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Just a side note, I was a bit confused by the "95th percentile" thing.

If someone has a body temperature of 98 or so degrees, that's normal. If someone else's is 109 degrees, is that better? No, of course not, it's fatal. Same with a temperature of 89 degrees. Also if someone has an eyesight of 20/10 then that is a disadvantage too.

So what is the 95th percentile of hormone amount? From what I understand, a healthy human being has to have a hormone balance that is not too high nor too low.

And *ahem* I'm not a guy so I can't exactly speak eloquently about testosterone, but the only reason I can see for pumping it up in sports is for winning, not for health.

Anyway, just a thought. ;)


I think it's interesting that altitude training continues to be granted a false equivalency to drug taking when it has already been pointed out that altitude training places much higher demands on an athlete and taking drugs doesn't. Hyperbaric chambers should be banned because they give an unfair advantage to wealthy nations in sporting competetions like the Olympic Games.


The weirdest part about all this is that Baseball is basically the only arena that anyone cares about steroids in (sans cycling, I guess).

No one cares that musician writes music under the influence on performance enhancers (weed, which is proven to boost creativity).

No one really even cares if football or basketball player are using steroids. With football, I would almost rather players use steroids.

And with Basketball, it is such a team sport that individual enhancements seemingly would have little affect as things like chemistry and technique are more important than athleticism.

The only reason why steroids matter in baseball is because we have enshrined certain statistical benchmarks. The numbers in baseball are supposed to allow us to compare players from different generations. And even though other big differences exist between a lot of the eras (i.e. half the eligible talent pool was not allowed to play because of the color of their skin), people still like to compare the numbers. And steroids make the numbers go away.
This era of players have broken so many records.

As for the above argument concerning the health of players, how is HGH any more unhealthy than the antibiotics a player might take if they were sick?

HGH is a naturally occurring substance. It is not even close to as dangerous as steroids, and it is REALLY unclear as to why a player shouldn't be allowed to use HGH to rehab.


Confusion about this issue is largely due to the public rhetoric. Issues of morals, fairness, sports purity (ie: not cheating), influence on kids, etc all get conflated into the argument against drugs in professional sports. It comes down to what is a reasonable and professional working environment for the players. It would not be legal or moral for an employer not to regulate a system where its employees, who are paid based on their performance in competition with one another, are required to inflict self injury (steroid abuse) to compete. There is an inherent risk in participating in sports which does not, in my view, represent required self injury.

Think about a factory that scaled a zero-sum pay system based on its employees production while those same employees were essentially forced to work longer hours to compete with one another. That's madness and it has nothing to do with cheating, influence on juveniles, purity or anything else. The attention of those concerned with this issue should turn their attention to the question "what is a just professional working enviornment?".


As for the people that want to draw a line between the "correction of a disability" and "performance enhancing" I think you are just using semantics.

Most of this argument hinges on using steroids to rehab from an injury. How can using HGH to return your body to its normal form be worse than using lasik to making your body better.

Furthermore, whether or not bad eyesight is seen as a disability or not, some people naturally have it and some people have to use surgery or contact lenses to get it. So why can't the use of HGH be seen in the same light. Some people can naturally build muscle better than others. The use of HGH could simply be evening the playing field for those who have more trouble building muscle.

What about players that are not only getting their eyesight corrected, but rather going beyond the 20/20 vision that is alleged to be normal.

What if a player improves his vision to 20/10 so that they can see twice as well as the average person? Or why not go as far as 20/5? Such an increase in vision would be a decided advantage in baseball.


The effects of prolonged HGH usage is not known and it would be virtually impossible to distinguish between medicinal and enhancement issues.

That said, we may be able to make a strong case to allow it in some circumstances. Steroids are more clear cut.

Just trying to define the issue with some more concrete reasons on why PEDs are not good for the sport/players.


Kurt, good questions.

1. Someone with 20/5 vision would not even be able to walk straight, much less compete.

2. BBC had a report a few years ago you would find interesting. For a long time it was thought that aging cells were what caused cancer. Scientists were baffled at why people with ulcers and certain viruses were at higher cancer risk.

It was discovered a few years ago by studying stomach cancer that ulcers inflame the lining of the stomach. Instead of old cells becoming cancerous, it was discovered that the youngest cells (stem cells) were affected by the inflammation as they travelled from the bone marrow to the stomach to become stomach cells. The inflammation made the stem cells mutate and become cancer.

That explains why viruses, which cause inflammation, and anything else irritating to the body can cause cancer. Artificial hormones may well fall into this category.

And did you know, our immune system has something called "killer T cells", which fight cancer? Isn't that cool? But corticosteroids suppress the immune system, so there you go, double whammy.



I didn't take the time to read the whole of the comments, but I think most of fervor that comes from the leagues is the simple fact that steroids are themselves illegal, and that although not illegal HGH has become synonymous with it, in the public eye. Therefore I think that is why they have reacted as such.

