Category Archives: PEDs

The Sports Ethicist Show: Ethical Issues in Horse Racing

A new episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is available!

It’s the season of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Horse Racing. Horse racing raises is exciting and thrilling, but it also raises several ethical and philosophical issues: doping, horse welfare, genetic manipulation, and breeding and body types. Rockford University Biology professor Sean Beckmann joins the show to discuss some of these issues.

Related links:

You can download the podcast here:

http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/the-sports-ethicist-show-ethical-issues-in-horse-racing/

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes.

 

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Filed under Horse racing, PEDs, Triple Crown

Brief Review: The Sports Gene

I recently finished David Epstein’s The Sports Gene. It is excellent and well-worth the read. Below is a brief review I wrote for my Goodreads page.

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Is elite athletic performance the result of nature (our genes) or nurture (environment and training)? Yes, according to David Epstein’s The Sports Gene. This engaging and illuminating work is a pleasure to read. The anecdotes are amazing and humanize the scientific questions and issues raised by the role of genes in sport. Epstein does a great job of reporting the science without getting too technical, but without dumbing it down or sensationalizing it. He clears away the misunderstandings and misuse of the effect of genes. We often, he shows, misascribe the influence of genes: over-attributing them in some cases while failing to see their role where there is a significant influence.

Part of the story here is that genes play significant and important roles in athletic performance, but Epstein is careful not to overplay this. First, the target of his work here is extraordinary and elite performances. These are athletes that are already well off the curve. What he finds here isn’t going to necessarily translate back to the rest of us who live in the heart of the bell curve. Second, Epstein doesn’t want to disrespect or downplay the importance of the effort and hard work of these elite athletes. Yes, they often have amazing genetic gifts, but without the effort and practice, these gifts won’t amount to anything. (At the same time, the book looks at the genetic contributions for effort-taking and practicing.)

Another important theme of the book is that a better understanding of the genetic roots of performance can help us improve performance. The differences in our genetic propensities (our genotype) require, in many cases, different kinds of training and practice. Our bodies react to training and practice differently and so, to understand better how to improve our skills and outcomes, we have to understand better how we respond to the environment and training. One person’s strenuous cardio workout might be overkill (tragically quite literally in rare cases) for another.

Epstein doesn’t tackle the issue of genetic manipulation (or gene-doping) head on, but it certainly lurks throughout the book. Over the last century, the scientific and technological influence on training for athletic performance has increased immensely. As our knowledge of the human genome and genetic technology increases, will we see this influence extend beyond training into the athlete’s genetic makeup? Epstein’s tentative response is that, given the state of the science, there is just too much unknown at this point to do this in any extensive or effective way.

But that knowledge is coming; it is more of a when than an if. I am fairly certain that as the knowledge increases, so will the use of this knowledge to improve performance. Epstein is agnostic, ultimately, on the wisdom or morality of doing this. That wasn’t the point of the book, so it is no fault. But his work suggests much about this possible future. Personally, I think that, as with most scientific and technological advances, this will generally be a boon for human civilization and for sport.  I am not utopian, though, and recognize that it will come with some harms and dangers. This is in part why it is important to get a better understanding of the science and learn more about how nature and nurture interact.

Another moral question not raised by Epstein, but suggested by his book, is how our understanding of the influence of our genes on performance affects our evaluation of doping. If some people have natural advantages conferred by their genotype, then is it really unfair for someone without those genetic advantages to use a drug to produce a similar effect? For example, Finnish athlete Eero Ma/ntyranta has a genetic variation that makes his red blood count as much as 65 percent higher than that of an average man (274). His body is able to move oxygen to muscles much better than most and this (all other things being equal) gives him an advantage in endurance sport. This is quite similar to the effect of taking EPO as a performance-enhancer. If one of the goals in athletic competitions is a level starting point for athletes, then maybe we ought not ban EPO. That is, maybe, allowing EPO would level the field for athletes that do not have the benefit of genetic advantages. Is there a moral difference (putting aside for the moment the wrongness of the rule-violation) between someone who has a performance advantage from their genotype and someone who has a performance advantage from taking a substance? In more fundamentally, it begins to challenge the traditional concepts and evaluations of doping and performance enhancing.

While Epstein doesn’t deal with these issues, the book is good place to learn (in a non-technical way) about the scientific foundation for answering these kinds of moral and philosophical questions. For that reason alone it worth a read. But it is also quite interesting on its own terms.

 

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Filed under Genetics, PEDs, Reviews

Welcome Sports Illustrated readers!

This blog was mentioned in Phil Taylor‘s “Point After” column in the October 14, 2014 edition. Taylor’s column focused on the apparent growing tolerance for cheating. He quoted from my post “The Biogenesis Scandal and PEDs“.

