Doping Issue in Sports Analysis

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 12
Words: 3091
Reading time:
11 min
Study level: College


The term “doping” commonly refers to the practice of using prohibited drugs or methods in sports to gain an unfair athletic advantage. Since earliest times drugs of one sort or another have been used, and abused, to enhance performance. The word dope itself is likely derived from the Dutch word dop, an alcoholic beverage made from grape skins, used by traditional Zulu warriors to enhance their prowess in battle. The extent of doping in sports has increased greatly in modern times, particularly in recent decades, as new drugs are constantly being developed.

Detecting this abuse has never been an easy task. Scientists made a great leap forward in 1983 when, using new analytic technology, they identified 11 athletes from 9 countries involved in doping at the Pan Am Games in Caracas, Venezuela. Many other athletes, including 13 members of the U.S. track and field team, withdrew from the competition rather than submit to testing.3

As the tests have become more sophisticated, so have the efforts to subvert them. The year 2004 marked a watershed moment in the ongoing effort to catch athletes using anabolic-androgenic steroids. After a syringe containing an unknown clear liquid was presented to authorities in June 2003 by a disgruntled track and field coach (later identified as Trevor Graham), scientists at the UCLA’s Olympic Analytic Laboratory determined it to be a previously unknown anabolic steroid, tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), a “designer steroid” illicitly manufactured and undetectable utilizing standard methods because it disintegrated during traditional analysis.1

Modifying the testing procedure to detect THG was promptly followed by indictments of the supplement distributor, BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative) and its principals. Additionally, a vigorous investigation was undertaken by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Fallout from the BALCO case affected the U.S. Olympic track and field team even before the 2004 Summer Games. Sprinter Toni Edwards, who qualified in the 100m and 200m, was given a 2-year ban. Calvin Harrison, who had been named to the pool for the 1,600-m relay, was also banned for 2 years.2 Sprinter Kelli White, who swept the 100m and 200m at the World Championships in 2003, was stripped of her medals and banned for 2 years in May 2004; White was cooperating in the ongoing BALCO investigations. These investigations gave rise to speculations that BALCO might have ties to some world famous athletes such as Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, and Barry Bonds.3

The identification of THG has raised concerns that some athletes may be using other yet-to-be identified anabolic-androgenic steroids and getting away with it. Their use may have serious short- and long-term effects on health, including masculinization of females, feminization of males, elevated cholesterol levels, damage to the heart and liver, and stunting of adolescent growth, as well as psychiatric disorders including severe mood swings and dependency, with depression upon withdrawal, possibly leading to suicide.

There is a wide range of performance-enhancing substances. Some you’ve heard of from their notorious backgrounds and some you would have never expected to be very dangerous. Ginseng, for example, is an herb that claims to improve overall energy and vitality, particularly during times of fatigue or stress. It comes form the root of the plant Panax ginseng, which takes about four to six years to plant and harvest. Ginseng can come in the form of powder, liquid, tablets, and capsules. The earliest description of Ginseng is found in ancient Chinese pharmacopoeia believed to date from the first century A.D. The Chinese and Native Americans have used it for centuries. It was used for its calming effect. The Ancient Chinese said it brightened the eyed, enlightened the mind, and increased wisdom. It was used to cure digestive disorders, cardiovascular illness, nervous system diseases, and pulmonary maladies.5 They used it also to travel for days without food only having a ginseng root in their mouth to give them energy. Manufacturers state that Ginseng will “energize, revitalize and restore health”.4 It is said that Ginseng has magical properties, being that is shows no evidence of its effectiveness. Many scientists have performed studies on this supplement to see whether or not in lives up to the hype. There were many results showing that ginseng had no effect on someone’s energy or mood whatsoever. Why would anyone sell a product that contains studies showing that they are ineffective? Simple, to earn money. Manufacturers could care less about what happens to the consumer as long as he or she can still purchase their items. This is why you find most items to be ineffective and costly.

Caffeine is another supplement although some people don’t realize it. It is generally regarded as the most widely consumed, behaviorally active food/drug in the world. It’s a substance that is extracted from plants or produced synthetically for use as an additive in certain food products. It is classified a stimulant that can be found in coffee, soda, tea, chocolate, and also can be found in individual packets at a gas station or your local convenience store. So what’s the big deal, people drink coffee and soda all the time.5 A stimulant is a substance that speeds up the body’s functions. Caffeine is rapidly absorbed by the digestive tract and distributed to all tissues. After a person ingests caffeine his or her metabolism increases, blood pressure climbs, and heart rate accelerates which aren’t very good side effects for adults. It also causes difficulty sleeping, irritability, and nervousness. Less sleep can cause many more problems to occur. If an athlete loses sleep then he/she will not have very much muscle recovery, which will slow his/her exercise gains. However, at the cost of these harmful side effects a user has a sense of more mental awareness that athletes feel give them an advantage.

