wine-and-cheese-eating fancy-pants artsnobs who go to galleries and private liberal arts colleges, Dali was better but most of us would rather live in a world full of drugged up hippies rocking out than dudes painting melted clocks.


Kearney had a monster game vs. Washington last weekend in the playoffs. He seemed "fresh" and "rested".


seeing as the above quoted from SI is only a portion of the entire mag, i dont think he's reaching. the biggest thing with the steroid era was that IT WASNT AGAINST THE RULES until 2004 and 2005, before then, it was all good. why should players be villified for taking substances that were not banned? what if they outlaw aspirin in 5 years and stick it on the banned substances list, are all players who played doped up with painkillers be villified too? this whole thing is ridiculous...


To me, the initial post glosses over the most crucial issue by assuming that the permitted treatments (listed in the SI article) have unknown health risks; for standard prescribed painkillers or rehabilitation programs, I doubt that is true. The risks, if any, are probably well known and acceptable to most people.

If one accepts that performance enhancing drugs actually increase performance to the point of providing a competitive edge (and I think that can not be controverted) the question is what price we are willing to make athetes pay in order to compete. Why not permit performance enhanching drugs that do not negatively impact health , but prohibit those that pose a foreseeable risk of harm (e.g. cancer or kidney disease). To those who would deregulate completely, how can you justify putting athletes in the position of choosing health or success?

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