A discussion about steroids in sports last night began with pessimism.
“It appears that no one is a good sport anymore,” said Emeritus Psychiatry Prof. Philip Margolis in his introduction to ethicist Thomas Murray’s lecture.
Murray presented several arguments for doping – like an athlete’s freedom of choice, arbitrary enforcement policies and the argument that athletes should use substances to enhance their natural ability – and then refuted each argument.
He gave his speech to an audience of mostly medical professionals at the University Hospital’s Ford Auditorium last night. He characterized steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs as a moral complication of biomedicine.
The lecture came less than a week after track and field gold medalist Marion Jones admitted to using performance-enhancing steroids and agreed to return her five Olympic medals.
Murray served on the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Anti-Doping Committee for 16 years. He’s currently president of The Hastings Center, a research institute focused on bioethics.
According to Murray, supporters of doping say that discerning between nutritional supplements like Creatine and performance-enhancing drugs draws lines that are too arbitrary.
“They see no conceptual, ethical or practical distinction among different kinds of enhancement,” he said.
He said it is irrelevant whether anti-doping policies are arbitrary, because sports are already full of random rules. Murray used the seemingly arbitrary distance of 60 feet 6 inches from the pitcher’s mound to home plate on a baseball diamond to illustrate his point.
Countering what he called the “resistance is futile” argument – which claims that athletes will take steroids no matter what – Murray argued that the possibility that athletes will use steroids does not relieve officials of their responsibility to defend the integrity of the sport.
Sports, according to Murray, encourage the honing of natural talent. He said the problem of steroid use lies not in the drugs themselves, but in a disregard for sports ethic.
“It is not the means we are arguing,” he said. “It is the relationship of the means to the goal we want to achieve.”
Use of performance-enhancing drugs has been a matter of debate among NCAA officials and athletes for decades.
The University of Michigan follows NCAA protocol for athletes caught with steroids, giving first-time offenders a one-year suspension and permanent loss of eligibility for a second offense, said Assistant Athletic Director Paul Schmidt.
University of Michigan athletes are also subjected to intermittent drug tests given at random times throughout the year.
Schmidt declined to comment on any test results, but said University of Michigan teams and athletes hold themselves to a high standard.
“Our athletes train extremely hard and are very invested in doing positive things to help them win and compete physically and mentally, (both) in the classroom and on the playing field,” he said.