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Janelle De Jong

Dr. Guest

ENGL 3200

11 December 2015

The Case Against Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Sports

Steroid and doping scandals are a commonplace in sport’s news within the past twenty

years. With the pressures to reach the highest possible peak of performance due to higher

sponsorship and salaries for the best players in any top sport, some athletes turn to taking drugs

to get them that advantage. The use of chemical enhancers to increase athletic performance is not

new, early Olympic athletes in Greece took supplements, but these naturally occurring

substances had much less of an effect and were safer than modern performance-enhancing drugs.

Current athletes who use these illegal drugs take them in secret, without regulation, and it is

usually not until after they out-perform their competitors or drug tests results come in that they

get caught and punished for their choices. Lance Armstrong, a famous cyclist who won seven

Tour de France races, was banned from competing for life, stripped of his titles, and lost

commercial sponsors due to the fact that it was proven that he used illegal performance-

enhancers. Although it is proven that these drugs, to a degree, do work: they can make a person

stronger, and have more stamina, performance-enhancing drugs should not be used in sports. The

short term benefits to athletic performance do not outweigh the possible health risks. Using a

drug to reach levels of athletic performance previously impossible is unethical and morally

against the spirit of sports. The use of these performance-enhancing drugs is also banned in most

sports, so those who choose to use anyway are thus wrong in breaking the law.
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In the context of this paper performance-enhancing drugs encompasses substances which

alter or increase the production of hormones in the human body which either increase

performance or quicken recovery time. The most common example of these are anabolic

androgenic steroids. Anabolic steroids as they are commonly called are synthetic versions of

hormones that have been used since the 1930s as a way to increase muscle mass. They do this

by increasing the levels of male sex hormones such as testosterone in the body, which in turn

grow muscles. These drugs work for both male and females who take them. The drugs can be

taken by either injecting them or orally ingesting them. “Some of the most abused steroids

include Deca-Durabolin, Equipoise, and Winstrol” (Anabolic Steroids). The increased muscle

functioning is appealing to athletes because it means that they will be able to hit and throw a ball

farther, block the opponents for longer, and other situations in sports can be advanced if a person

were to be stronger.

Increases in performance can also be done through techniques that increase the amount of

red blood cells in an athlete’s blood. Red blood cells increase the oxygen available to muscles

and having more of them “improves athletic performance in endurance events” (Wilson).

Erythropoietin or EPO, is a hormone that causes the kidneys to produce more red blood cells. It

originally was produced commercially for dialysis and cancer patients with anemia in the 1980s,

but was soon used by athletes to increase their endurance (Hamilton, 32). All methods that

increase the amount of red blood cells in the body are banned in all sports federations. No athlete

should use performance-enhancing drugs, whether they are young or adults, amateur or

professional because of the health risks, moral wrongness, and legality issues of them.

Performance-enhancing drugs have a negative effect on the user’s body. There are both

long term and short term effects of the drugs. Some short-term effects are that users can have
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severe acne, muscle cramps, headaches, and high blood pressure among others (Jendrick, 4).

Long-term effects are liver damage, increased blood clotting factors, and less good cholesterol in

the blood. Without this type of cholesterol, the chance of getting cardiovascular disease

increases. “The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists the following major side effects

resulting from the abuse of anabolic steroids: liver and kidney tumors, jaundice, and fluid

retention” (Mehlman, 52). Women can experience masculinizing effects such as deepening of the

voice, body and facial hair growth, enlarged clitoris. Along with physical effects of performance-

enhancing drugs there are also psychological health problems that result do to their use. Possible

issues include mood swings, aggression and rage, irritability, depression, and insomnia (Anabolic


Some people argue that it is the athlete’s choice, knowing the possible consequences,

whether or not they still want to use performance-enhancers. Braden Allenby, a professor of

engineering and ethics at Arizona State University wrote an article in The Washington Post titled

“After Armstrong’s Fall, the Case for Performance Enhancement”, where he proposes: “If we

allow football players to take violent hits and suffer concussions so that we might be entertained,

why not allow them to use substances that might cause them health problems? It’s their decision”

(Allenby, 443). This argument is not valid because the athletes should not be allowed to make

this decision because they are not experts in the drugs. The drugs are banned for a reason and the

player should not have the authority to override scientists and health professionals. The analogy

of concussions and hard hits in football to performance-enhancing drugs is false because some

injuries are normal aspects of sports; they occur due to the nature of the game. These injuries are

also more curable such as resting and icing a sprained ankle, or sitting out a few games to get

over a concussion. Damage to the body due to performance-enhancing drugs can be chronic and
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hard to reverse. Dangers of performance-enhancing drugs to athletes are not necessary risks to

playing the respective sport.

