Is Steroid Use in Sports Morally Permissible?

PEA Brain Dave
Shoemaker
, paraphrasing his colleague, Steve Wall, suggested only half in jest
that all philosophers who are sports fans really want to write about philosophy
of sports. Being accurately pegged, here
is some sports ethics.

 

In particular,
amidst all the brouhaha over steroid use in baseball, I’ve been wondering
whether anabolic steroid use in sports is morally permissible. I’ll first provide some very brief background
information about anabolic steroids and a few guiding assumptions. I’ll then mention some of the standard
arguments against the use of anabolic steroids in sports, and finally, some responses
to these arguments. Unhappily, and at
the risk of siding with Jose Canseco and being labeled as someone who doesn’t understand
the "purity" of sports, I think I find the responses to the standard
objections convincing. I’m hoping some
of you can get me back on the straight and narrow.

Here is some
brief background information, which I’m taking from this informative and
readable .pdf
from the NSW Health
Department). Anabolic steroids are drugs
derived from the male hormone testosterone. They are used by some athletes to enhance muscle mass (and, therefore, an
athlete’s speed and strength) and tissue repair (and, therefore, an athlete’s
recovery between workouts and competitions). Thus, anabolic steroids, like Human Growth Hormone (HGH) (and
multi-vitamins and caffeine, for that matter), are a kind of performance
enhancing drug. They are usually
effective only when used in combination with extensive training and
workouts. Side effects in men range from
jaundice, baldness, and aggression to various heart problems, infertility,
diabetes, and permanent liver damage. Side effects in women are similar, and also include development of a
deep voice and increased facial hair. The extent of these side effects differ for each individual user, but
most side effects are minimized with low dosages of these drugs, and most side
effects stop when an individual stops using them. For these and a number of other reasons, use
of anabolic steroids is taken to be morally impermissible and is prohibited in
almost every sport and at every competitive level (i.e., professional, Olympic,
collegiate, scholastic, and youth). I
will assume in this post that all that I have described is true. I will also limit the discussion to
professional and "world-class amateur" competitions, such as the
Olympics and World Championships in various events.

 

Here are some
standard arguments against the use of anabolic steroids in, as I see it,
increased order of strength. Let’s call
the first argument The Argument from Unnaturalness (AU). The general form of this argument is the
following: use of anabolic steroids in
sports is unnatural; therefore, use of anabolic steroids ought to be
prohibited. If this argument means (AU1)
"anabolic steroids are unnatural substances, therefore use of them ought
to be prohibited," it is not sound, since the explicit premise is false and the assumed premise unjustified. The explicit premise is
false, since anabolic steroids are derived from the male hormone testosterone,
which is of course a natural substance. On this criterion, there would seem to be no more reason to prohibit
anabolic steroids than, say, Gatorade or multi-vitamins. The assumed premise, ‘use of unnatural
substances ought to be prohibited’, also seems unjustified, since it seems
absurd to think that, for example, football helmets and nautilus equipment,
both unnatural "substances," ought
to be prohibited. If the arguments means
(AU2): "the athletes who use anabolic steroids are unnatural or abnormal;
therefore use of these substances ought to be prohibited," it is also not
sound, since the assumed premise, ‘if the athletes who use anabolic steroids
are abnormal or unnatural, then use of anabolic steroids ought to be
prohibited’ seems unjustified. Of course
the athletes who use these drugs are unnatural or abnormal, though they are so
simply in virtue of being able to perform feats that few of us can
perform. Sometimes this argument is
taken to indicate something about the purity of sports (AU3): "the nature of sports is that it is a
competition to determine which athlete has developed, through hard work,
dedication, persistence, and the other athletic virtues, his or her skills to the
utmost; however, use of anabolic steroids allows those who use them to win
competitions without developing his or her skills to the utmost; therefore, use
of these drugs ought to be prohibited." But the second premise is false. Use of anabolic steroids, like use of
multi-vitamins, does not enable one to become Superathlete. These drugs work, to the extent that they do,
only when combined with hard work, dedication, persistence, and the exercise of
other athletic virtues. (Moreover, as
I’ll discuss below, the first premise leaves out the athletic virtue of
performing gracefully under increased risk, which, when included in the first
premise, makes the second premise more suspect.)

