The War on Drugs in the Sports Industry

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On April 13th, 2018, the National Basketball Association suspended Washington Wizards’ player Jodie Meeks. Meeks tested positive for Ipamorelin and growth-hormone-releasing peptide-2. Both of these substances are banned by the NBA. In the past year, five NBA players have been suspended for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. The NBA has a very specific policy applying to drugs and any violation of this results in the immediate suspension of the respective player if some type of banned substance is found in his system.

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In earlier decades, even as recent as the 1990s, a drug test would be rare, because the majority of players were suspected to be under the influence of some type of drug at all time, whether it was performance enhancing or not.

The NBA has not fully explored Performance Enhancing Drugs. In a way, the NBA followed the NFL (National Football League) in just assuming PEDs are negative and the thought that it would be better to just ban them altogether. The idea of allowing PEDs in the NBA has been explored by outside sources and controversy had arisen from those. Many scholars discuss the positive and negative aspects regarding PEDs as well as more specific issues in sports. In the NBA, the organization should consider the use of performance-enhancing drugs more carefully.

Performance-Enhancing Drugs

People unfamiliar with the term perceive PEDs to be steroids, which is accurate. However, when someone mentions performance enhancers, the general population specifically associate them with the negative connotation around them. People cling to their beliefs and biases of steroids, claiming only that they can give men breasts, they make women grow facial hair at an accelerated rate, they stunt growth, and bring about other such consequences. What they don’t know, however, are the specific facts regarding PEDs. According to the United States anti-doping agency, performance-enhancing drugs “have the ability or potential to drastically alter the human body and biological functions, including the ability to considerably improve athletic performance in certain instances.” Many teenagers engage in the use of PEDs to improve their athletic ability primarily due to going through puberty at a considerably late time, impotence, or growing body decay.

PEDs help boost one’s physical prowess and give them more of an energy lift and to heighten their drive during physical activities. They are typically designed to improve personal health and wellness and offer rewarding side effects. They can increase one’s running and jumping ability, their physical strength, and generally put people in an intense, physical working mindset. For example, consider the two substances Jodie Meeks tested positive for, ipamorelin and growth-hormone-releasing peptide-2.

Ipamorelin “stimulates the pituitary gland to create more endogenous growth hormone. This means your body’s Ipamorelin levels naturally grow, rather than simply adding synthetic growth hormone into your system” (USADA). The growth-hormone-releasing peptide-2 yields similar results. These drugs are typically ingested in order to lose body fat and counteract aging effects. However, the use of PEDs can also bring harm to the body. Depending on the certain drug, many can potentially cause serious mental and physical health issues. These negative effects can include mood swings, liver damage, heart problems, and others. PEDs can also have the ability to worsen one’s physical ability, and can eventually lead to depression. For example, beta-2-adrenergic agonist, one of the most commonly used PEDs in the NFL, has the potential to cause skeletal muscle tremors throughout the body.

Over one million adult Americans (0.5% of total United States Population) claimed to have used anabolic steroids. In the year 1991, 2.1% of 12th graders in the US have admitted to using steroids, a number which grew to 4% just over 10 years after that (Nicholls). As can be seen, the use of Performance Enhancing drugs within our country is continuously increasing. This shows that they are evidently becoming more popular among the population, especially the youth. The increasing popularity of PEDs with the youth is higher most likely because students are typically not subjected to drug testing before college or joining a professional league.

The average age of a player in the NBA is between 26 and 27 years, which is within the age range for the highest use of PEDs. Since 2000, there have been over 15 players suspended due to violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy, with three of them being permanently banned from the NBA (with the ability for reinstatement). The first case for substance abuse in the NBA was the suspension of Richard Dumas in 1991.

Two years after his suspension, Dumas was permanently banned after he did not participate in his required rehabilitation program. O.J. Mayo, a former player, was permanently banned in 2016 for testing positive for the steroid DHEA, a drug which increases testosterone levels in men, boosts the rate at which one can build muscle, and decreases aging effects (USADA). Now, the latest case is Jodie Meeks, in April of 2018. In the NFL, suspensions for violating the substance policy are far more common than in the NBA.

Typically, a handful of players from a couple teams all get suspended at once for all testing positive for steroids as a group. Throughout the NFL season, 12,000 tests are issued, with the potential 10 random players selected from one team each week. Cases of doping in the NHL are less common than in the NBA, as the last case was the 28 game suspension of Jarred Tinordi in March of 2016. Tests are performed between zero and three times per season in the NHL, with no testing occurring during the offseason or playoffs. As it can be seen, the NBA is considered moderate in terms of punishments for PEDs, while there are various leagues who issue punishments more often and more rarely. However, it is also worth noting that the NBA is also the only league to prohibit their players’ use of recreational drugs as well as performance stimulants.

National Basketball Association

When administering their tests, the NBA typically looks for steroids, masking agents, related hormones, stimulants, and diuretics. The league also tests for recreational drugs such as cocaine, LSD, and marijuana. Players are randomly tested between zero and four times during a season, with the potential of some players getting tested four times, and some none at all. Tests are typically conducted throughout practices and games and are not administered during the offseason. Interestingly enough, before 2005, the penalties for testing positive for steroids and marijuana were actually more severe than those implemented for cocaine and other such hard drugs.

The first violation of the NBA anti-drug policy results in a 12% of the season suspension, which is typically around 8-10 games. A second offense results in a 25-game unpaid suspension, while the third one prompts a season-long suspension. Further violations typically lead to a permanent ban. The NBA is alone in this policy, as the NFL, NHL, and MLB hand out permanent bans after the second offense. These other sports leagues also test specifically for steroids, masking agents, related hormones, stimulants, and diuretics, with the NHL and NFL also testing for anti-estrogen agents and other testosterone stimulants.

