Performance Enhancing Drugs

January 15, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

This week, we all learned something that many people had simply assumed to be true: Baseball player Mark McGwire used performance-enhancing drugs. He was, in fact, using steroids during the 1998 season, when he long-standing single-season home run record broke the (currently held by Barry Bonds, who is also suspected of juicing).

The place of sports in society is something that sociologists are naturally interested in. Leisure activities, which of course includes sport, can tell us many things about values, about social relationships, and about social organization more generally. There are a number of academic associations (NASSS, ISSA) as well as academic journals (Sociology of Sport Journal, International Review for the Sociology of Sport) devoted to the topic.

But back to the specific case of performance-enhancing drugs. We have seen it across the spectrum of sports: baseball, bicycling, track and field. The question is, why do we care? Why does it matter to us if elite and professional athletes are taking drugs to make them perform better? If the point of sports is to entertain the audience, aren’t they enhancing our enjoyment by enhancing their performances?

What impact do you think doping in elite sports has on society more generally?


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