 

But if the
nature of sports is that it is a competition to determine which athlete has
developed his or her skills to the utmost, perhaps use of anabolic steroids frustrates
such a determination, since the user/hard worker may have an unfair advantage
over the mere hard worker. Let’s call
this second standard argument against the use of anabolic steroids the Argument
from Unfair Advantage (AUA). The general
form of this argument is the following: use of anabolic steroids gives the user an unfair advantage over
non-users; therefore, use of them ought to be prohibited. Sometimes, it is thought that the premise is
true, simply because the user is violating the rules, thereby gaining an unfair
advantage over those who do not. Leaving
aside the issue of whether one who violates rules always has an unfair
advantage over those who do not, the point at issue is whether use of anabolic
steroids ought to be considered a violation of the rules. That is, the issue is whether or not use of anabolic
steroids ought to be prohibited, not whether they are in fact prohibited. A different reason to think that the premise
is true is that, if use of anabolic steroids were allowed, athletes who would
use them would have an advantage over those who would not. This might be true, but it does not itself tell
us why that would be an unfair advantage. It is permissible in professional sports for
an athlete to get daily massages in order help her muscles recover more
quickly, and this athlete has an advantage over an athlete who, because of a
lack of finances or unfortunate geographic location, cannot receive daily
massages. But it is not clear why this
fact alone means that the first athlete has an unfair advantage over the second—or,
at least it is not clear why this fact alone means that the first athlete does
not have an unfair advantage that is sufficient to warrant a prohibition
against daily massages.

 

Perhaps what is
driving (AUA) is a version of a third argument, which we’ll call the Argument
from Harm (AH): use of anabolic steroids
causes harm; therefore, use of anabolic steroids ought to be prohibited. Different versions of this argument depend on
who or what is harmed by use of steroids. According to (AH1): "use of
anabolic steroids harms the user; therefore, use of anabolic steroids ought to
be prohibited." There are actually
two different issues here, one empirical and one theoretical. The empirical issue is the amount of harm,
especially physical, that accrues to the user. In keeping with the background information, I will assume that some harm
accrues to the user, though it seems far from clear that the harm is anywhere
near a level that should be sufficient for prohibiting its use. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that
more harm actually accrues to the user just being involved in his or her sport
than it does in using anabolic steroids. Think of all the injuries in football, hockey, boxing, rock climbing,
and, yes, even baseball. Is the harm
from use of anabolic steroids worse than the harm got from simply participating in these sports? At any rate, suppose a good deal of harm
results from use of anabolic steroids. We are still left with the theoretical issue of paternalism. Surely, adult competitors understand the
risks involved in using anabolic steroids, just as a wide receiver understands
the risks of breaking his neck when going up to receive a high pass, and just
as a baseball player understands the risks of being beaned in the head by a
Roger Clemens fastball, and just as a boxer understands the risks of being
repeatedly pounded in the head by a flurry of his opponent’s punches. There seems to be an element of hypocrisy in
claiming that use of steroids ought to be prohibited on paternalistic grounds,
while allowing high receptions in football, high inside fastballs in baseball,
and head punches in boxing.

 

There are other
versions of (AH), including (AH2): use
of anabolic steroids harms those who do not use them; therefore, use of
anabolic steroids ought to be prohibited. If what is meant by the premise is that users have an unfair advantage
over non-users, then this argument is actually (AUA). But, sometimes what is meant is something
like the following: users’ anabolic
steroid use coerces non-users into using anabolic steroids, and thereby coerces
non-users into doing something unnecessarily harmful simply to "keep
up"." I have sympathy for this
argument, but it is still not clear to me that this argument is sufficiently
forceful to prohibit use of anabolic steroids. It is undoubtedly true that when some athletes do something that
enhances their performance, others are, in some sense, "coerced" into
doing that same thing to keep up–including some things that are harmful. But it is not clear that this constitutes
harm that is sufficient to prohibit the practice that started the rat
race. For example, I think it is safe to
assume that there have been innumerable physical harms that have accrued to
athletes in weight rooms throughout the years, simply because athletes have to
do extensive weight training in order to "keep up." But such risk does not seem sufficient to
prohibit athletes from engaging in weight training. To take another example, it is imperative
these days that world-class runners retreat for months at a time to
high-elevation areas to train. Doing so
enhances their performance, and those who do not retreat for long periods to
the mountains have little hope of defeating those who do. And, sometimes, retreating for long periods
of time to high altitude, usually mountainous, areas can be quite harmful, if
not physically (which it can be, especially if one trains at altitude too hard,
too early), then often times emotionally and personally. I personally know couples who have divorced
and families that have broken up because a runner had to spend months each year
in a mountainous location, far away from his family. But it seems absurd to think that high
altitude training ought to be prohibited because some athletes feel
"coerced" into doing that. Moreover, in some sports, it seems that the virtues of risk-taking and
physical sacrifice, brought on by advances in technology, is vital to the
competition. Consider sports such as
skiing, luge, race car driving, and rock-climbing, in which advances in
technology "force" upon athletes increased risk. In these sports, performance in the midst of
increased risk-taking is to admired. It
is not clear why it should be different in, say, baseball, football, and track
and field.

