Not going to lie, up until recently I did not ponder much on the topic of steroids, and let myself go with the commonly accepted cliche' of "steroids are bad". Period. Sounded about right, and honestly the issue did not enter in my daily life enough to devote any more critical thinking to it than that.
More recently however, I have found myself addicted (pun - see what I did there?) to powerlifting, and inevitably the circle of friends and acquaintances that surrounds me naturally put the discussion of steroids to the forefront of many conversations. I started reading up on it, looking at both sides of the argument, and tonight I watched an extremely well-made and thought-provoking documentary on the subject ("Bigger, Faster, Stronger" - check it out here:)
Starting with the end conclusion: it's not a black or white topic. It's the whole fifty shades of interesting gray, with more layers than an onion.
The bottom layer is understanding what it actually is that we are talking about. Go to a shopping mall and ask a sample of random people, what are steroids? My guess is that only very few would actually think of them as anything but 'illegal and harmful drugs athletes use to cheat'. That sentence alone is laden with prompts for further discussion - 5 words out of 8, in fact. Hold that - this thought has layers.
Use and Abuse
Starting with "use". Steroids (anabolic steroids, in this context) have known medical uses beyond enhancing performance. The drug in and of itself is a synthetic variation of the male sex hormone (testosterone), used to treat male hormone problems, delayed puberty, to treat certain kinds of anemia, stimulate bone marrow, treat HIV wasting syndrome, the list goes on. The debate and discussion finds its way when the drug is abused by athletes for purposes of enhancing performance, not for medical purposes.
I take a step back and ask why - why the use/abuse, why bother shooting up? Enter the "win at all costs" culture. The fear of mediocrity that rages wilder than the common sense of moderation. "At all costs" becomes an almost Machiavellian, 'end-justifies-the-means' behavior of abuse.
Abuse of anything makes anything dangerous. Don't blame the drug - blame the user. It's astoundingly simple, really: be stupid, be ignorant, die and, newsflash, it's on you.
The Legal Stuff.
Which bring me to the layer of legality. Countless substances that, when consumed in excess, are bad for you are perfectly legal (tobacco, alcohol, aspirin). So why is this not legal? Why are narcotics illegal? Is it just because it takes longer to die of alcoholism than from a heroin overdose? To use legality to control use is inexplicable. Things are just things. Inanimate objects. Nothing is inherently dangerous just by virtue of existing. People are. People's mis-use, ignorance, lack of control over their own choices and behaviour... That is what makes ANYTHING dangerous. What sense does it make to demonize the object or the tool, but not hold the PERSON accountable for their actions? (I feel a rant coming on gun control, but I have spoken my peace on that already.)
...but why not, while we are at it, might as well take a side spin off to a broader question: why have any law then? Should we let the planet self-regulate? I will leave the socio-economic aspects of that question for another day, but as an overall observation, I believe certain laws are indeed necessary to protect others - most are not. Fundamentally, the idea is that if your choices do not cause harm to others, then you should be able to do whatever you want. And, if your choices cause harm to yourself (and nobody else), well.... its on you, bro. Key info here is education, common sense will do the rest.
All goes back to the Declaration of Independence, and that sacrosanct paragraph on inalienable rights. The only things that should be legally regulated are activities or behaviors that cause harm to others and therefore infringe upon others' rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of their happiness. Note - I am advocating regulating actions, not things. People and what they DO, not the things that they choose to do it with. If your choices cause harm to others, it seems fair that you should face the consequences of your choices within the context of reasonably written laws.
Fairness and Morality in Competition.
I mentioned the word "fair". Fair does not mean 'equal for everyone'. Burn me at the stake for this, but I do not believe in absolute equality - we are not all equal. And what I mean by that is illustrated in one anectodal example: take a powerlifting meet, and take away gender and age. An 18 year old male competing against a 50-year old female: what would that look like? Would you think it fair? (And to wrap up the legal discussion, you could say justice is enforcement of fairness).
Say we got past the equality thing, and the competition field is 'fairly' represented (gender, age). Those things being equal, would use of steroids by one athlete then be considered cheating? Most people (and official sports federations) say yes. I would tend to agree but only within the context where the competition field isn't level. In other words, if an organization's rule are to be drug-free, then the 'drug enhancement' is a cheat. But if an organization specifically does not drug test, then let it be a battle of the syringe, and may the most juiced up beast have at it, if that is what everyone agrees to.
Alterations of Nature
It's interesting to draw parallels - I am thinking of other competitions that have an 'enhacement' component. Think of cosmetic surgery at a beauty peagant: breast implants and gallons of botox are not banned, why not? In fact, taking it a few steps further, any kind of artificial enhancement or corrective intervention could be considered not natural - from cortisone for pain to cosmetics. So why do we culturally strive for these alterations? Why do we want to modify ourselves physically, are we responding to an evolving general concept of beauty, strength, attractiveness, or are we actually creating this evolution? What comes first? An interesting part of the documentary was to compare action figures from the 50's throughout the decades - Barbie got skinnier and with bigger boobs, and GI Joe ended up with biceps the size of watermelons. We just may be able to thank the multi-billion dollar supplement industry and the pixie dust snake oil peddlers for this 'evolution'.
And speaking of action figures - it's worth a mention that Captain America himself is the result of a genetic mutation/ experiment - and he has been around for a minute, so the culture of the superhero with superhuman powers, and this obsession we have with superlatives (best, biggest, strongest, fastest) is not the latest fad - it has been embedded in the fabric of society for decades. Exploring the source of it would be another interesting exercise - for another rant ;)
In conclusion: all drugs should be legal. drug manufacturer should have an obligation to inform and educate as to the effects of the drugs when taken in excess, and provide that information abundantly and freely so that everyone has ample opportunity to make informed choices. People should be free to make those choices, and be held accountable (by law, if inherent morality does not kick in) for when those choices cause harm to others, but otherwise... live and let die.