What if, however, synthetic hormones are injected when they are not necessarily needed to return the body to balance? What if they are used in an otherwise healthy individual as a means of getting ahead? For many years the issue of performance enhancing drugs, including steroids and hormones, has been an issue in competitive sports such as weightlifting, cycling and swimming. Many remember the dramatic move to strip Olympic Gold Medalist Ben Johnson of his medal following a positive drug test after the 1988 Olympics. The Mitchell Report, issued at the end of last year, focused its comprehensive study on performance enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball. The release of the report made it clear that drugs had made their way into the locker rooms of America’s favorite pastime.
Some question whether there really is anything wrong with using performance enhancing drugs – it is the athlete’s choice, just as an athlete may choose a particular diet or training regime. For others, the problems with performance enhancing drugs are twofold. First, the long-term consequences of steroid or hormone use are not clearly understood, and therefore the precautionary principle is invoked – better safe than sorry. Some long-term effects may include physical health consequences, like cancer or organ damage, and psychological health consequences, including depression and even suicide. Second, there is a perception that the drug use impacts the game, forcing “clean” players to make choices they should not have to make—stay in the game and lose; get out of the game altogether; or join the crowd. Because young athletes are confronted with these questions early in their careers, they often choose to join the crowd, with little knowledge of the long-term consequences.
As professional sports mature, sport-regulating bodies are taking the precautionary principle position, “better safe than sorry.” Better to choose not to allow the use of synthetic hormones and not engage in potentially dangerous activities, both for the health of the players and the health of the game.