Ethical, Health, and Professional Issues Associated with the Use Steroids in Sports
Steroids, which fall under a category of drugs known as ergogenic aids, are performance enhancers, or any substances that give the user a physical or mental advantage while competing or exercising. Steroids work by inducing or sustaining increased cellular and muscle activity, which in turn boosts the user’s physical performance. The use of ergogenic aid, especially anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS’s) is popular in sports, and it includes energy drinks, caffeine, and illegal substances. Steroids are derivatives of the male hormone testosterone, and its function in the body is to increase metabolism and boost energy output and muscle strength, power, and endurance. Endogenous steroids (testosterone hormone) have a normal range in the body, and drug testing involves checking for results that are outside the normal range than the body produces on its own. A person tests positive when the amount of hormones in the blood stream exceeds what is considered normal.
History of Steroids Use in Sports
Steroids have their roots in the medical community, where they were originally used to treat various health conditions. Anabolic steroids were first developed in the 1930s as treatment for hypogonadism, a medical condition in which the male and female reproductive organs (testes and ovaries, respectively) produces insufficient testosterone for normal growth and sexual functioning. Symptoms of this condition include delayed growth of beards and pubic hair. Accordingly, steroids were used to treat medical conditions like impotence and delayed puberty. Later they found usage in inhibiting the wasting of the body muscles due to HIV infection and other diseases (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2006). In the treatment of impotence, steroids were used to reverse the Klinefelter’s syndrome, a condition where a male has an extra X chromosome, and which was associated with reduced infertility.
Use in Sports and Physical Exercises
Steroids found their use in sports in the 1960s when professional athletes found out that the male hormone testosterone can enhance performance. Their use became known as “doping,” in reference to the idea of using performance enhancers to cheat about one’s true performance levels and have an advantage over other competitors. The issue of doping in sports gained prominence following the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) investigation confessions by former professional athletes, and the 2007 and 2014 revelations about doping in the professional baseball, and within Russia’s Olympic Team, respectively (CNN, 2017). These revelations raised serious ethical issues about the integrity and professionalism of competitive sports in light of the unfair performance advantage that dopers gain over their rivals. For example, steroids give energy and muscle strength boost for athletes who compete in weight lifting, sprinting and throwing events. There have also been cases of widespread use in physically taxing sports such as Rugby and American Football, boxing and body building. Steroids are popular in these sports because they enhance physical body changes that aid performance, such as increased muscle bulk, increased muscle strength and quick muscle recovery after exerting physical activity.
Ethical and Professional Issues Associated with Steroid Use
The concept of anabolic essentially refers to body tissues involved in increasing body mass and muscles (New York State Dept. of Health, 2008). Accordingly, using anabolic steroids has the effect of increasing body mass by imitating the action of the body’s natural male hormone, testosterone. Despite these physical changes, steroids do not improve the user’s skill or agility, which are the hallmarks of true sportsmanship. There are many other naturally endowed qualities that determine athletic ability and competence, such as body size, sex, age, and genetics, and of course in addition to training. The use of steroids creates an unfair advantage to users not only because their positive effects are not available to everyone, but also because they do not reflect one’s sporting skills and true competence.
At the same time, steroid use has been associated with a number of negative side effects that endanger the health of users. These include decreased sex drive and sperm production, liver disorders, alopecia (baldness), increased cholesterol levels, development of oversized mammary glands in men, interference with the menstrual cycle in females, and increased aggression and mood swings. Of serious concern, however, are the mental effects of long term use of steroids. The negative mental impact of steroids stems from the fact that they do not just make users stronger and faster in physical competitions. In addition, they give users what is known as “the feeling of a runner’s high” (New York State Dept. of Health, 2008). They make physical exercising to feel good, and it is here that a user’s addictive potential lies since they must use steroids to enjoy physical workouts. Moreover, rehabilitating addicted users poses another challenge in terms of the withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuation of use. When former addicts stop using anabolic steroids, for example, their bodies ceases the production of androgens and experiences testosterone deficiency, which is associated with brain aging (Holowchak, 2002). Consequently, people who are addicted can exhibit depressive symptoms when they stop using steroids, which makes it difficult to completely stop the habit.
To this end, it is arguable whether legalizing the use of ergogenic aid will help to address the problem of doping in professional sports. The aim of preventing doping is not really to limit athletes’ performance to normal limits, but to create a fair playing ground for all participants. Competitive sport is essentially about performance enhancement (Holowchak, 2002, p. 75). It will be counterproductive, in this regard, to seek to limit performance levels. Indeed, it is perfectly okay to improve one’s performance by eating energy foods and vitamins supplements, which could give users an edge over others. The argument that using ergogenic aid does not reflect one’s skill falls on its head when one considers that weight lifters use wrist wraps to strengthen and stabilize their wrists while lifting. The same is seen in basket balls and volleyball, where athletes seek to boost their performance by using wrist wraps. Moreover, the design of shoes and clothing used in sports is intended to optimize performance.
Why then, is the use of anabolic steroids a big issue? The argument by opponents is that steroids have long term negative health effects, and that they create an unfair advantage to users (Katz, 2008). If they were legitimized, the issue of unfair advantage will not exist. In any case, it is hypocritical to encourage the use of vitamins supplements and condemn ergogenic aids. The health issue is also contentious due to lack of sufficient empirical evidence regarding its harmful long term effects. According to Norman Fost, professor of pediatrics and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, anabolic steroids have undesirable effects such as baldness, voice changes and infertility, but they do not present life-threatening risks like sporting itself, yet sports are not prohibited. He states that “The number of deaths from playing professional football and college football are 50 to 100 times higher than even the wild exaggerations about steroids, and more people have died playing baseball than have died of steroid use” (Katz, 2008). This view suggests that if risk and harm are the reasons for condemning the use of steroids, then some sports like baseball should be prohibited.
To conclude, steroid use is prevalent in competitive sporting due to the commercialization of professional athletics. Their use raises ethical, moral and professional issues regarding the integrity of the sports and the negative long term impact on users. Given the controversy surrounding the argument for fairness and health risks, steroids should be banned on grounds of integrity. People compete to demonstrate skill, agility, and competence, and not mere performance. Steroids create a false impression about one’s competence, and should therefore be banned.
- CNN. (May 2017). Performance enhancing drugs in sports fast facts. CNN.com. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/06/us/performance-enhancing-drugs-in-sports-fast-facts/index.html
- Holowchak, A. M. (2002). Ergogenic aids and the limits of human performance in sports: Ethical issues, aesthetic considerations. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 29(1), 75-86. Katz, J. (2008, January). Should we accept steroid use in sports? ntelligence Squared U.S. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2008/01/23/18299098/should-we-accept-steroid-use-in-sports
- National Institute of Drug Abuse. (2006, August). What are anabolic steroids? Anabolic Steroid Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/anabolic-steroid-abuse/what-are-anabolic-steroids
- New York State Dept. of Health. (2008, March.). Anabolic steroids and sports: Winning at any cost. Narcotics enforcement. Retrieved from https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/1210/Oksman, O. (2016 July). Russian Olympic team’s drug usage could have long term effects on athletes’ health. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/28/russian-olympic-rio-team-drug-steroids-health-effects