Steroids have been a controversial topic in society.  With expectations about appearances and athletic competition constantly increasing comes a tremendous amount of pressure to look and perform better.  Anabolic steroids, or perhaps better known as “roids” or “steroids,” have become the solution for many pro athletes that are facing pressure to perform better. Data showed that about a large 15% of all steroid takers in America are athletes (Bigger, Stronger, Faster minute 38).  Not only do steroids improve body image, but they also improve endurance, strength, and muscle.  Steroids are drugs that mimic the effects of testosterone in the body. Steroids have the ability to increase weight by 2-5 kg as a result of short-term (<10 weeks) anabolic steroids use.  Steroids can increase strength, speed, weight, and muscle that can overall impact athletic performance and improve pro athletes’ playing statistics.  Pro athletes are commonly known to use steroids to boost their ability to perform better and succeed in the athletic world; however, steroid usage is a very controversial topic.  Steroids have a reputation as a detrimental and unsafe drug that athletes use to “cheat” in sports.  “Society cares because steroid use is a form of cheating. Since steroids work so well, they create an unfair advantage for those who take them, and this breaks the social contract athletes have implicitly agreed to: We are going to have a fair contest” (Dillingham).

Under medical supervision some argue that steroids can be like any other type of pharmaceutical drug used by athletes.  “Others maintain that it is hypocritical for society to encourage consumers to seek drugs to treat all sorts of ailments and conditions but to disdain drug use for sports. They say the risk to athletes has been overstated and that the effort to keep them from using performance-enhancing drugs is bound to fail” (Katz). Even though there is a significant amount of negative hype surrounding steroid use, if Act Utilitarianism can be used to analyze the consequences of taking steroids it will show that pro athletes taking steroids can be deemed as ethically correct.

It is of the utmost importance to understand what steroids are and the history of steroids to be able to make an argument whether or not they are ethical.  The history of anabolic steroids can be traced back to as early as 1930’s. In the 1930’s, scientists were able to create a synthetic form of testosterone to help treat men who were unable to produce enough of the hormone for normal growth, development, and sexual functioning. Later, during World War II, it was found that this artificial form of testosterone could be used to help malnourished soldiers gain weight and improve performance. After the war, athletes began to use steroids to enhance their performance in competitions. Steroids were used primarily in the 1940’s and 50’s Olympic events, ““The development of muscle-building properties of testosterone was pursued in the 1940’s, in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Bloc countries such as East Germany, where steroid programs were used to enhance the performance of Olympic and other amateur weight lifters” (Steroid Abuse).” After learning that those athletes were using testosterone, Dr. Zeigler, an American physician, created a more selective form of what we know as anabolic steroids. From that point until the early 1970’s, steroids became increasingly popular among not just Olympic athletes, but also professional sports players and high school athletes. In 1975, the International Olympic Committee finally banned the use of steroids in Olympic competition. Black market sales continued to increase in the following years, and in 1988, the first major federal regulation of steroids was introduced as part of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act – stiffening penalties for the sale and possession of steroids. Only a couple of years later, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Enforcement Act of 1990, which placed certain anabolic steroids on Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Previously, steroids had been unscheduled and controlled only by state laws. Today, illicit sales of steroids are still prevalent.

The Olympic events were somewhat of a catalyst in the following years for pro athletes using steroids during their training periods to gain a competitive edge. It started out as Olympic athletes using steroids to surpass the athletes from Russia and turned into athletes in the MLB, NFL, NBA and many others leagues using steroids for physical purposes.  Some notable athletes that have used steroids are David Ortiz, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettite, and Alex Rodriguez.  While athletes across different pro-organizations use steroids, more players in the MLB than any other league have been known to use steroids.  It has become so common that athletes, coaches, and fans expect the players to use steroids to keep things “even” between the teams.  With this history and the mentality of athletes today it is difficult to argue whether or not the usage of steroids can be deemed ethical.