When and if Sports Illustrated puts the column online, I will link to it. 

Update 10/23/2013: The column is now online: Rules Are Meant To Be … Rules

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A-Rod, Dempster, and Beanballs

My readers, listeners, friends, and students all know I am a Red Sox fan. I am from Boston and root for all things Boston sports. I also do not like Alex Rodriguez. I am glad the Sox dodged that bullet in the failed trade for “A-Rod” in 2003. I am not a fan A-Rod more because of his on-field tactics (slapping at Arroyo’s glove and shouting “Mine” while rounding third to confuse the defense) than his alleged PED use. His public, off-the-field personality is not one Dale Carnegie would likely recommend. If the charges prove true regarding A-Rod’s PED use and obstruction of MLB investigations into Biogenesis, that certainly adds to my (and many other’s) disdain for him.

All this said, I do not think Ryan Dempster should have (if he did—and for the purposes of this post, I will assume he did) throw intentionally at A-Rod.

Pragmatically, it was not a wise thing to do. The Red Sox are trying to hold on to first place in the division and have been struggling to win as of late. Throwing at A-Rod gave the fading Yankees life, encouraged them to rally around A-Rod, and A-Rod ended up having a great game at the plate (and the Sox lost).

But this was not merely a bad tactical decision. Whatever the justification might be for the tradition of bean balls in baseball for on-field retaliation and justice, throwing at a batter for off-field reasons is wrong. There may be a place for on-the-field, player policing of the game—and this might actually help to reduce overall violence in the game. But it violates the spirit of the game to bring the outside world into the game.

Here are two main reasons for thinking this.

  1. A game is in part something set apart. It is distinct, in significant respects, from the rest of life: it has its own time, it is own space, its own internal structure (not entirely so, of course, it is still a part of existence). When the external world interferes with a game, the game suffers. Think of the absorption one has while playing a game that is destroyed when the phone rings. By bringing in to the game retaliation for activities external to the play, one undermines (at least partially) the ability of players to play the game. (Admittedly, this point rests on a theory about play and games that I can’t elaborate on here).
  2. The player, in this case Dempster, is not in the appropriate position to be judge, jury, and executioner. Is Dempster in a position to know about A-Rod’s PED use? His obstruction of the investigation? His reason for appealing his suspension? Is the “punishment” appropriate to the “crime? Obviously, I think the answer to all of this is no. These issues have to be determined through the league and its processes, not a player on the field in the middle of game.

Some in Boston and around the nation have said that Dempster made a lot of fans and that he is a hero for throwing at A-Rod. You want to be my hero? Strike the bastard out; don’t put him on base.

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Filed under baseball, PEDs, violence

The Biogenesis Scandal and PEDs

On Tuesday, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported that Major League Baseball is preparing to suspend nearly two dozen players connected to Tony Bosch’s Biogenesis clinic. Bosch is suspected of supplying these players with various prohibited performance-enhancing substances. There are major stars, like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, and Nelson Cruz, on the list of players facing possible suspensions. (I remain hopeful that no Red Sox players show up on this list. I also admit to a healthy scoop of schadenfreude with A-Rod.)

Whenever a big doping scandal erupts, there are two issues that need to be distinguished.

The first issue is the theoretical debate about the justification for the prohibition of PEDs. The academic literature is replete with discussions about the ultimate justifiability of these bans, and if so, on what grounds. Personally, I am skeptical of most of the arguments supporting PED bans: mostly on the grounds that they often fail to be consistent or exhaustive. Though as a philosopher, this is the issue I am most interested in, I am not so concerned with these questions here.

The second issue is that given that there are bans, how ought we to evaluate those who get caught? In one respect, this seems easy. We ought to condemn players who knowingly violate the rules of their sport. That said, I do think there are important questions about the fairness and reliability of the current system of testing. Is it effectively administrated? If not, this could mean that the system favors some athletes, allowing them to get away with PED use while others cannot. Is it reliable in screening out false positives? It can be ruinous to a player’s reputation to be falsely accused of PED use: once tainted, it is nearly impossible to get out of that shadow. Due process is important: for a player’s reputation, legacy, and earnings. But it is also essential for fans to know that the system is fair and that the game is being played on an even field.

But even with these questions about fairness and process, players know the rules. They know what substances are prohibited. Players that seek an edge beyond what is allowed by the rules are in the wrong.