As we know the leagues themselves were somewhat complicit in what is going on today, because some knew, but it was swept under the table. I have a feeling that, like one commenter had stated, it might be applauded the same as taking painkillers to recover, but as a substance itself it is illegal. If it weren't illegal I really don't think there would be this issue. I feel like that fact always gets overlooked in this, these are corporations who are often at the whim of public opinion and perception. So if you are using an illegal substance to gain an advantage then you are cheating. As stated above HGH has been lumped in the same category, in public opinion and might I add may well be for the government soon as well, so they labor hard against it.

These things are quite difficult to overturn, think marijuana as opposed to cigarettes or alcohol. Those are legal but Marijuana isn't? really? Its all based on what has been in the public's mind and perception. Its easier at this point and ni our society to just rail against something than give it a prolonged and thoughtful consideration when you are starting from a distinct disadvantage. The leagues know that and hence up until people knew about the 'issue' they just let it happen and swept steroids and HGH under the rug.


The analogy made between music and sports is false. The value in sport lies in the fact of accomplishment. In music the value lies in the product of accomplishment. The value of music rests in its objective effect on the audience. Sport is supposed to demonstrate subjective superiority in athletes.

Beerzie Boy

Yep. I have argued the same thing with my buddies in vain. How about advanced training regimens and diets? Better training equipment? The question is what techologies are "fair" and which are not?


I think a lot of people have been writing about the steroids controversy from the perspective that what matters is that the game remains "fair" and that no one "cheats." While I agree that this is very important, I think that's missing the point. Playing fair means playing by the rules, whatever they are, and it should be considered fair for athletes to use any means allowed by those rules to achieve their maximum performance.

I personally believe that the point of banning steroids and other drugs is that to do so is beneficial for the health of the athletes. Imagine a world in which steroids were completely legal in all sports. Athletes would have a choice between taking steroids and maximizing their performance, albeit with serious health hazards later on in life, or not taking steroids and being at a relative disadvantage to those who do. Athletes would be put in a rather precarious position--both of these outcomes are bad. Each athlete will feel like so many other athletes are using steroids, that he or she has a strong incentive to use them as well, so as not to fall behind. Therefore, the athletes themselves will be better off if performance enhancers that carry health hazards are banned, as they will not have to make the difficult choice between their health and keeping up with their competitors.

When thinking about performance enhancers in this way, I think that it should be easier to determine what should be banned and what shouldn't. Any performance enhancers that have been shown to have serious potential health consequences for the athlete should not be permitted. Performance enhancers that do not have a negative health impact should be permitted. Clearly cheaters, i.e. those who break the rules of the game/league should not be tolerated, as fair play is an essential ingredient in sports. But the rules themselves should be designed with the health interests of the athletes in mind, not to please the spectators, which sets up a pretty strong framework for making judgments on performance enhancers.


Think about what it would be like to be Bonds' neighbor. We should consider our societal interest in producing good citizens. Sports take our most aggressive, competitive young men and encourage those anti-social characteristics. Steriod use has the effect of ramping up that aggressiveness even further. Never mind what is fair on the field, it isn't fair to us that we have to deal with roid-raging jerks.


Difficult subject, Malcolm! so i'd just free rant. 1. Performance enhancing drugs are like taking short-cuts, and so we don't like them. 2. They are unfair because PEDS are not common items like carrots, it takes money and so it puts those who have none at a disadvantage. (Make them available to all, please and then we argue again. This time about what victory or prize really is worth) 3. Sports, being mostly dependent on physical prowess, is equated with effort - pain and sacrifice and training. Taking PED isn't effort nor training at all. On the other hand, there is pain and sacrifice when a player is injured, that even with painkillers and whatever cocktail, they need to still persevere, drugs alone won't cut it. Other than that criteria, it's free ride. It applies to music and art as well. Going through difficulty (rites of passage) could be the measuring stick by which we judge what is permissible. I'm not making sense, am I?


How about this analogy:

Person #1: High-level ice skater in the U.S.

Person #2: Ice skater in undeveloped country using any kind of performance inhancing drugs.

Back when "figure" skaters still had to do figures (early '90's?) there was an amazing Chinese skater who could jump better than anyone in the world, but because she couldn't get ice time, was always so far behind other skaters after the "figure" part of it, she never had a chance. I'm not talking Title IX here. Just that U.S. sports are in a position where the best athletes can train 24/7. Others in the world are not so lucky. So if they use drugs to narrow the gap, what's the problem?


Athletes from the developing world have the advantage of being brought up in a physically active environment and are often hardened from a young age by physical exertion and manual labour. Ask any coach and he will tell you that his major problem is getting Westerners to a basic level of fitness, not honing their athletic prowess.


