In the middle of the Tour of California with the Tour de France on the horizon, well, it’s no surprise really.
Performance enhancing drugs are back in the news. Then again, really when does the topic ever go away?
It started yesterday when it came out that Floyd Landis, the American who had his Tour de France title stripped and spent two years fighting the accusation, told ESPN.com that indeed, he did use performance enhancing drugs for most of his professional cycling career. But it didn’t stop there. He went on to say he sent emails to top cycling governing bodies accusing other cyclists of doping including, you guessed it, Lance Armstrong.
Lance, who crashed at the Tour of California and had to abandon the race, responded to the allegations by saying his “history speaks for itself” and went on to point out the inconsistencies in the new version of Landis’ story.
And round and round we go.
And while the soap opera itself is interesting, there is more theoretical grounds under which to consider performance enhancing drugs.
Enter Thursday’s column by Washington Post sportswriter Sally Jenkins.
Jenkins was writing in light of the legal case against Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who allegedly administered treatments, including things like human growth hormone, to a variety of professional athletes in the United States.
The question begins with: Where is the line between therapeutic treatment and performance enhancement?
Jenkins writes: When we crack down on “performance-enhancers,” are we trying to preserve the integrity of the competition or the health of the athlete? Is it safer and ethically more acceptable to use HGH to heal from an injury than to use it as a muscle-builder? If so, why isn’t the difference reflected in doping regulations? Rather than work all of this out, we’ve allowed the anti-doping authorities to lump all substances and all athletes who sample them, regardless of their motives, into one equally guilty party. That way we don’t have to do any hard thinking.
The suggestion is that intent matters along with what we, the public, want from our sporting heroes and heroines. The more difficult and fantastic athletic feats we want them to perform, the tough it is on their bodies and the more they need help in recovery in order to continue to entertain us in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed.
Take the soap opera out of the drug debate and the simplistic morality that all drugs are always bad and people who take them are always cheats and we find that we ask ourselves what exactly is the purpose, the nature of sports?
There is no simple answer. It’s full of shades of gray and subtle nuances and ethical relativity that we’re often uncomfortable with. But sometimes being uncomfortable is the best way to know that we’re moving in a meaningful direction.