 

A third version
of (AH) is (AH3): use of anabolic
steroids at the professional level harms children and teenagers; therefore use
of anabolic steroids ought to be prohibited. The premise is supposed to be true, because many children and teens view
professional athletes as role models. And it is one thing to allow adults to do something harmful to
themselves, but it is quite another to allow them to do something harmful when
children and teens are likely to emulate them. Again, I have some sympathy with this argument, but the assumed premise
seems patently false: ‘if youngsters are
likely to be harmed by doing something athletes do, then athletes ought to be
prohibited from doing it." Most
athletes engage in extensive weight training, which can be quite harmful when
engaged in by youngsters; many athletes engage in premarital sex, which can be
quite harmful when engaged in by youngsters; many athletes engage in alcohol
consumption, which can be quite harmful when engaged in by youngsters; some
athletes drive automobiles close to 200 mph, which can be quite harmful when
engaged in by youngsters. But surely
athletes ought not be prohibited from engaging in any of these activities,
simply because harm could come to youngsters who also engage in them.

 

So, these are
some standard arguments against the use of anabolic steroids. I think the responses to these objections are
actually convincing, but I confess that I don’t really want to go where the
argument leads: use of anabolic steroids in professional and world-class
athletics is morally permissible.

21 Replies to “Is Steroid Use in Sports Morally Permissible?

  1. Dan,
    I agree that there is probably no general argument against steroid use in sports, but my own observation is that baseball is viewed through a much more nostalgic lens, being the “national pastime” and all, and is generally held to a much higher ethical standard than other professional sports. Indeed, there seem to be many things that fans find objectionable about the present state of baseball that are actually the same or worse in other major sports (lack of player loyalty, high salaires, high ticket prices, lack of competitive parity, the ‘tude players display, etc.) So I wonder if the current controversies aren’t more about the wrongfulness of steroid use in baseball, rather than in sports generally. So I offer this argument, which is definitely in the media milieu, in that spirit:
    The Arugment from Baseball’s Historical Integrity:
    [1] Baseball is a game with a rich historical heritage, in which players, teams, etc. have all played “the same game” through different eras, thus enabling accurate qualitative comparisons of player performance between different eras.
    [2] Steriod use disrupts our ability to make qualitative comparisons across eras and is thus an attack on baseball’s rich historical heritage.
    [3] (some premise to the effect that attacking baseball’s heritage makes you a jerk, selfish, disrespectful, etc.)
    ——————————————
    Steroid use is wrong in baseball.
    Obviously, this argument stinks: [1] is patently false, as there have been innumerable changes to baseball, including technology (the use of videotape, radar guns, the ball itself), medical advances (weight training, dietary consultants), the rules (the DH, the mound height), the venues (only about 10 current major league parks existed before 1989), and the player demographics (the influx, first, of African-American, and then later, Spanish-speaking players), changes sufficient to suggest that the game played by Babe Ruth is not the same game played by Sammy Sosa.
    Nevertheless, it’s the only argument I’ve come across that would explain why people find steroid use in baseball much more upsetting than they find it in basketball, football, and other sports.

  2. Do you think that the current set of rules has any effect on the moral status of taking steroids?
    I don’t know about the rules of baseball much but at least in most other sports using doping is forbidden in advance by public rules. The reasons for such rules may or may not be good ones but usually they are at least to some extend democratically chosen in international organisations. Whether we should or should not have such rules is another question (to which most of your arguments were fitting). However, I might want to say that the fact that there are NOW such rules makes the use of doping immoral in this situation. It is cheating – a kin to breaking a promise or an agreement made in entering the competition. And, as Kant would say, deception is one of the morally worst actions. If there were no such rules, then this argument would not work I agree. But, I am not sure if I would be interested in a sport where doping was accepted and encouraged in the rules.

  3. Hi Michael: I agree that (ABHI) is a very bad argument. You also wonder whether the current controversies aren’t more about the wrongfulness of steroid use in baseball, rather than in sports generally. Certainly the most recent, loudest controversy has been about steroid use in baseball, but I think the controversy runs through all sports. The furor over certain performance enhancing drugs has been around for well over fifty years. Recall all the uproar over drug use by athletes from some Eastern Block countries in the Olympics, Carl Lewis complaining that it was so hard to win (!) because everyone in track and field was taking some kind of performance enhancer, and, very recently, the Greek track and field athletes at the Olympics and the allegations of drug use on the professional cycling circuit, including the Tour de France.
    Hi Jussi. Yes, I agree with you that if someone is now taking drugs that are banned by their sport, then that drug use is morally impermissible, since that person has agreed to abide by the rules of the game. But, again, the main question is why they should have such rules. The rules were composed because people think use of certain performance enhancing drugs is immoral. You say that you’re not sure if you would be interested in a sport where doping was accepted and encouraged in the rules. But why not? What would be the basis for your reaction?

