Performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs, are substances used by athletes to enhance their performance on the field or during training. PEDs offer athletes the ability to improve their conditioning techniques, their on-field performance, and also help to prevent injury. Most professional sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, have implemented strict rules against the use of PEDs, so as to maintain the ethical foundations of sport. However, PED use in the contemporary sports world runs rampant and many athletes and trainers alike vie to figure out ways around the sports league’s drug policies. The use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport is not just unethical, as it gives its users an unfair advantage over competition, but it also comes with adverse health effects. This paper explores the use of performance-enhancing drugs, specifically related to Major League Baseball and Barry Bonds, and also examines the effect PED use has on athletes’ bodies.
There are a variety of performance-enhancing drugs currently used by athletes. “Anabolic steroids are natural and synthetic substances that help build muscle mass, enabling athletes to train harder and recover quickly from strenuous workouts” (CNN). “Stimulants, including amphetamines, impact the central nervous system, increasing alertness and decreasing appetite. Human growth hormone (HGH) is taken for improved endurance and strength. Androstenedione is a supplement that was sold over-the-counter until the FDA took action in 2004. It is banned by the NFL, Olympics, NCAA and MLB. The supplement is an anabolic steroid precursor, meaning that the body converts it into testosterone” (CNN). Performance-enhancing drugs like these clearly afford the athletes that use them a competitive edge during on-filed activity. Every athlete would want increased muscle mass and stamina, and performance-enhancing drugs give athletes the opportunity to become the “best” versions of themselves in their given profession. However, not only does steroid use pose to be an ethical dilemma for some athletes, but these substances also have negative effects. Some of the negative effects of steroid use include: infertility and impotence in men, heart problems, severe acne, psychiatric disorders, liver damage, an higher chance of developing blood clots (Northwestern). Nonetheless, athletes continued to use performance-enhancing drugs, and PEDs, despite their drawbacks, came in to the national spotlight through a few home runs and a couple of old baseball records.
The 1990s marked the era of the home run in Major League Baseball. An exciting new youngster by the name of Ken Griffey Jr., an outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, came onto the scene and began threatening the long-standing single season home run record of Roger Maris. In 1994, Griffey, affectionately nicknamed “The Kid,” hit 40 home runs in 111 games. Unfortunately, the 1994 Major League Baseball season was significantly shortened by a labor strike and the Maris record of 61 home runs in a single season carried on. However, the 1994 season jumpstarted the era of the home run. From that point forward, every baseball season in the 1990s feature the subplot of a home run race. The 1997 season showcased the slugging prowess of Griffey in a race against Mark McGwire. That home run race ended just a few home runs short of the record: McGwire ended with 58, Griffey with 56. The real story of Major League Baseball in the 1990s came in 1998, when McGwire battled Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs in a home run race that would ultimately end in both players smashing Maris’ record. Throughout the season, both players competed at a record pace, hitting home run after home run. On September 8th, McGwire, sitting on 61 home runs, hit his record-breaking 62nd home run at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. McGwire would go on to win the home run race, besting Sosa 70-66 (Bishop). Three years later, Barry Bond broke the record, hitting 73 home runs in a single season, and in 2007, Bonds broke Hank Aaron career home run mark of 755 as he bombed his 756th home run. However, all of these players, with the exception of Griffey, were suspected of steroid use. The home run race ignited the public conversation about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports and put into question all of the records Barry Bonds achieved. For sports fans and fans of Major League Baseball, PEDs pose as a threat to the integrity of sport and to the integrity of the game of baseball. Mark McGwire, although denying the fact in court, later admitted to using steroids throughout his “illustrious” career. Sammy Sosa tested positive for PEDs. Barry Bonds, on the other hand, admitted to steroid use but claimed that he did not know he was taking steroids. Because of this, there is a significant controversy over whether Barry Bonds should be acknowledge as the true home run king.
In terms of the question “who do I believe is the all-time home run leader in Major League Baseball, Hank Aaron or Barry Bonds?” I believe that Hank Aaron should be accredited with the honor. While, it is certainly unknown if Hank Aaron actually used steroids, as performance-enhancing drugs were present in sports at the time (though not to the degree or potency that they are in the modern era), there is no solid proof that Aaron used steroids. Barry Bonds, however, used steroids. Steroids cheapen sport; they distort the even and ethical playing field among athletes in the given league. In Major League Baseball in 1998, three superstar players were in the hunt to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey hit 56 home runs that year. The Kid had a smooth stroke, never used steroids, and finished just a few home runs shy of breaking the record, for the second time. What would have happened if Griffey had used steroids? Would he have been the one to break the record? What if McGwire and Sosa had not used performance-enhancing drugs? Would they have toppled over the long-standing 61 home run mark? Would they have lost to the pure stroke of Griffey? That is the problem with honoring steroid users in sports; there is a legitimate question of whether they would actually hold a given record or would have performed in the same capacity had they followed the rules and abstained from performance-enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds’ home run records, single season and career marks, should have asterisks next to them.
Steroids pose a significant threat to the moral foundation of professional competition and to sport in general. The 1990s Major League Baseball steroid scandal is evidence of that fact. The fans’ enjoyment of baseball was compromised as their attention was drawn away from the true and pure competitive nature of the game of baseball and instead onto the debate of which players did or did not use performance-enhancing drugs. Further, the illicit actions of a few players resulted in the questioning of all Major League Baseball players. Performance-enhancing drugs also negatively affect competitiveness within specific sports leagues as well as the user’s body. Every major sports league, not just Major League Baseball, needs to implement strict rules against PEDs and issue severe punishments if PED use is detected. The integrity of sports depends on professional sports league’s abilities to maintain ethical and fair competition and training.
- CNN. (2017, January 26). Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports Fast Facts. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/06/us/performance-enhancing-drugs-in-sports-fast-facts/
- Bishop, G. (2009, July 04). After Drug Revelations, Redefining ’98 Home Run Chase. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/sports/baseball/05homers.html
- Northwestern. (2017). Northwestern School of Professional Studies. Retrieved from http://sps.northwestern.edu/main/news-stories/why-do-athletes-risk-using-peds.php