Ephedrine is another popular supplement and, like ginseng, has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb. It’s currently used by doctors to treat asthma and the common cold. It has been reported to accelerate metabolism and improve athletic performance. For that reason it is mostly used in weight-loss products along with caffeine. Manufacturers claimed that when taking ephedrine a person could lounge in a chair and still burn as much fat as if you were a long-distance runner. However, of these positive benefits are hard to come by with no harmful effects. Which is why ephedrine has many harmful effects like heart problems? Ephedrine includes chemical and functional similarities with amphetamines, also called speed. In spite of the scientific and legal classification of ephedrine’s active components as potent drugs, ephedrine can be legally sold in the United States as a dietary supplement.9 Ephedrine has been one of the most controversial substances because of its harmful effects on numerous organ systems, including the cardiovascular system, pulmonary and kidney functions, and also the central nervous system.6 The Manufacturers neglect to tell the consumer that he or she might be endangering their health by taking an ephedrine-based product for fear that they might lose a sale.

As a child, mostly everyone enjoyed playing games and sports. Unless of course someone else had cheated so they would have an advantage. This analogy is very similar to sports today. Taking dietary supplements is basically another form of cheating and is contrary to the nature of sport and competition. It violates the virtues of honesty and trustworthiness, which go to the heart of the fairness and integrity of competitive sport. We should all play by the same rules and start from the same level. No one should have to feel that they need to take a performance-enhancing substance just to keep up with someone else who is also taking enhancers. Why should someone be allowed to take legal steroids, ephedrine, creatine, and other enhancers in order to give them somewhat of an advantage over their competitors? It is said that in professional baseball, where there is very little regulation on supplements that should be banned, that at least 50% of baseball players take some form of steroids. Although drug use by competitive athletes isn’t a new phenomenon. The players who are taking these supplements have tainted whatever they have achieved in the sport. For Example, Barry Bonds who is considered to be one of baseball’s greatest hitters is being questioned and tested for possible use of a steroid. Even though he states that he has never taken steroids in his entire life, the fact that he might have taints all his accomplishments including his record-breaking 73 homeruns in one season.2 This is why the baseball audience in America has diminished over the years. If they don’t regulate steroid use fans will continue to lose interest in the sport because not too many people enjoy watching players who got to where they are just by taking the right supplements.7 Although sometimes the blame shouldn’t be put on the athlete. They could be moral, perhaps to the detriment of their career, or disregard ethics and ensure their future.

Athletes receive all kind of pressure from every which way. It could be from their parents who push them too hard and demand success. It also could be from a coach who rewards a player for doing well, which will give him or her a free pass to either start or continue to use performance-enhancers so they can please their coach and get more playing time. The biggest form of pressure a player could get is from all of the media exposure. A high level of exposure creates much pressure for an athlete to do well so he or she might be inclined to take a substance that may be very harmful to there health. Football, on the other hand, began regulating performance-enhancing supplements long ago. This strict regulation has made the sport more enjoyable for the players and the fans watching.8

Some athletes aren’t even really aware of what they are taking. They simply just want to reap the benefits without ever realizing the consequences. Even though the short-term effects may be prosperous, the long-term are questionable. It could lead to all types of harmful problems. There could be many different types of mental effects produced by the use of these supplements. Although there isn’t usually any long-term mental effects from these substances there have been some episodes where the users experienced anxiety, jitteriness, palpitations, and mood changes. This is a very large price to pay just to improve upon oneself.

So why should someone take supplements if they are not sure what effect it may have on them? The easiest and best way to get what the body needs is by eating food. But, still about 70% of Americans use supplements. Some of the users are really sure what they are taking. They could be confused or mislead by the manufacturers who just want to make a quick buck. Manufacturers are not required to show a products safety or effectiveness prior to marketing. The companies that produce the supplements will also attempt to trick a consumer into buying their product with different tactics. They’ll use medical terms like ‘detoxify’, ‘purify’, ‘energize’, and also claim that their product is ‘breakthrough’, ‘magical’, or a ‘new discovery’.5 Just because a product has an antioxidant doesn’t mean a person should buy it. If it states that it has “high potency” that doesn’t mean it’s effective. Also if the product has a label on it that does not mean that the FDA endorses it.8 Another red flag is if a supplement only shows benefits and no side effects. Consumers are often left confused by these false claims made by manufacturers. Now, consumers have no idea whether a product is pure, effective or even safe. Supplements are watched over that well. They are regulated more as foods rather than drugs. Under Federal Law, a Manufacturer can decide whether or not he or she wants to test a supplement before marketing it. Continuous control of the manufacturing process would guarantee good, quality products.