  4. Dan-
    Agreed that the drug use controversy have been around a long time, but I still think their use in baseball upsets people more. Perhaps because people see athletes in other sports (basketball, football) as genetic freaks, whereas baseball is played by semi-regular guys? I just can’t imagine there’d be as much talk and media attention if we suspected widespread steroid use about linebackers and power forwards. (I believe, incidentally, that so many drug controversies have befallen the Olympic sports that folks are becoming very jaded. It seem nearly routine for reports to emerge every four years about violations of drug policy, and they’re not page 1 stories anymore.)

  5. Good topic!
    I think the rules ought to prohibit steroid use.
    I go in for a variant of the Argument from Harm. In particular, a variant of (AH1), the “harm to the user” argument. I grant that the sports themselves are dangerous, but I think we should attempt to minimize the risks of participating in the sport (and of course we already do this, via safety equipment, rules that are there for safety’s sake, etc.). Allowing steroids adds an unnecessary risk – a risk with no accompanying benefit.
    This is a bit paternalistic. If it is too paternalistic, we could let the players vote on it. I think players themselves would be in favor of steroid prohibition so long as they were ensured that none of their competitors were using. So long as enforcement was effective, I would certainly vote in favor of a ban, if I were an athlete. How awful to have to choose between doing the drugs or getting fired.
    (Incidentally, I admit to being attracted to the Argument from Baseball’s Historical Integrity. I think the fact that allowing steroids would be “an attack on baseball’s rich historical heritage” is another good reason against allowing steroids. I feel the same about the DH and mound height as well (though perhaps there were strong counterbalancing reasons in favor of those changes (there were for the Wild Card and Interleague Play, IMHO)). About player demographics: I’m not convinced diversifying the demographics was at all “an attack on baseball’s rich historical heritage” (in the relevant sense), and moreover, even if it were, this reason obviously pales in comparison to the objectionability of disallowing players from certain demographics.)

  6. Dan,
    By the way, are there rules in baseball that forbid steroid use?
    If there are, then we agree that the answer to the question is steroid use morally impermissible is settled. As you point out, now the question is should we change the rules to allow steroid use. That is a though one, but here’s my thoughts, for what they are worth.
    Why wouldn’t I be interested in sports where the rules allow steroids? Well, even though I may not be the biggest fan of A. MacIntyre, I do think that things he says about practices strike true in the case of sports. If I don’t remember this totally wrong, the idea was that practices evolve together with standards of excellence internal to the practice. By understanding these standards and by being able to satisfy and exceed them, one is able to pursue the rewards internal to the standard. By practice, natural ability and skill one can do well, succeed and be valued and respected for that. The sense of this succes and the taking part in the practice ought to make all the trouble worthwile.
    Now, when I have taken part in sports this view has felt sound to me in experience. And, even in many sports where one is a mere spectator, one can come, at least for a small part, to understand the internal standards, the achieved excellence and the joy of internal rewards. This is what for me makes sports enjoyable. I know it is a bit naive probably.
    However, consider a potential sport where the doping is allowed. I find hard time fitting the idea of being good in chemically improving oneself to an standard of excellence internal to a sport as a practice. Thus, for me, the allowing rule would hint that the external rewards have taken over the practice. Money rules and everything goes in pursuing it. The joy of being good no longer suffices to motivate the sportsmen and women to excellence in this practice. I personally find little of interest in this alternative picture.
    Sorry – that was a bit of rant. And, I can see holes in the argument too, but perhaps it is more a sort of a personal reflection what I like about sports. Not that everyone needs to be interested in same things or sports. Right, I need to start writing a paper on Frankfurt…

  7. Hi, Dan. Glad to see someone finally taking the plunge into some REAL philosophy here! OK, so try this on for size: I think that, for most folks, the reason steroid use is wrong is that they believe “you ought to play/compete only with the body the Lord gave ya’, combined with your own hard work.” Now this is sort of a version of your AU3, I think. What you wanted to say there, though, was that steroids, like multivitamins, don’t alone make you into a superathlete; they are still effective only in combination with hard work and such. But I think there’s an important difference between steroids and multivitamins, and we can see it by looking at an analogous scenario. Consider a beauty pageant/contest. We can suppose that your chances for winning are increased if you have a deep, even tan. Most of the contestants take the extended time to lay out in the sun to produce their tan, and in so doing they use various oils and lotions. But there are some “cheaters” who don’t take that time to lay out in the sun and on the night before the contest they simply go to a salon that sprays on a “tan” in a deep, even fashion. Now both the sun-tanned and the spray-tanned will look more or less the same, and so may have more or less even chances to win the contest, but what will irk people about the spray-tanners is that their tan is, in a way, “false”: they’re engaged in an important kind of deception. For a “genuine” tan represents, if not a lot of work, at least a lot of time. And the time you have to spend will depend on your natural skin tone and tanning rates – the lotions won’t affect that; they just take your body as is and maximize its tanning effectiveness if you’re willing to put in the right amount of time/work. But the spray-tanners aren’t restricted in the same way (or at all, really) by their natural tanning limitations, for whatever body they’ve got can produce a pageant-winning tan. And while the spray-tanners have to spend some time getting their tan, they get the same results as the sun-tanners for a lot less of the cost, but they’ll still be able to pass themselves off as having done the same amount of “work” as the sun-tanners.
    This is analogous, I think, to what’s going on in the steroid case. While multivitamins provide nutrients enabling you to maximize your performance with the body the Lord gave ya’ in combination with hard work (and so are analogous to tanning lotions), steroids (which enhance muscle mass) get you maximal performance regardless of the body you’ve got and with far less work. So if the formula for “fairness” in baseball (and other sports) is “your given body + lots of hard work,” then steroid users deny both sides of the equation and so don’t play fair. They are, many would want to say, liars, and just as there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no lying in baseball either (or so one might think).
    I was originally going to run an analogy with breast enhancement, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it without getting into all sorts of trouble.