Act utilitarianism may show that taking steroids can be ethically correct.  However, before one can argue this, it is of the utmost importance to understand act utilitarianism.  Act utilitarianism ethical theory makes a point of specifically analyzing the outcomes of particular actions.  Act utilitarianism will attempt to compare the positive and negatives that occur from these actions and see the effects it has on individuals.  In order to deem actions as ethically correct or not, one must use the sum of the positive and negative consequences to determine what actions are morally right.  “Act utilitarianism, an act is morally right if and only if it maximizes utility i.e. if and only if the balance of benefit to harm calculated by taking everyone affected by the act into consideration is greater than the balance of benefit to harm resulting from any alternative act” (Snoeyenbos, 17).  There are four main steps in act utilitarianism that must be followed.  The four steps consist of listing all relevant alternatives that are open to him or her, identifying a list of affected people by the alternative courses of action, assess how the individual will be affected by the alternative acts, computing the balance of benefit to harm for each individual affect by each act, and selecting the choice that maximizes utility.

In the case of steroids, the list of people that steroids can affect is considerably large.  In addition, act utilitarianism calls for alternative activities that can be used.  In the case of steroids there are a large amount of alternatives, which makes the topic steroids and act utilitarianism a complex scenario.  In the case of pro athletes, the alternatives to using steroids could include more training, using natural supplements, no training, protein meals and drinks.  In the case of pro athletes, the list of people steroids affects includes teammates, fans, coaches, the league, other teams, families, friends, endorsers, and the athlete him or herself.  There are considerable amounts of ways steroids can affect each of these groups of people.  For families and friends steroids can make an emotional effect.  For teammates, coaches, leagues, and endorsers, using steroids may lead to a negative reputation, legal issues, and erratic behavior.  Teams and even sports leagues may lose money if fans are angered by steroid usage or if an athlete suffers medically from steroids.  For the athletes that use steroids, there are some negative and positive effects.  Some of the negative effects include acne, anger issues, hair loss, stomach ulcers, rumors and heart attacks (See Exhibit 1 At End of Blog)

Despite these negative perceptions of steroids, there are some beneficial aspects of athletes using steroids.  An athlete that uses steroids will most likely be able to increase their speed, strength, endurance, and muscle size.  This physical change can give athletes a competitive edge.  A pro athlete may have other great advantages by taking steroids beyond physical abilities.  A successful steroid-using athlete may have a large income, which could help support the athlete and his/her family.  If the athlete is a big success, they may end up becoming a type of celebrity, which could give the team as well as the sports league considerably more attention.  The more successful the athlete, the more popular the sport becomes.  If an athlete that takes steroids performs better, fans will be significantly happier and engaged in the team. Two clear examples in recent history of athletes that have used steroids are Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez.  Manny Ramirez has received awards such as the All-Star award, World Series MVP award, Hank Aaron Award, Silver Slugger Award.  He has been ranked first in many baseball categories.  Furthermore, he has been featured on the Sega Genesis video game World Series Baseball and featured on the cover of the EA Sports video game MVP Baseball.  Some may argue that Manny was such a success because he gave himself a competitive edge by taking steroids.  Manny gained recognition and a fan base that helped him and his team rake in considerable amounts of money and endorsements.  Similarly, Alex Rodriguez received baseball awards such as the Gold Glove Award and the Babe Ruth Home Run Award.  Alex Rodriguez has become as much of a celebrity in tabloids as he is a professional baseball player.  Both Ramirez and Rodriguez have used steroids, which has helped them succeed in their athletic careers.  They have made their individual teams more popular as well as the MLB.  However, we should also note that both Ramirez’s and Rodriguez’s popularity came before the general public was aware of their steroid use.  Upon the knowledge of steroid use, both players were highly criticized but were still the center of a significant amount of attention.  “In today’s world, people enjoy entertainment and people want to win. Athletes are willing to do whatever it takes to win. Sports today have come a long way since the beginning, and records are being broken everyday. Steroids have taken sports to new levels, and it will only continue to be on the rise” (Schmotzer).

While act utilitarianism seems like an excellent way to determine if taking steroids is morally right or morally wrong, there are some considerable downsides to act utilitarianism.  The main problem with act utilitarianism is that fact that it is difficult to apply it to real life situations.  The values that we deem as “beneficial” or “negative” are individual opinions and primarily depend on the opinions of the person that are assigning the numbers.  This makes act utilitarianism considerably subjective.  Act utilitarianism requires that a list be made of all alternatives to the actions and how people will be affected.  In real life scenarios this can be a difficult feat.