This shows that the majority of professional athletes in the United States are suspected of being under the influence of similar stimulants, which shows that the NBA is similar to the other leagues, in this regard of policy. It is remarkable to see different organizations interpret the drugs in different ways, thus handing out consequences of different magnitudes. This shows why the NBA and potentially other leagues should look into PEDs with more detail and care. This is because consequences should not be assigned based on the certain league’s policy. They are basically the same banned substances in the respective policies, so there should be similar consequences for violating this across football, basketball, hockey, and baseball. This will lead to a more common understanding and examination of the substances and may cause the leagues to rethink their respective policies and create a general agreement about how this can be handled.

Positives about PED use in the NBA

The NBA should consider the use of performance enhancers due to the positive aspects they create for players and the league as a whole. PEDs can offer positive aspects physically and mentally for the players. The main facet for allowing players to use steroids is the main reason why players would do it in general. Like their name claims, PEDs are primarily used to enhance one’s physical capacity. They give a short-term boost that pushes players to use their physical ability more efficiently and thus get better results. Athletes tend not to mind the long-term effects created by these as these spurts of short-term boost propel them through their professional careers which, on average, ends when a player reaches 35-40 years.

By doping throughout their careers, athletes are able to get stronger in the gym and condition their body to a point where they build muscle faster and more easily, which they then carry over through their game performances. Steroids also give players a speed boost and allow them to be faster than their opponents to. Furthermore, while under the influence of steroids, athletes are also more prone to exert the energy and intensity boost created by the PEDs, which can make the athletes last longer during gameplay and play harder. According to the British Journal of Medicine, “The anecdotal picture tells us that our attempts to eliminate drugs from sport[s] have failed. In the absence of good evidence, we need an analytical argument to determine what we should do” (Savulescu).

This shows that statistical and analytical research would lead to a better understanding of the use of PEDs and would also result in reducing player suspensions. This would be beneficial for the players as they can still get a boost in their performance and also avoid getting fined and suspended, which causes them to lose salary. Furthermore, the NBA’s reputation and media image would also stop suffering hits as the media does not scrutinize them over doping and drug policy violation news or scandals. Additionally, PEDs are specifically designed to better one’s health and wellness. Negative side effects often derive from the fact that people have an illness or allergy which can react negatively with the drugs, so the steroids actually only work in certain situations.

However, within those situations, where the PEDs are more tested and researched, they can offer most, if not all, positive and desired effects. If the NBA would still like to administer tests to make sure their players are staying healthy, they can perform health tests instead of drug tests. They can test athletes’ vitals and make sure that those are functioning correctly. If a player’s system is still operating correctly, there shouldn’t be a question about the ineligibility of the substances that they consume. “Performance enhancement is not against the spirit of sport; it is the spirit of sport. To choose to be better is to be human. Athletes should be the given this choice. Their welfare should be paramount. But taking drugs is not necessarily cheating. The legalization of drugs in sport may be fairer and safer” (Savulescu).

In an article from The Daily Telegraph from 2004, “The rule of strict liability—under which athletes have to be solely and legally responsible for what they consume—must remain supreme. We cannot, without blinding reason and cause, move one millimeter from strict liability—if we do, the battle to save sport is lost” (Coe). The strict liability makes the coaches of respective teams liable for administering PEDs or other drugs to his or her athletes. This would solely make the coaches responsible, while the athletes can keep playing freely. If PEDs are authorized in the NBA, players can make the decision to take them freely, and the coaches are not held responsible, which works out equally for both sides. Additionally, if more research is done on PEDs, their formulas can potentially be tinkered with, and a way can be found in which the negative side effects will be neutralized. With this, athletes will be more willing to take them, and the league will be more willing to allow them, as minimal harm will ensue from their usage.

Negatives about PED use in the NBA

While a good amount of good aspects surround the use of PEDs, there are also various negative aspects that can be considered. The main concern with PEDs is the health issues they can potentially cause. For example, according to USADA, Anabolic agents (including testosterone), one of the most commonly used PEDs, can lead to male pattern baldness, liver damage, and stunted growth and delayed puberty within their children. This also causes psychological problems, as users can suffer from effects such as increased aggressiveness and mood swings, with withdrawals potentially leading to depression.

To many, this is seen as scary, and few people want to take the chance of these issues occurring. Even though steroids are typically taken as a short-term boost and even the negative effects are short-term, they can potentially lead to long-term health risks. After doping for a period of time, the aftermath of removing oneself from the use of PEDs can cause an extended state of depression, as well as diminished physical activity compared to before even starting the use of PEDs. Additionally, most people in sports, including players, coaches, and media argue PEDs give players an unfair advantage over those who don’t use them. This is a legitimate concern, as someone who uses steroids has the ability to be physically superior over their opponent, and the way that the game would come easier to that player is considered cheating and unfair.

All in all, the use of PEDs in the NBA should be more carefully examined as it can cause multiple positive effects for athletes, and the league as a whole. However, there are various concerns about the negative aspects which make people shy away and not consider their presence within the league. Overall, the NBA should further explore these positive aspects, and even work to develop the drugs to create positive end effects. Considering this idea more carefully can lead to more prominence for the NBA, and other leagues potentially.

First of all, the NBA would get loads of newfound attention and publicity for doing something so revolutionary and controversial. This will increase the NBA’s popularity, thus helping the league rake in more money. Furthermore, if all, or more, of the players use PEDs, their performances in games will rise and improve. This will make the games for fun to watch, so there will also be more viewers on TV and more tickets sold to games. Ultimately, considering PEDs in the NBA more carefully would allow athletes to take advantage of methods that allow them to use their bodies most efficiently.  

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The War on Drugs in the Sports Industry. (2021, Nov 25). Retrieved from