I see three basic arguments against steroids:
1)They are ILLEGAL
2)They are UNFAIR
3)They corrupt/hurt THE KIDS

1)it is too simplistic to say one drug is illegal. All FDA-APPROVED DRUGS are LEGAL when prescribed by trained medical professionals. In fact, physicians can prescribe a drug off-label to patients with conditions that it is not approved for. I don't have problem when professional athletes take medications under medical supervision. But do punish them severely when they do not.
2)Fairness is RELATIVE. Examples with LASIK and pain killers are good ones. Not to mention any geographic advantage to Swedish skiers or Jamaican bobsledders.
3)When 1 and 2 fail to win the debate, people always fall back to THE KIDS. Remember Barkley's "I'm not a role model?" Stop blaming professional athletes for your failure as parents and coaches. Steroid and HGH will have to wait in line after bad grades, tatoos, and poor free-throws.

Also, what is with some of the uninformed comments like "imaging what is like to be Bonds' neighbor?" well don't. And trust me, Chinese figure skaters have far more time to practice than American ones.


Steroids are not new to sports. They have been around since the 50's. During the 60's and 70's players took speed. During the 70's and 80's they did cocaine. Until just recently they could drink in the clubhouse. For over half a century they have had painkillers to keep them in the game.

In comparison, hgh is relatively harmless.

Thank-you for one of the most intelligent blog comment threads I have ever read.


I agree that athletes being role models for children and young adults has little to do with this debate. There are plenty of high profile 'celebrities' making unhealthy and harmful choices, not to mention the billions of people who aren't famous.
It's up to parents to raise their children and empower them to make good choices.

Uncle Ted

It seems to me that two distinct debates are getting mixed up here. The first relates to appraisal of athletes who use banned substances. The second relates to finding non-arbitrary standards for sports governing bodies to use in cashing out the banned substance list. As regards the first issue, it seems to me that sports governing bodies can ban whatever they want and participants who make use of technological advantages that are not permitted by the rules are, simply put, cheating. To use steroids in MLB is like using a miniature motor in your back hub in a cycling race. It's using a technological advantage not allowed by the rules. But, this of course goes nowhere to answer the second question, namely, whether sports governing bodies can non-arbitrarily rule out steroids and not other things. It seems to me hat there can be basic aesthetic consequential grounds for making these kinds of decisions. If the game starts to look radically different in a way that is at odds with the historical arc of the sport (e.g. if there is now a much greater emphasis on the home run than other aspects of baseball) and if that change in the game can reasonably be attributed to some technological change, then MLB (in this example) is legitimated in prohibiting that technology. This way of thinking about the issue at least narrows the sense of "performance enhancing" that would be salient for the sport.


I feel obligated to respond to WC brushing off my comment like that. I'm talking about the issue of citizenship, not competition. Virtue, not fairness.

When taken separately, we accept that there is nothing wrong with either drinking or driving. In combination they create a risk that we are not willing to accept. How is it not the same for athletes and steriods?

We seem to accept that it is alright to train athletes to be aggressive and competitive, and maybe we'll decide that steriods and hgh are ok (that's another discussion that is being adressed at a high level throughout this thread). But are we willing to accept the risk that young men and steriods in combination pose? It seems like we're taking the demographic most prone to risk-taking, violent behavior and throwing fuel on the fire.


My philosophical argument against steroids,HGH,blood-doping,etc.,is that sports at its core is about the ability to push the human body and mind to their limits.
Steroids and all the rest are designed to transcend those limits. With steroids,it's no longer about the human body,but technology.For me,when it becomes a matter of whose scientists and engineers are better,then it's not Sports but a glorified Science Fair. Observing,analyzing and deciphering the other team's signals by using your mind and body is Sports,using a TV camera to help do the same is using technology,just like using steroids.
Professional sports routinely restrict technologies. Otherwise,why no aluminum bats in MLB? Nascar,the PGA are among the most restrictive of technologies. The NHL has ignored its' own rules on technology and has had goalies wear oversize pads that killed off scoring to the point they had to change the rules.


Where is the union on all this? How are they representing the clean players in any fashion? No shocker that the owners may not care, or turn a blind eye, but the union seems to come out looking pretty bad on this. At least salaries are up.


Where is the union on all this? How are they representing the clean players in any fashion? No shocker that the owners may not care, or turn a blind eye, but the union seems to come out looking pretty bad on this. At least salaries are up.

Felipe P.

The argument against steroid use is simple: it's illegal. Baseball creates a moral hazard, in that the potential financial benefits teams could offer them makes steroid use "worth it" for players, even though they're illegal (because of their health implications -Sean made a similar point strictly on ethical grounds). Baseball teams have to ban the drugs in order to reduce the economic incentive for illegal behavior. If they didn't do it by themselves Congress would have rightfully made them do it.


I hate to go off-topic (I've been enjoying the conversation so far), but I really think Malcolm should be on Bigthink.com

Seems like the site is tailor-made for him.

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