The Facts: Performance - Enhancing Drugs
I admit, before researching this topic, I figured "performance-enhancing drugs" was just a pretty name for steroids. In fact, steroids are only one form of PEDs* -- others, depending on the sport, can include valium, creatine, and various hormones and stimulants.
ESPN provides a detailed look at several different categories of drugs that could be used by athletes in its eight-part series "Drugs and Sports." There's a not-too-technical overview of how PEDs work at HowStuffWorks, and for solid information on the unsavory side effects of PEDs, check out this fact sheet from the Mayo Clinic.
Of course, many PEDs are perfectly legal, which is why organizations like the World Anti-Doping Agency define quite precisely what substances are prohibited and, for those not entirely off limits, what amounts are permissible. See WADA's 2006 list of prohibited substances for the specifics.
Valium, for instance, could reasonably be prescribed to help a nervous athlete get some sleep. But about 25 years ago, it was found that some pentathletes used the drug to calm their nerves before the shooting portion of their competition. The pentathlon organizers cooked up an ingenious solution: They scheduled the shooting and running events for the same day. So doping might help in the shooting competition, but when it came time to run, the valium-ingesting athlete would sorely regret his choice. (Source: NYT, 11/14/1983)
Prosecutions of athletes using illegal substances, however, are few and far between. According to the 1983 NYT story, "Lengthy reviews by the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command and the F.B.I. accused a number of leading United States modern pentathlon officials with drug-related violations, but the United States Attorney General's office chose not to prosecute the case."
This seems to be just as true today, so it's up to the sporting organizations themselves to enforce the rules. While Olympics officials have gotten serious about anti-doping measures, pro sports organizations in the United States haven't been so proactive. Major League Baseball, for example, addresses doping with "a lot of talk" but little action, as Sen. Jim Bunning (a baseball Hall of Famer himself) explained to the Senate in November.
Bunning expressed his disappointment with Major League Baseball in his speech introducing the Integrity in Professional Sports Act (S. 1960). Other previously-introduced anti-doping bills include: The Professional Sports Integrity Act of 2005 (H.R. 2516), The Professional Sports Integrity and Accountability Act (S. 1334), and The Clean Sports Act of 2005 (S. 1114).
Part of what Congress wanted to do by getting involved was send a message to kids that doping would not be tolerated. The Mayo Clinic offers a useful primer on teens and PEDs, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse charts some basic statistics on steroid use by teens.
For lots of helpful background information on the controversy within baseball, see PBS's News Hour interview with Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci. This article provides an inside look (subjective, but informative) into what it's like for an amateur cyclist to use these substances. BBC discusses steroid testing for soccer players vs. other sportsmen. And over at MSNBC, find a quick who's-who of the doping scandal that preceded the Athens Olympics.
* To save space and typing time, I'm shortening "performance-enhancing drugs" to "PEDs" throughout this Debate. Hope you don't mind.
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