August 01, 2005

In Praise of Doping

You know what's counterintuitive? This LA Weekly article. Steroids, Steven Kotler reports, probably aren't all that bad for you. The furor over "performance enhancers" has mostly been invented by tweedy baseball fans who like to keep track of batting records and don't like putting an asterisk by their figures. Well, that plus the fact that Congress really didn't like to see all those androgynous Eastern European women hauling down gold medals at the Olympics. So in the 1970s sporting organizations started telling athletes that steroids didn't work, and anyway, they'd give you "bitch tits." (Which they can... if you take far too many.) But no. Steroids do work. What's more, they might actually be useful for treating AIDS, MS, or as an antidote to aging—one theory of why we age is that we lose hormones over time. Which sucks, because I'm totally allergic to steroids. (Took 'em for a rash when I was younger and puffed up to two or three times my normal size; not pretty.)

At any rate, even if steroids did have harmful long-term effects, so what? Let the players juice up. Athletes since the beginning of time have done all sorts of ludicrous and harmful crap to their bodies in order to compete at the highest levels. All that jogging botches up your joints. Pulling on an erg can give you tendonitis. And steroids shrink your testicles. Hey, whatever! A commenter at this site, diddy, once suggested that we just create two professional sports leagues: one for steroid users who want to alter their body chemistry however they see fit in order to perform amazing feats on the field; and an "all natural" league, for the purists. That's a great idea, I think. In a sense, the pressure to compete would be sort of immoral ("Psst, kid, go inject this unpronounceable chemical so we can see some awesome home runs!") but that's not so much different from what goes on now, is it?

The other point worth mentioning is that trying to ban steroids seems deeply, deeply futile. Much like "assault weapons", "steroids" aren't a single, easily identifiable entity, and as such, virtually impossible to ban. With a few molecular tweaks, it's very easy to invent some new sort of performance enhancer that hasn't been black-listed. And these "mock" drugs often turn out to be more harmful, and more likely to send you to the hospital, then the reliable old steroids that were banned in the first place. Even the DEA has opposed the ban. The DEA! Surely Congress can find something better to do with its time.
-- Brad Plumer 2:05 AM || ||