Just Say No – Is It Time To Eliminate Drug Testing in Sports?

I used to be a big supporter of drug testing in sports. It was necessary to protect the integrity of the game I proselytized. Cheaters have no place in sports I argued repeatedly. Athletes are role models and we must protect them from themselves I raged. Ok, I didn’t do that last one but that is a common refrain in the argument. It is also completely wrong and so was I. I was completely and utterly wrong.

For the record I was always against blood testing. Not only is it invasive but it has the potential to reach far far beyond its original intention of detecting for illegal doping. One of the biggest problems I have with drug testing is the overreaching we are currently seeing. Color me also worried about the World Anti Doping Association. You think they don’t have self preservation issues at stake in this debate. The simple truth is that there is big money involved on both sides of the debate. Learning to parse through that can teach you a lot about the issue.

Looking back, I am almost ashamed to admit I bought the arguments for drug testing. But hey red herring tastes great and is less filling! Goes great with some good cheesy risotto. These arguments now just seem silly and paternalistic. Just like the arguments that all said Lance Armstrong were clean.

The worst argument for testing for doping is that they enhance performance. Well duh. The inconsistency in this argument is astounding. There are many things that are performance enhancing that are legal and the lines between what is legal and what isn’t are simply arbitrary. Let’s face it many of us use performance enhancing drugs every day. Drink coffee? Drink any energy boosting drink? Carb up before you work out? You cheater!

I have come to the conclusion that performance enhancing possibility isn’t sufficient reason to justify the widespread scope of drug testing. Is performance enhancing really a bad thing? Let’s face it there are always going to be those who take supplements or products designed to give them an edge. There are always going to be developments in genetics and endurance training that will allow for bigger, stronger and faster athletes. I fail to see why we care that performance might be enhanced.

If you accept the argument that you can’t eradicate all doping from sports (which I think you must) then why not level the playing field for real? We allow other methods to enhance performance yet somehow banned substances are bad because somewhere someone decided it was wrong.

One might argue you must test for illegal doping to protect athletes from side effects, long term effects or life threatening usage. To me this speaks more to oversight than anything else. You can’t tell me there is much, if any, difference between the measures athletes take to remain in competition and the possible life altering effects of any doping agent. All evidence to the contrary.

Let’s consider the recent disclosures by former four time All Pro NFL defensive end and linebacker Jason Taylor, who in sobering detail described the efforts he took to stay on the football field in an interview with Dan Le Betard of The Miami Herald. You can find the article here: Jason Taylor’s pain shows NFL’s world of hurt.  Be prepared because the details are pretty gruesome, but not that dissimilar from what you read when you consider the issue of Lance Armstrong and blood doping.

What Taylor went through isn’t isolated by any means to professional football either. You see it in other sports such as gymnastics. There are relatively few sports that don’t require competing with injury, some major and some minor.

I fail to see how what Taylor went through to stay on the field is that much different from an athlete who takes a performance enhancer except that one is allowed and one isn’t  They both have potential long term effects. Combine that with the mounting evidence that repeated collisions and trauma to the brain, all legal mind you, can cause degeneration of the brain and long lasting effects then the argument becomes even weaker.

This paternalistic argument really only applies to youth sports as far as I’m concerned. Once you get to the collegiate level it simply doesn’t make much sense. To be sure, the first step in the argument against across the board drug testing must start with complete and lifelong health care for athletes beginning at the collegiate level but as far as I’m concerned that should be done regardless.

It is a travesty that we require athletes to place their bodies on the line where institutes of learning and others make large amounts of money yet we refuse to provide them with the most basics of healthcare. That must stop. As must drug testing. In reality, drug testing in large part came out of the “steroid” age when it was easier and cheaper to obtain evidence of illegal doping. Nowadays, it is increasingly more difficult, and expensive, to successfully test for banned substances.

Furthermore, the list of what is allowed, and what is not, is largely arbitrary and completely unmanageable.  Certainly efforts have been made to provide a mechanism to allow for better access to what is and what isn’t allowed but that doesn’t resolve the issue. In fact, the mere fact that a mechanism exists to help determine what is or isn’t allowed speaks volumes to why the practice has outgrown itself.

Consider more reality in the fact that in many ways drug testing is terribly ineffective. This fact is well documented in “The Secret Race’ written by former cyclist and ski racer Tyler Hamilton. The following is one of the more telling quotes found in the book:

“It took the drug-testing authorities several years and millions of dollars to develop a test to detect EPO in urine and blood. It took Ferrari about five minutes to figure out how to evade it,” Hamilton wrote (referring to famed doping doctor Michele Ferrari.)

Every year increasingly invasive and costly methods to detect evidence of doping are proposed. Consider what the World Anti Doping Association (WADA) would do: Athlete Biological Passport

Holy invasion of privacy Batman! How costly and time consuming are all these measures and all for what? To chase the ghost of a dream that drug testing actually works? Across all sports approximately 30 million is spent per year on drug testing. Imagine if those resources were diverted to help athletes deal with the long term effects of playing the game after the game is through with them.

For more information on drug testing go here: http://www.theathlete.org/Drug-Testing-In-Sports.htm


  1. I've had this position for awhile Sharona, so many things could be classified as “performance enhancing”. So many people don't think it through, one person is using a doping agent and the person beside of him is getting shot up with pain meds and Cortizone, but we get told only one of them is wrong. It can go deeper, even into our personal lives and jobs, but I won't get into my opinion on that. We as fans ask players to run faster, jump higher, hit harder, to put their body on the line week in and week out. This is enormous pressure just for our entertainment, then we tell them it doesn't count because they used a PED. At the same time, the player who plays through an injury with the help of approved medication is a hero and a role model. I don't see the difference.

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