  8. Hi Michael. If there is more uproar over steroid use in baseball than in, say, football, my guess is that it is because of the perception that Major League Baseball is (was?) not doing enough to enforce the prohibition of the use of these banned substances. That is, that Major League Baseball didn’t want to stop players from using them. And (it might be said), “After all, there is good moral reason to prohibit use of these substances.” But, again, what are the good moral reasons to ban these?
    Hi Chris.

    I think we should attempt to minimize the risks of participating in the sport (and of course we already do this, via safety equipment, rules that are there for safety’s sake, etc.). Allowing steroids adds an unnecessary risk – a risk with no accompanying benefit.

    By ‘minimize the risks’, it sounds to me like you mean ‘reduce, and eliminate if possible, all unnecessary risks that have no, or little, accompanying benefit’. But use of anabolic steroids has an accompanying benefit that many think is at least somewhat substantial–enhanced performance. If, instead, you mean ‘reduce, and eliminate if possible, all unnecessary risks that are not constitutive of the sport being played’, then that seems too strong. Engaging in a weight training program is unnecessarily risky in that sense, but surely engaging in a weight training program should not be prohibited. If, lastly, you mean ‘reduce, and eliminate if possible, most (or many or some) unnecessary risks that are not constitutive of the sport being played’, then it looks like we need a principled criterion to distinguish the accepted, but unnecessarily risky, practices (like regimented weight training) from the prohibited, but unnecessarily risky, practices (like use of anabolic steroids).
    You then say,

    How awful to have to choose between doing the drugs or getting fired.

    But there are many awful choices world-class athletes have to make. It is awful that many elite runners to have to choose between being away from their families for long periods of time in order to train at altitude (which is clearly unnecessary in the sense of not being constitutive of the sport of long distance running) and not being able to win a world class race (and its prize money). It is awful to have to choose between going to the gym five times a week to engage in excruciating, regimented weight training and being fired for lack of performance. So, I’m still not seeing the pressure to prohibit the use of these drugs. But I want to!

  9. Hi Dan,

    it looks like we need a principled criterion to distinguish the accepted, but unnecessarily risky, practices (like regimented weight training) from the prohibited, but unnecessarily risky, practices (like use of anabolic steroids).

    Good point. Here’s my proposal: level of risk. Steroids should be outlawed and regimented weight training should not because steroids are far more dangerous than regitimented weight traning.
    Of course, the latter is an empirical claim. If ‘roids are much safer than I realize — or if they become safer, which they surely could — then this argument is undercut. But it seems right to me that, if steroids became totally safe, there is less reason to prohibit them.
    But maybe not no reason. I still think the “Historical Integrity” argument has some force. But this won’t be reason enough for some people, or for some sports (some people don’t care about historical integrity; some sports have no history anyway).
    Let me give two more arguments.
    First: an Indirect Reductio Argument. If steroids ought to be allowed, then all sorts of performance enhancement technology ought to be allowed, such as, e.g., body modification:

    (a) extra-long prosthetic legs for centers in basketball
    (b) mini turbo jet engines grafted onto the hips of wide receivers
    (c) webbed fingers and toes for swimmers.

    But that’s absurd. So steroids ought to be prohibited.
    This argument doesn’t identify the reason we ought to prohibit steroids (it is not a “slippery slope argument” saying that allowing steroids would lead to these other things). Rather, it attempts merely to teach us that something is wrong allowing steroids, even if we can’t pinpoint it yet.
    Second: an A Non-Moral Argument. This argument for prohibiting steroids concedes that there is nothing inherently wrong with doing steroids or with a sport that allows it. It treats a rule permitting or prohibiting steroids as a mere convention like any other rule. Now we imagine two sports: baseball and baseball*. Baseball is baseball. Baseball* is just like baseball, only steroids are allowed.
    Then one can say: “I prefer baseball over baseball*. I can’t really articulate why (when I try to give reasons, I see they are inadequate). Nonetheless, I know I would enjoy baseball much more than baseball*. So I think they should not allow steroids.”
    Of course, this makes the matter one of taste, and most opponents of steroids don’t think it’s merely a matter of taste.