Others may argue that with advancements in training, diets, and supplements causing

athletes to perform at levels higher than before in history, why not add performance-enhancers to

this list of legal enhancements. This argument does not take into account the differences between

the examples given. Performance-enhancing drugs cause greater health side-effects and are taken

in higher doses than legal supplements. Allenby states “Why not add drugs and other

technologies to the list of legal enhancements especially when most of us are enhancing our

workplace concentration with a morning coffee or energy shot?” (Allenby, 442). His comparison

between caffeine in the workplace and drugs in sports does not connect. Caffeine concentrations

and effects on the body are less than injecting or ingesting synthetic performance-enhancing

hormones into the body.

Outside of their physical risks to the body, injecting performance-enhancing drugs in

secret can increase the risks of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis from needle-sharing (Mehlman, 52). At

their worst performance-enhancing drugs can even lead to death in their users. EPO, which

increases the red blood cell counts is “behind the deaths of a dozen Dutch and Belgian cyclists in

the late eighties and early nineties: their hearts stopped when they could not pump the EPO-

thickened blood. Stories from that era tell of riders who set alarm clocks for the middle of the

night, so they could wake up and do some pulse-increasing calisthenics” (Hamilton, 32). This is

to say that the same thing that causes some benefits in performance can cause serious health risks

and even death when the blood clots and prevents a heart from pumping properly.

The use of drugs in an attempt to make a human body perform above its natural

capability is unethical and unfair. For those who are not taking artificial performance-enhancers
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it is hard to even impossible to reach the level that users are reaching in their respective sports.

This causes more people to turn to using or to settle for being second best. Doping goes against

the most basic principles of fair play, a person who does not use performance enhancers “might

suffer from financial, social, and probably occupational disadvantages in addition to personal

disappointment, if he/she loses a competition against an athlete who artificially increased his/her

performance” (Thevis, 3). This principle also goes to show that people who set records and

participated in sporting events before the mass use of anabolic steroids and hormone injections

have gotten their records passed and achievements belittled by those who use synthetic hormones

to enhance their bodies.

Sports should be what a human body can do from training and practice. Sport is not about

simply winning. “The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

(UNESCO) division on anti-doping believes that ‘doping jeopardizes the moral and ethical basis

of sport and the health of those involved in it’” (Thevis, 3). In the Olympics many athletes from

different countries participate against one another and it would be unfair if countries with more

money, more research into performance-enhancers, and more access to drugs, had athletes who

were above the competition. “The Olympic Movement identifies the Olympic spirit-mutual

understanding, spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play- as fundamental to sport” (Thevis, 3).

Performance-enhancing drugs should not be used because they give users an unfair edge above

their opponents, if no one were to use them the “playing field” would be leveled.

Sports should be about competition with respect to each individual participating and with

regard to the rules of the game. Some may argue that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is

not cheating, that if everyone has access to them it is not unfair. “Are they really cheating?

Steroids are an advance in science, like moving from the horse carriage to the automobile”
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(Jendrick, 10). It is true that the steroids as they are synthetic versions of naturally occurring

hormones are advancements of science. The fact that they are advancements of science does not

lead to the idea that they are good or correct for use in sports. Also the analogy of a transition

from horse carriages to cars does not have the same effect as not doing drugs to taking

performance-enhancing drugs because the former did not have an effect on human health. It is

also stated that Athletes have been enhancing forever, or more precisely since Greek Olympic

times (Jendrick, 5). First-of-all the enhancement used in the past was not as effective and as

damaging as hormone injections during current times. Secondly, just because athletes have

“always” been doing it does not make it right, or say that what they were doing did not constitute

as cheating.