Another problem with using act utilitarianism to analyze steroid use is that it doesn’t necessarily consider the unequal opportunities of using steroids.  Act utilitarianism specifically focuses on whether or physically taking steroids is morally right or wrong and how it affects the athlete and others.  It isn’t really able to analyze whether or not steroids give athletes an unfair advantage.  Athletes that take anabolic steroids make it possible to push your body beyond its normal limits and gain an advantage over those that aren’t steroid users.  However, in many sports leagues such as the MLB, players and coaches are under the assumption that everyone else is taking steroids and that players should take steroids to be able to “keep up” with everyone else.  It is under this assumption that people could say that taking steroids is justifiable.  On the other hand, if athletes are taking steroids to gain an edge rather than to “keep up” this could be deemed cheating.  However, we must ask ourselves if better equipment, technology, training, or weather conditions would be considered cheating as well?  Technically these resources could give a team or an individual a competitive advantage.  Would this be considered cheating?  There are no sound answers to these questions and people will differ in opinion about steroids as well.  I believe that act utilitarianism is only able to apply to the consumption of taking steroids and not the ethical dilemma that some athletes gain a competitive edge over their competition.

I believe that act utilitarianism theory shows that using steroid has the ability to have more positives than negatives.  However, it is imperative to understand that this can be considerably subjective.  Act utilitarianism “is a utilitarian theory of ethics which states that, when faced with a choice, we must first consider the likely consequences of potential actions and, from that, choose to do what we believe will generate the most pleasure.”  According to this definition of act utilitarianism, I firmly believe that steroid use will generate the most pleasure; however, this is only the case if the general public is not aware that athletes are taking steroids or if there was a scenario where steroids in sports became legal.  What if we considered a scenario in which steroids were accepted in sports?  This could rid the bad stigma of athletes “cheating.”

The idea of act-utilitarianism focuses significantly on the consequences of actions.  Personally I think that the consequences of taking steroids can be primarily positive.  Every one wants to see a record being broken and likes to see aggressiveness of a player beyond thought. No one wants to see an average athlete do something that has been done before.  A pro athlete that uses steroids has the ability to make a positive impact on his family, friends, teammates, fans, and sponsors.  While there is certainly a chance that taking steroids can harm the athlete, it appears that there are more benefits than negatives and can positively affect a greater amount of people.

Exhibit 1:

“Supplemental Content.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22459398&gt;.

Bigger Stronger Faster. Dir. Chris Bell. Perf. Chris Bell, Mike Bell, Mark Bell. BFS Films, 2008. Documentary.

Schmotzer, B., Kilgo, P.D. and Switchenko, P. (2009). ―’The Natural’ The Effect of Steroids on Offensive Performance in Baseball‖, Chance, 22, 2, 21-32.

Abuse of Anabolic Steroids and Their Precursors by Adolescent Amateur Athletes: Hearing before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, One Hundred Eighth Congress, Second Session, July 13, 2004. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2005. Print.

Bales, Eugene R. “Act Utilitarianism: Account of Right-Making Characteristics or Decision Making Procedure?” JSTOR. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20009403?uid=3739864&gt;.

Dillingham, Michael. “Ethics and Steroids.” Santa Clara University. Web. 08 Apr. 2012. <http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/ethicalperspectives/steriods-ethics.html&gt;.

Katz, Jeffrey. “Should We Accept Steroid Use in Sports?” NPR. NPR. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18299098&gt;

Milton Snoeyenbos, Frederick, Robert. A Companion to Business Ethics. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999. Print.

“Steroid Abuse Information and Resources.” Steroids 101 (History of Steroids). Web. 08 Apr. 2012. <http://www.steroidabuse.com/steroids-101.html&gt;.

“Side Effects Of Anabolic Steroids | Medchrome.” MEDCHROME. Web. 16 Apr. 2012. <http://medchrome.com/basic-science/pharmacology/side-effects-of-anabolic-steroids/&gt;.

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4 responses »

  1. Jordi says:

    Is that an ironic or creepy title?

  2. […] Steroid Abuse And Side Effects Of Anabolic SteroidsSide Effects of Anabolic Steroids and AndroA Look At The Side Effects Of Anabolic SteroidsSide Effects of Steroids-Anabolic Steroid AbuseIf You Use Anabolic Steroids, Then You Cannot Afford To Not Read ThisEffects of SteroidsWhat Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger […]

  3. Michael Viggars says:

    Interesting article. I recently wrote a report on the chronic effects of anabolic steroids, you can view it on my blog: http://michaelviggars.com/2012/06/07/the-war-on-drugs/.

    Also I believe this article, specifically about baseball, may be interest: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120727718845788653.html

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