Where do the doping scandals take us?

In Star Trek lore, there are the enhanced humans of Noonian Khan’s era, where humans are genetically tinkered with to make them smarter, stronger, faster, and more durable. Even in that era, while it is within human capability, genetic engineering is shunned. And that SciFi series provides plenty of examples of chemicals being used to enhance humans. The Jem’Hadar are the Dominion’s hardy warriors, addicts of the drug Ketracel White that they must take daily. Dr Bashir of Deep Space Nine was a closeted enhanced human who overcame his shame at being enhanced as a child. In other popular culture, Captain America, himself a product of Dr Abraham Erskine’s chemical advancements, was supposed to be the first of many super-soldiers who would win us WW2 because seemingly, ordinary humans couldn’t get it done. The Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverind and many more. I could get a lot geekier than this, but I think I’ll draw the line there. The fact is that we have idolized enhanced humans into blockbuster heroes representing what we think our future will hold. We are addicted to improving the human body because the physical and mental stress of what we are expected to achieve with our current frame is too much for it to handle. So we need to be better?

This is all, of course, contrary to reality. We humans can do anything. Ordinary men fought, died in, and won WW2. Ordinary men rose from simian forests, survived frigid ice ages, built pyramids (sorry, alien conspiracy theorists), sailed oceans, built and ran nations, committed mass atrocities, tamed the atom, piloted rockets to walk on the moon, and altered the environment of our planet all in the span of 10,000 years. All thanks to our vast numbers.

But it is obvious that we as individual humans have reached limits of how fast, smart, strong and durable we are. More powerful diseases conspire to end humanity, the gruesome injuries of war and terror are debilitating our surviving young, our activities and expectations are more extreme, we accelerate towards the singularity more every day, information comes at us far quicker than our grandparents who only had to read a daily paper to get all the news they could consume. The records for strength and speed are harder and harder to surpass. Entertainment requires that we hit or handle a ball further and faster, and will pay accordingly. We want to better than we are now, whether it is overcoming old age, improving our youngest years, producing the next genius, working the longest hours, enduring the hardest mental strains, training the next gold medalist, or simply overcoming the multitude of human shortcomings that plague our species. It is no wonder that some of our best and brightest have taken this path of better living through chemistry. The road to these goals without an assist may be years worth of harder or even impossible work, or just unacceptable failure. In every way, we demand better, crave better, worship better humans, reward our betters, all or the value they give to society, tangible or not. We tell our children that they must be the best that they can be. In some cases, people justifiably need prescription help and can take Adderall and friends to get closer to the “level playing field”.

But who says that the field is actually level, or that I in my current form am all that I can be. I, who am the product of chemicals in my food, chemicals in my beverages, chemicals to keep me from contracting any of the childhood diseases, my daily vitamins, allergy pills that prevent me from going into anaphylaxis every day, and so on. Chemistry has made me survive childhood, grow up with reduced risks, and potentially have a long life. A life much better suited for longevity than a good percentage of countries. So what is the difference between someone growing up without the advantages of having been born in a First World country (not you, Kansas or Florida), and not-a-model-human-being myself? Isn’t everything that we do to ourselves an enhancement that someone in another country may not have access to? I argue that we already do that, and it is very hypocritical of us to chastise others who have an advantage over us, when we have no problem having an advantage over others. We teach our children this hypocrisy when we tell them an athlete let us down for doping and we dope ourselves with chemicals we have stamped with the FDA seal of approval. We have no aspirations that, despite some people’s best attempts to help those less fortunate, we are not here to make sure every single person on the planet has an equal share in the wealth. We thrive on advantage, and the least we could do is be honest and say that we strive to be better humans in any way we can. If we do not press our advantage, someone else will. And thus we put the “race” in human race.

