Doping – What Would Hobbes Do?

After World War II performance enhancing drugs really hit the athletic world. Now, the general consensus is that to be a competitive, top athlete, you are going to have to (at some point) use a type of performance enhancing drug.

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Who could forget the Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal?

A recent article on vice.com stated that, “Sports doping is a real problem. Scrapping and clawing for a miniscule amount of well-paying jobs, many athletes have little practical choice but to turn to an unregulated drug market…There’s no money and no medals in finishing last.”

Athletes are competing viciously for the few top spots in the world. Their incentives are the money, the world-wide recognition, and the glory. As the vice article illustrates so nicely, these top spots are extremely rare; athletes are fighting over a scarce resource.

The current world of professional athletes reminds me of the state of nature Thomas Hobbes describes. In Hobbes’ state of nature men are constantly at war with one another, competing and fighting for the things which they both desire. In this case, athletes are constantly fighting each other for these top positions.

Hobbes believes that men are in a constant state of fear, and I believe this applies to top athletes. Why else would athletes continue to dope and continue to find new and better performance enhancing drugs, if it were not for the constant fear that the other athletes are going to surpass them?

In fact, there appears to be little incentive for athletes to stop doping, the fear of being surpassed trumps the fear of the repercussions from being caught cheating. There are so many ways to get around the mandatory drug tests, that repercussions are not a big threat anymore… that was until Germany passed some new, harsh laws.

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Hobbes would disapprove of all this doping…

Although the drug tests haven’t suddenly become more effective, the consequences for failing a drug test have increased dramatically. In Germany, athletes caught cheating may be put in jail for up to three years! Could this be the event that will, as Hobbes says, “incline men to peace, [a] fear of death…” Could jail time be “death” for athletes? Perhaps this drastic action will help end this constant doping fused battle among athletes.

Former German fencer Thomas Bach believes that in order to end this doping battle, governments need to crack down on dopers. However, I think (and I believe Hobbes’ would agree) that in order for this law to have any effect, the German government is going to have to follow through and make examples of cheating athletes. Hobbes states that, “the force of words, being (as I have formerly noted) too weak to hold men to the performance of their covenants; there are in man’s nature, but two imaginable helps to strengthen it. And those are either a fear of the consequence of breaking their word; or a glory, or pride in appearing not to need to break it. This latter is a generosity too rarely found to be presumed on, especially in the pursuers of wealth, command, or sensual pleasure; which are the greatest part of mankind.”

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Should we follow Germany’s lead?

Has it come to a point where if an athlete is found doping they will not be embarrassed or saddened? It seems that all top athletes know that the general population is aware that the majority of professional athletes dope, so therefore  publicly shaming these athletes is not enough of a consequence any more.  The prizes for being a winning, top athlete outweigh the risks and punishments of being caught.  For real change to occur, maybe other countries should consider adopting the scare tactics that Germany is implementing. Governments need to take a strong stance against top athletes in order for any progress to be made.

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One comment

  1. hsharf · December 3, 2014

    I agree that the consequences for using PED must be great in order to eliminate them from sports. Look at he MLB, they started enforcing stricter rules against PEDs each year after 2003, and since then, it appears that the use of steroids has declined. Nonetheless, they are still relevant in the game. I do think that the positive effects for athletes often outweighs the negative ones. Look at Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera, they were both good baseball players. All of a sudden they became top players in the league. They were both caught taking steroids, served a suspension of about 1/3, and then signed multiyear contracts worth tens of millions of dollars. I don’t think they are embarassed that they were caught, they got off with some time off and a big chunk of change.

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