One of the most noticeable effects from the use of the substances is seen physically. The body can have many unusual reactions from these supplements. Ephedrine, for example can inhibit the body from cooling itself, which can lead to rising temperature and maybe serious damage. You also may experience high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and suppressed appetite. Depending on the chemistry of the person using a product the outcome may be positive or negative. Some athletes would say, “that can never happen to me, I’m in good shape and I take care of myself.” Korey Stringer, former Defensive End for the Minnesota Vikings, also was an athlete who took care of himself. One day the Vikings were practicing in the offseason and Korey had collapsed on the football field. He later died from a heat stroke. There was no ephedrine found in his body, however, there was a product in his licker that contained ephedrine.9 The NFL later banned the substance, ephedrine. This proves that no one is immune to negative reactions might come from the use of performance-enhancing supplements. Is it really worth a life to enhance your ability to lose weight, get stronger, or be more energetic.

Historically, most drugs that have been abused in sports, except for designer drugs such as THG, were developed for their therapeutic potential. Detecting instances of doping is likely to become increasingly complex as new therapeutic drugs and drug delivery systems are developed and are abused by those determined to cheat.

The findings of the Human Genome Project present daunting new challenges as gene therapy evolves as an integral part of medicine’s therapeutic armamentarium in the years ahead. Unethical athletes and those around them are already reaching out to scientists working to develop therapeutic gene delivery systems for insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) for patients afflicted with muscle wasting disorders, recognizing this technology’s performance-enhancing potential. In the final analysis, the principle that sport is a contest of character, skill, and disciplined hard work, not a contest in pharmacology, must be inculcated in all athletes. Although certain supplements provide good short-term effects, they usually aren’t worth taking in the long run. People using enhancers could get very sick, damage their body permanently or even get themselves killed. Supplements need to strictly regulate by the FDA. 10 All possibly harmful supplements should be banned from public use. This would keep everyone safe and everything fair.


In this chapter, the traditional arguments against doping have been submitted to scrutiny. I could summaries my conclusion by saying that the ban on performance-enhancing methods constrains the professional activities of athletes, and that the reasons often advanced to support that constraint do not stand criticism. The prohibition rests either on arbitrary delimitations or on ungrounded prejudices, or both. But, it could then be asked, why does it enjoy so much support amongst the general public? In my opinion, different reasons could be advanced to account for such support. One reason could be that the public still associates doping with a drug liberal society. This is a misconception. I have already argued for the plausibility of being restrictive on recreational drugs, while at the same time advocating lifting the ban on doping. The amount of aggregated social harm originated by these two practices will probably differ. From the assertion that sport has to be clean, another usual misconception consists in concluding that doping is against the ?nature? of sport. At least in one sense of the term clean, the above standpoint no doubt expresses a valuable insight.

Whether we practice sport as a leisure activity or as a profession, our lifestyle should be a healthy one. Alcohol and drug intake are counterproductive to any kind of sport activity, no matter how intense it is. From this, however, it does not follow that doping also is incompatible with any kind of sport practices. To grasp this argument properly, we need to concentrate on the distinction (still unobserved by some people, and unduly neglected by most) between recreational and professional sports. This leads us into the next reason lying (in my opinion) behind public support for the ban on doping. The primary goal of recreational sports is to promote health and enjoyment for its practitioners. To dope within such a context will no doubt be counterproductive. The athlete who dopes will probably ruin her health and will not experience any amusement.

Professional sport, instead, is ruled by different goals. A professional athlete aims to become excellent in her discipline and to achieve the external goals mainly prestige and money that usually follow such victory. Given the hard competition that characterizes professional sports, doping is not only rational, but even necessary, for securing those goals. Although they have a common origin, recreational and professional sports have evolved in different ways and today constitute two very distinct social practices. And different social practices should reasonably be guided by different rules. Professional sport, then, goes free from the accusation of promoting unsound strategies to victory. If my arguments in this chapter are correct, all kinds of performance-enhancing methods should be allowed in professional sports. Certain doping damages will then be unavoidable. This is a regrettable effect of my proposal. These damages, however, are not essentially different from the injuries that affect other professional categories. We should do everything we can to minimize them, as we do in other professions, short of implementing paternalistic restraints in the activity. A condition for reducing doping injuries, I have argued, is lifting the ban. But we will not be able to prevent all doping injuries fully. We should not be surprised. Working always breaks down workers. Health, so why should sports jobs be different.


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