  10. Chris,
    My only point about the player demographics is that fans who use historical integrity-type arguments have awfully selective memory about the history of baseball. We cannot assume that the game as played 25, 50, or 100 years ago was fair or that it represented the best competitition the sport could offer (where steroids would, on these views, somehow distort the game’s balance of competition). I think a compelling argument could be made that Babe Ruth’s records were as much influenced by the absence of African-American and “Latin” (as they used to say) players as any contemporary players’ records might be influenced by ‘roids.
    And on the reductio argument: Several player bios have said that the use of amphetamines for energy is at least as widespread as the use of steroids, and has been since the 1960’s. Whatever arguments can be made against steroids can be made against “greenies” as well, no? So no greenies? No caffeine?

  11. OK, here’s another approach (I’ve not worked out the details of this, so bear with me): Use a simplifed version of Rawls’ veil of ignorance. Individuals ignorant of their talents and other contingent facts about themselves are considering whether, in the hypothetical society they are fashioning, professional athletes should be permitted to use steroids or performance enhancing drugs. Furthermore, make the following assumptions:
    1. Steroids carry the risk of adverse long-term side effects, as Dan outlined in his original post (or if we feel uncertain about this, they carry a risk of such risk).
    2. The first element of Rawls’ second principle of justice will be met with respect to professional sports, i.e., no one will be barred from professional sports so that every “office and position” will be open to all. Presumably, the result would be that sports would be a meritocracy, governed by talent and hard work rather than extraneous factors.
    3. If steroids were permitted, then most or many professional athletes (or those aspiring thereunto) would use them in order to maintain or achieve world class status.
    So behind this hypothetical veil, I don’t know whether I’ll be a sports fan or not, a professional athlete, a team owner, etc. Would I agree to permit the use of steroids in professional sports? It seems to me that few of us would find that a rational choice: If steroids were permitted and I were a professional athlete, then I’d be risking my long-term health in exchange for professional success, but if they were prohibited, then I could achieve roughly the same level of success without incurring such risks (i.e., I’d still be a world class athlete if no one in my sport took steroids). (The same argument could be made for the team owners and others who profit from professional athletics.) Furthermore, since the chances of my being a professional athlete are very small, I have little incentive to want athletes to incur these greater risks even if I turn out to be an athlete myself. Finally, if I frame the decision as a comparison across persons, the relative benefits to fans and others from steroid use (longer homers? harder tackles? faster 100 meter times?) are modest when compared to the risks and burdens that fall on the athletes. All in all, behind the veil of ignorance, the hypothetical me, be I athlete, fan, or whatnot, has a great deal to lose and little to gain by permitting steroid use.

  12. Hi Jussie and Dave. Thanks so much for the thoughts. After reading your comments, I can’t help feeling that both of you are assuming that steroids have far more of an effect on one’s abilities and skills than, from what I can tell, they actually do, and are downplaying the motivation, effort, determination, and other athletic virtues that would be still be exercised by athletes who would use steroids.
    Jussie, let me first say that if you are naive in believing what you wrote about the internal goods of sports, I’m naive right along with you. Second, you say,

    I find hard time fitting the idea of being good in chemically improving oneself to an standard of excellence internal to a sport as a practice.

    I’m not seeing why you would think this, unless you are assuming that steroids have far more of an effect on athletes than they actually do. From what I’ve been able to tell, steroids alone cannot chemically improve someone to the point of achieving excellence internal to a professional or world-class sport, just as taking multi-vitamins or eating protein bars alone cannot chemically improve someone to the point of achieving excellence in that sport. Hard work, dedication, self-sacrifice, persistence, grace under pressure, and the development and exercise of all the other athletic virtues are also required. (If what you mean is that steroid use in addition to hard work improves someone to the point of excellence, that sounds like the argument Dave gave, which I’ll get to shortly.) You then say,

    Thus, for me, the allowing rule would hint that the external rewards have taken over the practice. Money rules and everything goes in pursuing it. The joy of being good no longer suffices to motivate the sportsmen and women to excellence in this practice.

