Thursday, September 5, 2013

Gladwell on PEDs

Malcolm Gladwell has a piece in The New Yorker (which he defends on this podcast) that basically lays out in detail an argument I've made previously--there is no good reason that performance-enhancing drugs are outlawed when performance-enhancing medical procedures (e.g., Tommy John surgery or eye surgery to improve vision) are permitted and that people with random genetic benefits (for example, an Olympic cross-country skier with a genetic mutation that over-produces red blood cells, which provides a tremendous advantage in endurance sports) are allowed to benefit from them. It is definitely worth a read, as is the new book The Sports Gene by journalist David Epstein, which Gladwell is reviewing in this piece.

People (particularly present and former players, who should know better) often criticize PEDs as short-cuts and PED users as lazy; the player used drugs instead of putting in the hard work of making himself a great player. In fact, many PEDs actually are all about hard work; the reason cyclists blood dope is so their bodies can work harder for longer and the benefit of steroids is to allow players to work-out longer and become stronger. When Lance Armstrong insisted "I am on my bike busting my ass six hours a day", he was telling the truth; the doping was what made it humanly possible for him to do that much work.  On the other hand, we don't think of genetic advantages (say, especially good eyesight for a Major League hitter) as a short-cut, but as a natural tool that the player then must maximize through hard work. The point of PEDs is to level that genetic advantage, which he then maximizes through hard work. What's wrong with that?