JANUARY 30, 2013 2:30PM

Have We Outlived Ethics?

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What has become of sports?  What have become of ethics?  What is Performance?  What is performance enhancement?  What is a Performance enhancement drug?  Why does any of that matter?


Whether you’d like to know any of this stuff or not, you are about to find out.  We are all about to be injected with some of this information in the very near future.  Why?  Sadly, the reason why it matters, and the reason why we are all about to get some of this is that the most famous player in the most ballyhoo’d contest on the planet has been accused of using deer antler spray.


Huh?  What the hell is deer antler spray?


Hell if I know.  But as I understand it, this spray contains a banned substance because it contains some sort of (Insulin-like Growth Factor-1)  You see, Ray Lewis, the player in this budding controversy, was injured back in the Fall.  This injury took place in October.  The injury was a torn triceps muscle.  A torn muscle like this takes about a year to recover from, maybe nine months.  Ray Lewis if 37.  As competitive athletic injuries go, Lewis is a fossil.  Lewis somehow managed to recover and return to action as an NFL linebacker in two months or less.  Remarkable.


Now, this does not mean Ray-Ray did this.  I personally hope that he did not, but it does not look good.  I’m not a fan of his team, nor am I much of a fan of his.  I recognize his contribution to the league, but I’m not his fan.  However, I am a fan of the league.  I am a fan of athletics.  I am a believer in competition in a variety of areas to determine useful excellence.  The sad fact is that our means of devising ways of cheating is vastly outpacing our means of excelling in any particular area of endeavor.  


Our investment banks cheat when they make prediction models regarding what will happen under certain economic conditions, and leave out the chance that the economy contracts, thereby only selling the upside to the decision makers.  When an inevitable decline occurs, everyone is surprised because we were sold a falsehood off the top.


Our politicians cheat.  They cheat in so many ways that it is a topic unto itself.  From their spouses, to actual laws, to fudging the appearance of one law, and violating with a legal interpretation, but sold as a misinterpretation.  Subway is selling “foot-long” sandwiches that are actually 11 inches long.  Ronaiah Tuiasosopo claims to be a woman, extracts a fraudulent relationship from Manti Te’o, and then turns out to be not dead, not her, and not a woman.  And back we return to sports.


A man named Christopher Key is a salesman and co-owner of a company which he claims was contacted by Ray Lewis for this deer antler spray.  Key also reports that he personally witnessed approximately 20 University of Alabama football players using this substance.  (Reportedly it is sprayed into the mouth.)  It bears mention that the University of Alabama is the college football national champion for the season just completed.


There is also a new report that Alex Rodriguez is connected with this company, and PED’s (performance enhancing drugs).  Just last week, Lance Armstrong sat down with Oprah and admitted, or almost, nearly, sorta admitted to using PED’s, and “blood doping” (removing tired blood and replacing it with oxygenated blood).  That story is old news relative to the new controversies buzzing about this week.  


So far, the only confirmation is Armstrong’s confirmation/sorta confirmation. (Some interested parties say that it was only a partial confession.)  Anyway, it begs the question.  In this day of mad science, multimillionaire athletes, multibillionaire entertainment sports complexes/leagues, and a competition loving public, what is competition?  What is ethical behavior?  Does it matter?


Baseball, as we grew up with it, ended sometime in the early 1990’s.  PED’s smashed and warped our concepts of what the contest was, based upon what it had always been.  The sudden surreptitious influence of PED’s made it almost unrecognizable.  Football may be working its way to extinction based upon its increasing violence and ultimate liability for so many young and middle aged men who have had their brains battered into mush, creating health problems up to and including suicides.  Change is probably on the way there, if only for that.  But what is ethical competition anymore, and does it matter?


As I understand the controversy surrounding PED’s, they enhance performance.  Therefore, there is pressure among the various games participants to gain an edge, or to keep up with those who are gaining an edge, by using these substances.  And as I understand it, these substances can cause serious damage to the health of the users.  Those using needles to inject some substances are sharing needles and spreading HIV risks.  Other maladies include brain cancer, cosmetic changes, mood changes including anger and violence issues, shrinking testicles, growing breasts, etc.  That is just the tip of the iceberg, but it suffices to say that many of the consequences are serious deleterious health conditions.  So, the ethics question for a society is, shall it be condoned when we can know that the participants are ruining their futures for present day competition and financial gain?


Is this a case where the horse is already out of the barn?  Can this sort of thing be contained?  If it can’t be stopped, would it not be most fair, most ethical, to just make everyone aware of what PED’s can help them in their chosen fields of endeavor, and accept the increased death and illness in decades to come?  Shall we allow the lure of big dollars to motivate athletes to consume themselves for this purpose?  Shall me condone the multibillionaire sports complexes to pressure and encourage young men and women who lack, and by dangling fame and fortune in front of them manage to supply the talent to the spectacle that they sell to the public?  


If prostitution is made legal, will it cause the pretty young ones to be pressured into selling themselves?  If performance enhancing drugs are made legal, will it cause the strong ones to use to maintain their edge, or the slightly weaker ones to use to gain it...and the money?  If ethical behavior is lowered so that all levels of unethical behavior match, in the interest of fairness, what sort of society will result?  Is that what anyone wants?


I don’t know the answer to these questions.  Maybe I do know, and I fear what I think I know.  I think football as we know it on all levels is a goner in a decade or so.  I don’t think football will survive.  The U.S. will finally join the rest of the world playing Soccer.  (I guess we will start calling that football.)  That prediction comes way before the added problem of PED’s.  When you add in that element, I think Ray Lewis did it.  I think A-Rod did it...AGAIN.  I think Lance Armstrong did it.  I think University of Alabama did it.  They all laughed at Jose Conseco when he claimed that they all did it.”  In time, we discovered that...they all did it.  