If one chooses to ignore the safety and moral reasons why they should not use

performance-enhancers they still are wrong to use them due to the fact that they are illegal.

Those who take them while knowing that they are banned by the governing body of their sport

are lying cheaters who deserve to be suspended from the sport. They have been banned in sport

to protect the players from the possible serious health risks of subjecting the body to added

hormones, and to keep the playing field fair for everyone. The first official group to make a ban

on performance-enhancing drugs was the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1988. The

charter read “The use of drugs and other substances and banned methods to enhance or

accentuate athletic performance is a tragic reality that must be eliminated from modern sport”

(Thevis, 2). The Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990 labeled anabolic steroids as controlled

substances. The possession or sale of anabolic steroids without a valid prescription is illegal. The

penalties for possession of anabolic steroids are $1000 fee for first offense and anywhere from

one to five years in prison for second offenses (Anabolic Steroids).

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Some may argue that drug testing of athletes is expensive and invasive of their privacy.

The reality is large sport organizations such as Major League Baseball, and National Basketball

Association have enough money from revenue to perform random urine tests on players and have

those sent to a lab for analysis. The statement that the drugs tests are invasive to privacy is also

weak because when a player joins the respective league or sporting group they are playing in

they agree to the terms, rules, and regulations as they are. The drug tests are noninvasive, all that

is necessary to check for banned substances in the body is a sample of urine.

The use of performance-enhancements is explicitly written as illegal in all sports. There

is no room for the argument that those who choose to use them should have any protection or

sympathy. They are cheating and risking their health by taking banned controlled substances.

“The use of biomedical enhancements is no different than the practice of corking bats in

baseballs or coming in first in a marathon race by slipping onto the course near the end”

(Mehlman, 51). Users are using illegal outside helping agents to better their chances at winning

or having success in their sport.

The sad truth that performance-enhancing drugs do work in the short term causes their

use to continue, but the health risks, the reality that those who take them are cheating, and the

fact that they are illegal should make it clear that people should not use performance-enhancing

drugs such as anabolic steroids. Steroid use has been proven to be the cause of multiple deaths of

athletes, along with causing some unnecessary health problems such as liver disease. These risks

are not inherently necessary for participation in sport and therefore support that performance-

enhancing drugs should not be used in sport. The drugs cause people to perform above their

peers because they can increase muscle mass. This is unfair because they are unnatural and the

performance of people who use undermines those who do not. Sport should be about what the
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human body is capable of achieving from hard work and practice and not how much drugs a

person can pump into their system. Athletes should instead focus on perfectly their sport through

practice, proper diet, and rest. If all people knew how unethical performance-enhancing drugs

were, that there are established laws against them, and the supported health risks of them no

athlete would be taking them.

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Works Cited

Allenby, Braden. “After Armstrong’s Fall, the Case for Performance Enhancement”

‘Washington Post’, October 28, 2013. Rpt. In ‘Read, Reason, Write: An Argument Text

and Reader.’ Ed. Dorothy U. Seyler. NY, NY: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015. 440-443.


Anabolic Steroids, a Dangerous and Illegal Way to Seek Athletic Dominance and Better

Appearance: A Guide for Understanding the Dangers of Anabolic Steroids. Washington,

D.C: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion

Control, 2004. Internet resource.

Hamilton, Tyler, and Daniel Coyle. The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour De

France : Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs. New York: Bantam, 2012. Print.

Jendrick, Nathan. Dunks, Doubles, Doping: How Steroids Are Killing American Athletics.

Guilford, Conn.: Lyons, 2006. Print.

Mehlman, Maxwell J. The Price of Perfection: Individualism and Society in the Era of

Biomedical Enhancement. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2009. Print.

Thevis, Mario. Mass Spectrometry in Sports Drug Testing: Characterization of Prohibited

Substances and Doping Control Analytical Assays. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley, 2010. Internet


Wilson, Bradley R. A. "Performance-Enhancing Drugs." Salem Press Encyclopedia of

Science (2015): Research Starters. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.