Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Performance Enhancing Drugs

It is difficult, anymore, to look at elite level athletics without feeling the tingling and hushed stigma of drug use. With accounts of Lance Armstrong's systematic use and distribution of EPO and other drugs, and his intimidation of those who were resistant to The Program occupying the headlines of publications that just a few years before would not deign to publish the triumphs of the sport, it should come as no surprise that road cycling is now construed by many as a hotbed of doping and unsportsmanlike drug use. And it's true. Witch hunt or not, the investigations and improvements to testing procedures over the last decade have shown that drug use in the pro peleton has been pervasive, perhaps even endemic at the highest level of the sport. But while drug use in cycling seems to garner much more attention than the same problems in other professional athletics, it would be naive and ignorant to believe that it is not a present and persistent influence in other sports.

The extensive use of banned substances in the MLB and NFL over the last several decades is well documented. Even the NBA, from its ivory tower of lucrative and performance driven popularity was forced recently to confront the issue when Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu tested positive for steroids. At least in policy, these professional organizations acknowledge that performance enhancing drug use is something that should be stigmatized. While no sport in the US punishes the use of banned substances with the same draconian fervor of elite cycling, each governing body as a system in place for imposing sanctions on players.

Athletes may face fines and suspensions of varying severity, and records set with illegal assistance can be stricken or bear an asterisk to note in perpetuity that they were garnered by dishonest means. But despite the (sometimes vapid) strides that professional athletics have taken to disincentivize drug use, the practice continues. And what's more, banned substance use is not confined to the highest level of sport. Doping bans, while uncommon, are not absent from the ranks of the NCAA and a recent study showed that of the 1500 high school football players who were interviewed, 6% admitted to using some kind of performance enhancing drug. Clearly the very real benefits to performance still outweigh the just as real detriments for some athletes. The fact that doping is persistent in sports leagues that are associated with academic institutions should not be surprising, as doping in schools has been experiencing a crescendo for years.

The first (and only) time that I used a performance enhancing drug it was not to increase my speed on the bike. It was not to jump higher, or run faster, or pick up heavy stuff better (you can confirm all of this anecdotally by asking me to do any of those things and watching). I joined, by some estimates, 25% of today's university students when I took a couple of Adderall and sat down to finish an otherwise insurmountable quantity of work (40-50 Ben-Hours) in a day. It was incredible. For 8 hours, I didn't eat. I didn't drink water, or go to the bathroom. I didn't check my email or Facebook once. I didn't even stand up. I worked in a manic fervor for 8 straight hours and finished the last obstacle between me and a Bachelor's degree with literally minutes to spare.

While using performance enhancing drugs to get a B.S. in Geology from the University of Montana is sort of like using steroids so that you can win in tether-ball at summer camp, the impulse to attain a competitive edge  in academics is easy to understand. With the increasing competition for positions in prestigious undergraduate  and graduate level programs the pressure to excel can easily overwhelm nagging crises of conscience. What's more, beyond the difficult-to-enforce laws against selling or using prescription drugs without a prescription, there are no widespread systems for academic or student conduct sanctions if a student is found to be enhancing his or her performance with a pill. There are almost no legal or procedural consequences to this kind of doping. And isn't this every bit as dishonest as copying answers on a test or committing plagiarism, both of which can lead to expulsion in egregious cases? It seems to me like to keep the academic playing field level, there needs to be some kind of policy limiting the illicit use of concentration enhancing drugs, even if it means that my degree winds up with an asterisk.

No comments:

Post a Comment