    I’m also not seeing this, unless you are also assuming that the motivation of athletes who would use steroids is dominated by external awards like money and fame. By why should we think that? Why couldn’t an athlete who would take steroids do so because he or she was motivated by excelling in their sport, as determined by the standards of excellence internal to their sport? It is probably true that, if steroid use were allowed, the standards of excellence internal to the sport would rise, but that happens whenever any new, improved training technique or diet or, to a point, technology is utilized by the athletes in a sport. One might think that this rise in standards changes the sport in the sense that it is no longer the same sport. (This, then, would be a version of an argument I didn’t discuss, the Argument from the Nature of Sports.) But, again, I don’t see why this would be the case. Taking a cue from one of W. M. Brown’s articles (I don’t remember which one at this point), the incorporation of high altitude training raised the standards of excellence internal to the sport of long distance running, but surely its doing so did not change the sport of long distance running. It just helped raise the standards of excellence internal to that sport.
    Dave, after presenting your tanning analogy, you write,

    While multivitamins provide nutrients enabling you to maximize your performance with the body the Lord gave ya’ in combination with hard work (and so are analogous to tanning lotions), steroids (which enhance muscle mass) get you maximal performance regardless of the body you’ve got and with far less work.

    Again, I don’t see why you would say this, unless you think that steroids have far more of an effect than they actually do. Steroids do not get you maximal performance regardless of the body you have, nor do they ensure that an athlete would have to put in far less work. Steroids get you maximal performance (when they do) only when combined with the body you are starting with and a lot of hard work. (And anabolic steroids are not something in addition to what God gave ‘ya–steroids are testosterone.) So, it seems to me that steroids are analogous to the tanning lotions, not the tanning beds.

  13. Perhaps if y’all watched a sport in which success didn’t depend solely on brute strength and speed, you wouldn’t have these problems. I suggest you switch to cricket — the thinking man’s baseball.

  14. Hi Chris. The level of risk criterion sounds appropriate. As you say, though, the level of risk of steroids is an empirical matter, and one that I don’t really know is settled yet, especially when what is really needed is empirical data on the risks of minimally effective steroid use, as well as on how many other injuries are prevented by anabolic steroid use. (Remember, use of anabolic steroids increases muscle mass and quickens tissue repair, which plausibly prevents a number of other injuries. But I don’t know enough to go there.) Also, I don’t think we want to underestimate the risks involved in regimented weight training (for example, see http://www.physsportsmed.com/issues/1998/02feb/laskow.htm). One of the difficulties, however, is how we are in principle going to determine what is too risky. I have no idea whether this is true, but I think it is at least plausible that being away from one’s family for up to 26 weeks out of the year presents a greater risk to a professional or world-class athlete (albeit, a different kind of risk) than taking the minimal doses of anabolic steroids for a set period of time. As you’ve suggested, perhaps we could always revert to just letting the players vote on the practices that they believe are too risky to engage in, but that wouldn’t settle the matter of whether or not any practice would in fact be too risky to engage in.
    About the Indirect Reductio. The reason these examples are absurd is that too much technology has entered the picture, which suggests that what’s wrong with use of anabolic steroids is that it is technology, and not an athlete’s work ethics, persistence, etc, that accounts for excellent performance relevant to an internal standard of the sport, which, I think, are the points to which I responded last to Jussi and Dave’s comments.
    About the NonMoral Argument. I think you are right that what is presented is a “Matter of Taste” argument, similar to a common argument against the practice of homosexual activity. One can say: “I prefer heterosexual activity over homosexual activity. I can’t really articulate why (when I try to give reasons, I see they are inadequate). Nonetheless, I know I would enjoy heterosexual activity much more than homosexual activity. So I think they should not allow homosexual activity.” But as you say, this makes the matter one of taste, and most opponents of homosexual activity don’t think it’s merely a matter of taste. So, as you rightly suggest, this argument is not a very good argument against the use of anabolic steroids.

  15. Hi Michael. I like where you are going with Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance. I think the difficulty with it is your third assumption. I don’t agree that if anabolic steroid use is permitted, then most or many professional athletes would use them. Some would accept the risks associated with their use, many would not. But let’s go along with the assumption. The second difficulty is that you could run the same conceptual argument against, say, the practice of carbo-loading by eating plateloads of pasta or by drinking three beers the night before any strenuous workout or competition. After all, some professional athletes carbo-load in these ways, which undoubtedly enhance their performance. But these practices also run probable long-term risks. Should we say that professional and world-class athletes ought to be prhobited from eating plateloads of pasta or drinking three beers the night before a strenuous workout or competition? Perhaps minimally effective steroid use has far greater risks than either of these other practices, but I don’t think it is clear at this point whether it does–especially relative to the three-beer practice.

