In today’s New York Times Magazine, Chuck Klosterman, the so-called “ethicist,” serves up the claim that there are no sound moral arguments against performance enhancing drugs in sports. The best he can do is to note that all sports have arbitrary rules—four balls constitute a walk sort of stuff—and that is why PEDs are banned. We need the illusion of a level playing field to enjoy our sports.
Klosterman’s argument seems to me to be far off the mark. There are sound arguments against PEDs, albeit whether one finds them convincing is a different story. The first two involve safety.
First, there is an increased risk of injury due to improvement in performance. We know this by looking at the injury toll in the PEDs-rife NFL, where bigger men have bigger collisions at greater speed knocking their brains and bodies into mush. Second, there is increased risk of injury over time due to stress on the body given performance enhancement drug use. Big muscles minus same joints equals bad knees, ankles, and elbows.
Then we have worries about the continuity of any particular sport. Golf, track, swimming and baseball are built on tradition, comparing performances over time, arguing about who is the best at their position or of all time. Destruction of the “integrity” of the game is a real argument against PEDs, as all previous pre-PEDs era performances become incomparable.
Another issue is that victory now goes to whoever has the best pharmacist—not coaching, training, effort, or motivation. True victory is driven in part by genes, social circumstance, and luck. But PEDs overwhelm all of that.
And using PEDs change sport to an exhibition, not a competition. Fans end up watching to see who does the most incredible thing, not who wins. Who cares about the outcome of a ball game when batters are hitting 800-foot homeruns or athletes are doing other superhuman feats?
Finally, with PEDs, kids don’t learn much about how to play the game. They learn biochemistry.
So, I maintain that Klosterman is wrong—not about the case for PEDs, but about the need to engage some sound moral arguments against them.