Baseball Field
Image by Blake W. B. via Creative Commons

Leveling the Playing Field

Over the last several years we’ve been inundated with stories of alleged use of Performance-Enhancing-Drugs (PEDs), from steroids to Human Growth Hormones and others. The most recent names linked to steroid use and actual legal action include Rogers Clemens and Barry Bonds, but let’s not forget about Lance Armstrong’s truly amazing come-back from cancer to capture yet another Tour de France. What about Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa?

Baseball’s not the only sport supposedly tainted by PEDs, how about track and field’s line-up of athletes who’ve been stripped of Olympic medals, suspended or banned from competing; Marion Jones, LaShawn Merritt or Ben Johnson. Football, baseball, track, cycling and even the false positive test of WNBA’s Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury who was playing for a Turkish team at the time. Women are not immune from these accusations considering rumors regarding the East German women’s Olympic swimming team dominance during several decades from the 60’s to the early 80’s.

I could go on and on naming athletes accused of or have tested positive for PEDs. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point out the use of other banned substances, such as alcohol, amphetamines, tranquilizers and cocaine, just to name a few. Caffeine was a banned substance in the 80’s, but removed in 2004 by the World-Anti-Doping-Agency. Every sport, level of competition and type of events vary in their list of banned substances and testing procedures.

Why take banned substances and risk your eligibility or health?  

Olympic Swimming
Image by redshoesd via Creative Commons

The answer to the question “Why take banned substances and risk your eligibility or health” is obvious. But, is it? Achieving a competitive advantage is the obvious answer, while in many cases these answers apply as well; extend careers, aid in recovery, make it to the next level and increase earning potential.

Aside from the negative health affects, why in the world are these national and international organizations so concerned about creating a level and fair playing field? If everyone’s taking them or using them what does it matter? In reality all athletes and their bodies aren’t created equal to begin with. And every body is influenced slightly different from the use of steroids, human growth hormone or creatine. So, why are they insisting on creating a fair paying field at the higher elite levels?

I’m not alone in this thought process, Tobin Harshaw, proposed the same thought in his article in the NY Times, Sporting Steriods: Ban the Ban?. Read it for yourself. I’m not totally out of line here. My point is let’s not get all wrapped up in the concept of ‘leveling the playing field’, because banning PEDs doesn’t even come close to doing so. If you want to ban PEDs for health or safety reasons, now you’re starting to make a little more sense. But let’s get real, banning a substance or making it illegal doesn’t make responsible consenting adults or athletes safer or smarter for that matter. Let them make the choice. It’s their bodies. Clearly many of them have already made the choice.

The Arts embrace Performance-Enhancing Drugs!

What about the arts, such as writers, painters, musicians or other? I bet if you asked them, they’d agree that leveling the playing field in sports doesn’t make any more sense than leveling the playing field in the arts. Isn’t it possible the arts profession and their audience benefits from the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs? It’s well known that many musicians, artists and others in the profession have and/or depend on the use of alcohol, cocaine or other mind-altering substances during the creative process or performances. While not steroids, the artists and entertainers still use these substances to better their performances, yet we don’t test them randomly after performances or exhibits. Is it that these items are more socially accepted, even if they are illegal? Is it that society accepts the use of drugs for this substance as long as they continue to entertain us? No one tries to level the playing field in the arts, so why are we doing so in sports?

 Productivity-Enhancing Drugs in Business!

This makes me think…couldn’t there be some comparisons to the business world? You say, Huh? Aren’t many of the reasons to take PEDs applicable in the business world? Doesn’t every for-profit company in the world exist and compete in the business world for the same reasons…get to the next level of success, compete at the highest level possible, marketplace dominance and increase earnings. So, why do we theoretically allow PEDs in the business world, but believe athletes should all compete on an equal playing field?

Gary ColemanWhoa, whoa, whoa…whatcha be talking about Loomis?

I’m merely suggesting that we readily allow forms of Performance-Enhancing Agents in the business world without trying to level the playing field, but call it something different, maybe Productivity-Enhancers. After all, leaders in the business world may not be too different in their goals than professional athletes or entertainers.

Businesses operate in the U.S., in general, in a free marketplace. Sure, there are Federal Trade Regulations to protect consumers, but there aren’t any laws “truly” banning caffeine, alcohol, Ritalin or amphetamines in the workplace or business. Yes, with OSHA/WISHA there are safety rules, and there are liabilities and insurance risks/costs associated with allowing employees to operate heavy equipment or perform similar duties while under the influence of the aforementioned legal substances. But isn’t that in the vain of safety?

How about Coke and Coffee?

But what about adrenalin enhancers, such as  caffeine, diet pills or other amphetamine-type drugs? Wouldn’t those theoretically increase productivity of employees in certain roles where quantity and speed are directly tied to business success? Do companies randomly test for their employees, as professional athletes are in their worlds? Not without cause, right? So, why do we not try to level the playing field in big business? Make it fair and square like Mom did when you were little to ensure you had a chance to win the board game the two of you were playing.

Hear me out. In some industries or fields couldn’t some substances be considered another form of PED…Productivity-Enhancing-Drugs? What about those in a professional creative field…couldn’t their productivity be increased or improved with the responsible use of alcohol, marijuana, and others might even say cigarettes? Think about the ability of the brain to relax and be more open after a nice cocktail at lunch or a cigarette when you need a break. Companies don’t ban those substances in the work place for the sake of a “fair” playing field, but for health and safety reasons.

Pass the dutchie to the left-hand side!

Clearly, I’m not suggesting we all start smoking marijuana or drinking on the job al a Don Draper of Mad Men, but I am suggesting that perhaps banning Performance Enhancing Drugs as a means of leveling the playing field in sports and not the business world is a tad hypocritical.

Aren’t sports just as competitive as the business world? And, aren’t professional sports conducted or owned by successful owners of other non-sporting businesses?

Aren’t sports a form of entertainment for spectators or fans? Well, then I wonder why we want to limit the entertainment value of sporting events when as fans we want “the best team or competitor to win”!

Your Thoughts?

What do you think…should sports organizations ban PEDs in order to level the playing field and make it fair for all? Or should elite sports go the way of the arts and big business?

It’s all fair in love and war!

My Disclaimer

I’m not truly a proponent of allowing steroids in sports. I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in Exercise Science, so I get the science and health issues, probably better than most of you reading this article. All I’m suggesting is the premise of testing athletes for steroids as a means of “leveling the playing field” is hypocritical compared to the arts and business. I merely wanted to point out another perspective on this controversial subject that always becomes more discussed during Olympic years. I love sports, playing and watching. And when asked during my undergraduate kinesiology class if I’d take steroids, I without hesitation said no. But, think about it, I’m a woman and what would I gain by taking steroids. I had no chance of having a career as a professional athlete no matter how good I was, as those opportunities didn’t exist in the late 80’s. I’m not so sure my answer would have been as quick and definitive had I been a male athlete during the time!