Friday, July 27, 2007

Sports and Doping

Tibor R. Machan

When my good friend expressed to me his views on the doping at the
Tour de France, I wrote back to him: "I don't care." He was a bit
upset but didn't protest too much. Why, indeed, should one care about
everything that's going on in the world? Sports are probably what the
economists' claim that there is no disputing taste applies to most
uncontroversially. I like tennis a lot, you baseball, she swimming,
and so on. None is superior; I don't care how much you are attached to

But getting back to doping, why is that such a big deal? My friend,
who is a very smart cookie, had a few insightful things to say about
this that may be worth considering for those who do care. As he put
his point,
"Why do some folks oppose doping? We only watch when
the athletes do things that people shouldn't even be able to do. The
drugs only facilitate this 'supernatural' power. Take a sport, like
football. Clearly the athletes like the dope. The team owners love
it. The spectators love it. Who is against this? A question was
asked of high school athletes: If drugs guarantee a ten year career
in professional sports at the price of shortening your life by ten
years, would you take the drugs? To my amazement, only 70 percent
said yes. Maybe the 30 percent are, like, really stupid, or they were
questioned in the presence of some adult—maybe a parent—and lied. If
TV says we will only buy your stuff if you eliminate dope, then dope
would be gone. That would require that the advertisers boycott drugged
sports. Not sure that will happen. For some reason cycling is trying
to police 'performance enhancing' actions. Why? No one else is trying.
Vino was charged with getting a blood transfusion. This is a routine
action inside a hospital, probably routine in sports (a lot of trouble
though); seems like a tricky thing to test for, much better to catch
the guy in the act…."

For me, in contrast to my friend, the more telling issue is that in
nearly every area of life people make ample use of artificial
enhancements. They wear makeup, eye glasses, toupees, high heels,
shoulder pads, and hundreds of other items that they believe will help
them do better at various tasks, more or less important. Such is what
comes from our ability to be creative and to apply this capacity to
self-help. So what? Why protest? If the kind of authenticity that the
opponents of doping want were really a great human good, why not
object to all these artificial enhancements?

Maybe there is some entrenched bureaucracy at work here
that makes a good living off the monitoring, testing and punishing of
doping but I do not see why bother. If we all knew that there are no
bans against doping, and if we made it evident that going to excess is
dangerous, what else is needed?

I suppose the myth of "clean" sports is a powerful one and among the
officials highly prized, though for the life of me I cannot see what
the point is. Not when we consider how ubiquitous artificial
self-enhancement is among people and how little is the harm that comes
from it, all things considered.

I did start by saying I do not care and, yes, I don't. I shall not
send this missive to officials of the Tour de France or any other
sport. But I respect my friend's contributions to debates about
matters of widespread concern to members of the public and so I
thought I would air his views, along with my own, to stir up a little
forthright thinking about the matter.

Yes, yes, doping can be harmful but everything, really, can be when
overdone. So I suggest that we just stick to sensible warnings and
leave the matter to the athletes and their consultants. And the those
interest can be forewarned and enjoy the sports knowing full well what
is going on.

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