Term Paper: Sports Ethics

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Sports Ethics

Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" was the famous motto of the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, which seems to have been taken to heart by the American society of late. It has put into the back-ground, the "old fashioned" advice for good sportsmanship that extolled the virtues of playing the game in the right spirit while downplaying the importance of winning and losing. The widespread use of steroids by high-profile athletes for boosting their performance, therefore, does not come as a surprise in a culture that puts such a high premium on "winning at all costs." But is there a pattern in the use of steroids? Is it being used across the board or are certain groups by sex, class or ethnicity more prone to its use. More importantly, how ethical (or unethical) is the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs by sportsman? These are some of the questions that shall be discussed in this paper. The use of animals in sports and the ethical questions it raises shall also be explored including the Barbaro case and the reasons why American public was so fascinated by it. Finally, I shall research the 'sport' of cockfighting.

Sports History and Performance Enhancing Substance

Sport is an ancient human activity as cultural relics provide evidence that some form of health-building activities existed in China as long ago as 4000 BC (Qinfa, 2007). A number of sports are also known to have been played in ancient Egypt, and the Greeks of course organized the ancient Olympic Games as far back as 776 AD. With the advent of industrialization in the 19th century and the increased availability of leisure time, sports have become phenomenally popular in most parts of the world. The development of mass media and communication technology such as the radio, television and the Internet in the recent past have further added to the popularity of sports as spectators can now follow the exploits of athletes and star performers from afar.

If we recognize the fact that the urge to excel and out-perform others is part of human nature, it is no surprise to discover that taking performance enhancing drugs by sportsmen is hardly a new phenomenon. Even in the first ever Olympics held in ancient Greece in 776 BCE, athletes are known to have used cola plants, hashish, cactus-based stimulants and even consumed sheep's testicles in an effort to boost performance. In ancient Rome, when chariot races and gladiator fights were major sporting events, horses as well as gladiators were frequently 'doped' to run faster or fight more ferociously. (Putnam 1999) Use of performance enhancing substances became much more widespread when steroid, a synthetic form of male hormones, was invented in the 1930s. Since then, use of steroids by athletes to boost their performance has become common. Athletes in the Soviet Union and other communist nations such as East Germany took steroids with impunity in the 1950s and 1960s under government-sponsored programs and won startling victories in the Olympics and other sporting events. Steroid use gradually became common in other parts of the world and despite compelling medical evidence about its harmful effects and a strict crackdown against doping in sports by regulatory authorities; athletes continue to risk their careers and health by using it.

Pattern of Use

Sufficient research has not been done in order to determine the pattern of steroid use in sports. However, it is well-known that steroid consumption is more common in sports where strength, size, and speed matter most. It is also evident that despite the well-advertized harmful effects of steroid use athletes ignore its long-term effects for the short-term gain in performance. The only effective deterrent seems to be the threat of getting caught made possible by better detection techniques and stricter application of rules against doping in sports by agencies such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

The most noticeable pattern of steroid abuse in sports, therefore, follows a predictable pattern: it is used most often by groups of athletes who expect to derive the greatest benefit from performance-enhancing drugs while keeping an eye on the possibility of getting caught. For example, due to the fact that the benefits of a given amount of steroids are much greater for women than men, steroid use in women athletes remained much greater in the 1980s when the primitive dope testing procedures could only detect only very large amounts of ingested steroids. Women athletes, who took much lower quantities of steroids for deriving comparable performance benefits, got away undetected in tests (Sailor and Seiler, 1997). A pertinent example of this was the famous 'drug-bust' of the 100 meters Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson at the 1988 Olympics, while the women's sprint champion, America's Florence Griffith-Joyner, who was also in all probability taking steroids at the time, never tested positive. The reason for this was the primitive nature of dope testing at the time; it could only detect the dangerously large doses of steroid consumed by male athletes but failed to detect the smaller amounts taken by women athletes to derive a similar boost in performance (Ibid.) Significantly, as the testing techniques became more sophisticated in the 1990s, the women's sprint timings noticeably slower than in the Eighties. These trends indicate that more women athletes than men were probably using steroids in the 1990s. However, the trend was not due to any intrinsic behavioral pattern in women but can be attributed to the fact that women athletes at the time could 'have their cake and eat it too.'

Similarly, as noted earlier, the use of steroids is most prevalent among athletes involved in 'strength sports' such as weight lifting and wrestling, body-building and short distance sprints. This is mainly due to the muscle building characteristic of steroids when combined with a heavy exercise regime and bigger muscles mean greater strength. The reason why steroid-use is more common among sprinters as compared to distant runners is because shorter races demand anaerobic power (which steroids boost), while longer races test the aerobic and heat dispersal capacities of an athlete, which are unaffected by steroid-use.

While looking for patterns of steroid use, most studies have either focused on the sports perspective or the need or desire in young people to look and feel good. A smaller number of studies have also explored and detected an important 'third dimension' in steroid use. For example, a research study carried out between 1992 and 1994 in Norway to determine the pattern of steroid use among adolescent Norwegians, discovered that steroid abuse in adolescents is part of a larger syndrome of problem behavior in young people that includes other delinquent-type behavior such as underage drinking, problem drinking, marijuana use, use of other illicit drugs and precocious sexual behavior (Wichstrom and Pederson, 2001). The findings of the study has given rise to the Problem Behavior Theory which suggests that young people who are heavily involved in one area of problem behavior tend also to be involved in others as well. It also showed that the use of anabolic steroids among young people was first and foremost associated with problem behavior (i.e., drug involvement and aggressive-type conduct problems), while its relation with power sports and physical appearance came in at second and third place respectively (Ibid).

Another study in 1997 based on a national sample of over 16,000 public and private high school students in the U.S. examined relationships among anabolic steroid use and other problem behaviors for female and male athletes and non-athletes. The findings of the study revealed that steroid users of both genders were significantly more likely than nonusers to engage in problem behaviors including the use of illicit drugs and alcohol, fighting, attempted suicide, sexual risk-taking, vehicular risk-taking, and pathogenic weight loss behavior (Miller et al., 2003). Moreover, the general conception about steroids being "non-addictive" has also been challenged by recent studies such as the one conducted in 2005 in the University of Southern California which indicate that they do have the potential to be addictive ("Are Anabolic Steroids..." 2005).

Why is Steroid-use in Sports Considered Unethical?

There is no doubt that steroids do have serious side-effects. Some people, however, argue that as long as a person is not harming others, they should be allowed to use steroid for personal reasons. Others justify the use of steroids in sports by arguing that "everyone else is doing it." It is also argued by some that the use of steroids in sports is no different than special training, using diet supplements and innovative coaching techniques to improve athletic performance. So is steroid-use in sports really unethical? To my mind, steroid-use in sports is unethical because it gives the user an unfair advantage and in sports, there is no other name for name in sports for such an act other than "cheating." We cannot justify "cheating" by arguing that "others are doing it" because "two wrongs do not make a right." Steroid use is also not the same as use of special… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Sports Ethics.  (2007, March 31).  Retrieved April 18, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/sports-ethics/98031

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"Sports Ethics."  Essaytown.com.  March 31, 2007.  Accessed April 18, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/sports-ethics/98031.