There might not be well-grounded reasons to ban many of these substances, but there also aren’t good reasons to prevent leagues—participation in which is voluntary—from implementing such bans (any more than preventing them from banning aluminum bats). So while I may not think that many of these banned substances ought to be banned, they are banned and these players have, through the CBA, agreed to these rules. For them to violate these rules is a violation of their integrity and honesty. For this, we ought to condemn them.

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Filed under baseball, PEDs, rule-violations

Lance Armstrong Oprah Interview Initial Reaction

Here are some initial and preliminary reactions to Oprah’s interview of Lance Armstrong.

I was fascinated by the interview from the get go. Oprah asked tough questions. As one would expect, Armstrong looked very uncomfortable through most of it. My response is mixed: he seemed mostly straight with the doping aspects (most of which will come to light anyway). He was much more ambiguous on how he treated people, particularly Betsy Andreu. At times, Armstrong was evasive and maybe Oprah could have pushed harder on some points. But overall, I thought she did a great job.

Some of Armstrong’s responses suggested to me that he was sincerely regretful and contrite: for example, saying unequivocally that the doping was his choice. Other times he shifted to language that deflected his responsibility. He talked about his actions as “flaws” as though they were just things he couldn’t help. He used “we” instead of “I” making it seem less on him. This isn’t surprising to me. Armstrong is a mix—as he said—he is a jerk and a humanitarian. In the interview, he is taking some responsibility but also shirking some of it.

Although it allowed him to side step the question of USADA cooperation, I like the idea of a “truth and reconciliation commission.” Without fear of prosecution, many more athletes might come forward and bring to light just how pervasive doping is.

I’m looking forward to Part 2.

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CNN asks “Give Lance another chance?”

I provide my take on Lance Armstrong’s upcoming confession of doping here:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/15/opinion/opinion-roundup-lance-armstrong/index.html

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Filed under PEDs, Site Announcements

Quick Thoughts: Bonds, Clemens, and MLB Hall of Fame

I love baseball, but I am not a baseball stat-head. I can’t recount how many bases someone stole or how much shutout innings someone pitched. I don’t go in for all those fine-grained analyses over who should and should not get into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

With that caveat, I think it is silly that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were not voted into the Hall of Fame today. Yes they both cheated; they used substances that were prohibited by their sport. Their legacies are forever tarnished by this, and rightfully so. But both Bonds and Clemens were two of the greatest baseball players ever—PEDs or not. And given the alleged pervasiveness of PED usage in their era, one might argue that their dominance was even more impressive.

Moreover, there is little doubt that PED users and cheaters of other kinds are already in the Hall—having played in a time when knowledge of such things was harder to come by or just ignored. No one, as far as I know, has called for a purge of all cheaters and scoundrels already in the Hall of Fame (Let’s not!)

The voters who refused to vote for Bonds and Clemens seem to be trying to undo history or pretend like it didn’t happen. But it did happen. These men played the game. They dominated. How does one tell the history of baseball in the late 20th/early 21st century without talking about Bonds and Clemens? As ESPN baseball writer Jayson Stark puts it: “Do we really want a Hall of Fame that basically tries to pretend that none of those men ever played baseball? That none of that happened? Or that none of that should have happened?”

Another view of why the voters voted the way they did is that the voters were taking out their frustration and anger at the whole so-called Steroids Era by punishing these men. But this strikes me as largely misplaced. It is not the voters’ role to dole out justice for such rule-violations. That role belonged to the league, owners, and players. They all failed in that regard, but that does not license the baseball writers to take it up.

I am of the camp that thinks we ought to put the best, most dominant players of their respective eras in the Hall and where appropriate note the admitted, alleged, or suspected PED use on plaques/signs by the players’ bust. Anything else seems to be either hypocrisy or evasion.

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Filed under baseball, PEDs

Quick Thoughts on Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis, and ESPN’s 30 for 30 9.79*

I finally got around to watching ESPN Films 30 for 30: 9.79 and I have three quick responses. One, I was surprised at how sympathetic Ben Johnson comes across. He shows regret, is appropriately contrite, and doesn’t try to rationalize or make excuses for his steroid use. Second, I was surprised at how poorly Carl Lewis comes across. He seems unlikable and vain: more concerned with his image than anything else. Lastly, the movie nibbles around and all but accuses Lewis of having doped. For example, there is a clip of a doctor discussing how many HGH uses need adult braces because their jaw grows. About ten minutes later there is a clear shot of Lewis with braces. The film also has several interviews with Lewis competitors that suggest Lewis doped.

This documentary doesn’t answer the question of whether or not Lewis doped or not, nor does it suggest any resolutions to PED issues. But it is a thought-provoking look at the runners of the 1988 Olympic 100m and how PEDs affected the sport and the athletes.

 

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Filed under ESPN, Movies, PEDs