  16. Ok, here goes my first post on PEA Soup.
    I want to stress a relevant dissimilarity between Chris’s nonmoral argument and the taste argument against homosexuality that Dan discusses. Some baseball players use of steroids could boost their performance thus over time help outcompete nonsteroid players for positions in top series teams. That is, one players activity of top level, non-steroid baseball playing in organization O is in the long run threatened by anothers steroid use. Not so with heterosexuality and homosexuality as separate couples sexual acts are not organized competitive interactive activities (not in the same sense at least).
    So I think a nonmoral taste argument can give some reasons against steroids in baseball but not against homosexuality. Though I would distinguish between a categorical and conditional version of the prohibition involved:
    CAT: baseball players are prohibited from using steroids period.
    COND: if you want to play baseball within the established organization O, then you’re prohibited from using steroids.
    I believe that the nonmoral argument can only support COND. A reason for this restriction is that it seems acceptable that a conventional interpersonal activity freely entered into is regulated in accord with the participators taste (within some moral bounds) but unfair to impose the regulation even on those opting out of that organized activity. (That’s a reasonable restriction on taste arguments in general I think.)
    COND then leaves room for players, fans and financial supporters of the sport who accept steroid use to start an alternative pro-steroid organization O*. But it seems that at least my no-steroids-in-baseball intuition is categorical and thus against steroids in O* too. So I agree with Dan’s claim that the nonmoral argument is “not a very good argument” if that here means not in itself sufficient to support the intuition in question.

  17. Hey y’all,
    Want to write more at some point, but here’s all I can respond to right now. Dan said to me:

    as you rightly suggest, this argument [the Non-Moral Argument] is not a very good argument against the use of anabolic steroids.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that. I think (at the moment, at least) that the Non-Moral Argument is a decent argument against the use of steroids. My hedge was just about whether the argument would satisfy some opponents of steroid use.
    The Non-Moral Argument does not say: they should not allow steroids because allowing steroids would be morally wrong. Rather, it says: they should not allow steroids because allowing steroids would make the game less enjoyable for us (i.e., those who don’t like it for some reason we can’t articulate). We can add: if someone wants to start a steroid-baseball league, go for it; that could be interesting, too.
    I think this still counts as an “argument against steroid use” despite it’s being merely an argument from taste.

  18. I start to be lost for words and arguments as well (Non-Cog’s ‘BOOOOO!!!’ in the end of M. Smith’s paper ‘Ethics and the A Priori’ comes to mind). So, few very brief comments that may or may not be philosophically interesting:
    1. Have we really dealt with the slippery slope argument? Perhaps the slope does not go from steroids all the way to ‘mini turbo jet engines grafted onto the hips of wide receivers’, but what about the perhaps soon possible genetic manipulation. It won’t take long until we can make winners by fiddling with their genetic makeups. All the arguments for allowing steroid use seem to apply here (might be in fact very safe). But at least that strikes me wrong.
    2. Could there be an argument from equality of opportunities? Once steroids would be allowed, there would be a medical competition to create the most effective steroids. Having those would give a competitive edge. But, this development would be very costly and only sportsmen and women from the richest countries can get this advantage over others. People from poorer countries would be disadvantaged. Of course, this is not an argument that applies for national baseball league…
    3. Children and young athletes. I am quite sure that taking steroids as young and when growing is unhealthy and wrong for many reasons. Steroids should thus be only allowed in adult sports. This issues a whole lot of issues, but perhaps there are practical ways to deal with the issue.
    4. Dan, you think I overestimate the effects of steroids. This might be right. I just have in mind these track and field athletes from the eastern bloc countries in the seventies and eighties minutes, metres, etc. ahead of others and world records that stood to this date. Did it make the sports more enjoyable to watch then? Not really.
    5. Risks. You are right that this is an empirical question. I haven’t seen much research results (and specifically in comparison to weight lifting training). I’ve known one person – an ex ski jumper – who admitted using steroids and them ruining his health permanently. Of course a sample of one is small… And to be consistent, I am not totally opposed to the idea of risky training being banned even though that might be hard to reinforce.
    6. I too like the idea of there being two different competitions for dopers and nondopers, and a free choice for fans and competitors alike.
    7. Finally I want to end up with a story I think is quite funny. In the very beginning of the 20th century Finnish long and middle distance runners pretty much cleared all the medals from the Olympics. This raised much discussion – how come athletes from such a small country, 5 million people, be So Talented compared to everyone else? Then, someone discovered the secret. They *trained systematically*. A lot of people resented this. It gave an unfair advantage over the naturally talented. I bet similar discussion than we are having now were going on then. Unfortunately, now that the secret is out Finland doesn’t win anything in Olympics. Let’s ban training I say.

  19. hey i think all of this is very interesting. i’m doing a paper for school and this truely does help inform every1 about all of the steroid use.

  20. Hey check it; if sports are ment to entertain people then we should let only pro-athletes take steroids, this will cause athletes to score more. Some Pro-Athletes take steroids even while knowing the consequences, so we should just let it be. If they don’t care about their health, then why should we. All we want to see is more action. Yes more responsibility will depend on the team who contains the athlete so nobody will get hurt. People should probably make another category for people who use steroids, like they should have their own hall of fame.

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