I plan to watch this Super Bowl, and I hope they are all clean.  I hope Ray Lewis did not do it.  It does not look good though.  Caveat emptor.  




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This is an issue near and dear to my heart.

As you might remember, my son was a baseball player. He never made The Show, as they call the big leagues, but he was very successful on his minor league teams, usually leading in both home runs and RBIs. He was encouraged by management to take PEDs if he wanted a prayer of making it to the majors, where a large percentage of players were already using PEDs. My son says today he was arrogant enough to believe he could complete, as he had been, without the drugs. Besides, he says, he was afraid of the health implications as demonstrated by the NFL’s Lyle Alzedo back then. In an online broadcast of a panel discussion with some of the sports writers who voted in the latest round of Hall of Fame nominations, my son says he believes that decision kept him from making the “bigs;” that if he could do it over again, he would take them. I’m in no position to judge him – exact as his mother who pounded sportsmanship and honesty into his head for many years – but I wish he didn’t have to come to that conclusion. I think it’s all related to dollars and cents and those professional athletes have become highly-paid indentured servants who do not have the strength of character to resist all that fame and fortune. I think it is wrong.
Great personal testimony. Look at it this way, I'd rather he come to the conclusion that he did as a result of not doing them, then come to the conclusion to not do them after coming down with brain cancer like Alzado did. Wow, that story brings it all home.
"Lewis somehow managed to recover and return to action as an NFL linebacker in two months or less. Remarkable."

In the sports world, is it not permitted to use a growth hormone as part of a treatment of an injury? I don't follow sports very much, but it seems to me that there would be a distinction between using a substance to treat an injury vs. using it to enhance performance. For example, a standard treatment of arthritis in joints is injection of steroids. In the sports world, would that not be permitted?
Great question. That is part of the ethical gray area. Here's the thing. One of the aspects of injury repair (the substances used), is that it is also used for performance enhancement. Part of the enhancement is making muscles repair faster. Also, these substances all have deleterious effects on health, even the ones that repair muscles. I presume that if they did not have negative health effects, they would be legal, and used as miracle drugs in and out of sports. As it is, it is an underground practice, and banned by all sports leagues.
You can't ever outlive ethics, because to deny ethics is to have to engage in a why question. No escape, even for ethical nihilists.
You get what you incentivize.

One of the reasons I like regulation in business is that it sets the lowest common denominator. If there isn't regulation, than whoever is dirtiest sets the standard because others have to meet them to compete. If everyone is in the same boat, guys in business can curse the government for regulating them but at least when they go home they can face their kids, and the world is cleaner for it.

Sports is sort of like that. The trouble in sports is that the issue is management. It's not just that the athletes want to succeed, it's that their bosses are pushing them under the table to do this in spite of the health risks because their bosses don't bear the consequences of those health risks, just the benefits of increased performance. Perhaps the way to handle it is to make sure sports teams have liability for their athlete's use of substances, both in terms of results penalties and in terms of penalties on behalf of damage to athletes' health, sort of like the military with Agent Orange.

Not that I really know what I'm talking about but that's where I'd look.
Well, it is not limited to sports. It is throughout our culture.

Like you mentioned with business, profit and ethics work at corss purposes. They are generally in opposition, and rarely the same choice in the short term. They only tend to align when a long view is chosen. Most of what has happened to our culture in the last 3 or 4 decades is a shift toward short term priorities. So, whether it is an athete's choice, or immigration policy, the short term gain option tend to be less ethical, and more prevalent.
Short term is a whole lot of the problem.
if there is a dollar in it, someone will do it. nature 'red in fang and claw,' operates on the principle, if there is a living for 10 in this garden, spill 20 on the ground and see who survives. america subscribes to nature in this regard. so if society does not undertake to feed all, it is immoral to limit the measures individuals take to feed themselves.

society does limit, not out of justice, but out of selfishness. those who have some defend themselves from those who don't.

why worry about ethics, if you can not or will not provide the means to survive? and it's not good enough to say "but they are stealing/cheating more than necessary to survive." when the limits are defined by selfishness, they impress only the 'haves.'

is america crookeder than in the past? probably not. but reduced resources, increasing population makes survival and prosperity more difficult, so the means proliferate, and hypocrisy erodes as a screen, and becomes more prevalent as an excuse.
I agree with all of that, Loomis. I especially agree that we are not any more crooked than in the past. My concern is that technology makes us able to indulge baser instincs more easily. We can't keep up with means to cheat. All meaning derived from tests outside of labs is rendered useless.
A powerful piece, Bill. I felt all along Lance Armstrong was doping. I was outraged when Barry Bonds "beat" Hank Aaron's record... recorded for history with an asterisk. The list goes on. Most sports are BIG business, commercial engerprize. Money talks, results are measured in dollars, not yards or feet or miles. So fans either get what they want or are doomed to disappointment.

I wonder, were the greats of our grandparents' generation doping? Sports are the ultimate reality shows. But it seems they are all tainted and the former glory of real competition is gone.

You haven't so much outlived ethics as never understood what they are.


Not that I give a rat's ass about you or "THE FBI"
It just really does puzzle me whether you really are that malicious or just that stupid?
Rude, this post, my position, favors ethics over what you see happeneing. I lament the current condition of ethics. I lament the use of PED's. I lament the change in the way the battlefield is viewed. I lament ALL of those changes. I think everyone sees that and you are intentionally not seeing it. You are not being rational.