Talking to others, I have heard the opinion that they believe that doping should be allowed, but only in a doping-only league. My feeling is that it should be allowed no matter what. But, of course, there are complications. Will a doping-only league, where records are going to be broken more often, eclipse America’s past time as the all-time favorite league? Will we see athletes die younger or even sustain worse injuries? And will we see more cases like Jovan Belcher in instead of adequate mental health counseling that a money making enterprise like professional football might find too expensive to pay for. Already Alex Rodriguez has detractors and supporters that are about even on both sides. Would that half be enough to show support for a doping-only league? This strikes me as a balance that is worth exploring.

Everyone knows that athletes are taking enhancing drugs that we cannot detect, or using methods to hide those that we can detect, and will only get worse as the steroid makers try to outwit the juice police. Everyone remember the Chinese gymnasts from the 2012 Olympics? Who held them accountable, when children that looked like they could enter the heavyweight MMA division were stepping out onto the balance beam? They shouldn’t have been allowed to compete yet they did. All our favorite music stars, writers, models, actors, anyone who has ever produced a work while altered or who have improved their lives, have been both celebrated and vilified. You can see that we have a lot of conflicting standards about who we do and do not allow to enhance themselves.

This immediately brings us to what we as a society believe that we should label as “drugs”. Here in the great state of New Jersey, our governor Chris Christie is considering making medical marijuana legal for children. News commentator Sanjay Gupta has come down on the side of medical marijuana as well. And why not? We have horribly addictive drugs such as roxycodone available if your knee hurts, but when a child is rocked by multiple violent seizures every day, shockingly it takes a national discussion to approve it. We have a traditional beverage called alcohol that has the same effects as many drugs and causes worse damage on a daily basis, but it is too inconvenient a truth to call it a drug. And yet why should anyone complain if I have a beer or two in the safety of my own home? Why should it be anyone’s business at all what I do in my privacy? Or that I actually don’t keep beer in my fridge on a regular basis? Are we going to start raiding western Native American towns to take away their peyote? Are the ATF going to storm your house at night to take your aspirin? While no one should have any delusions about alcohol really being prohibited again (looking at you, Ocean City, NJ), “dirty” substances like marijuana on which not a single person has ever overdosed are the subject of violence on both sides of the drug wars, and have been arguably painted as the root of all evil. Anyone has but to look at the Westboro Baptist Church to see that you don’t need a dime bag of coke to be evil. Why not prescribe what’s needed to make someone’s life more comfortable? There’s nothing wrong with needing a little help, mentally, physically, or any other way.

While I have no interest in any such substances or what anyone else specifically does with them, I believe an adult should be able to what they want, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Take a look at the website http://silkroadvb5piz3r.onion (no, you can’t get to it unless you know how to work with Tor) and you’ll see that people will go to every length to get what they want: drugs, weapons, killing, and human trafficking. In so many cases, we have demonized things that should have been a natural human right. I fully believe that consenting adults should be allowed to dope in professional sports, so long as they understand the implications. OK so maybe while the Yankees could actually use some performance enhancing drugs this year, if we go unregulated, we may get perennial goldmines as the top players because of available payroll. Rules must be in place:

  • A certain number of doping player are allowed on the team?
  • Everyone gets to dope a certain number of times per year?
  • Everyone is responsible for their own doping?
  • Players who dope are required to psychological monitoring under a structured program?

Sports figures take risks every time they get on the field. Something can always be torn or broken, ending a shining career in one brief moment of agony. Can we trust them make their own decisions off the field as well as in the game? Can we help them really be all they can be by studying these enhancements, rather than demonizing them, so that safe and efficient enhancements can be developed in the public eye, rather than in a back alley clinic?

Pressure to dope will always be there, whether in cycling, baseball, football, whatever. Once a team starts doping legally, it will be hard for a “clean” athlete to stay on a team when their best is not good enough. And that’s where split leagues come in. So that those who choose to dope can dope, and those who choose not to dope will have a safe place to play. It takes skill to play and strength is not the only factor. There will still be a place for ordinary man to win glory. Here’s to being “only human”.

Here is some good reading on how people are enhancing themselves this very day.