Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sports drug cheating.

Sports drug cheating. What is the answer? Baseball is now getting socked with scandal after scandal, each revelation seemingly tumbling on the heels of the last. Quite a few responsible commentators have come out in favor of letting the druggers do their thing, but under medical controls. The point being that then everything will be in the open, and all doping will be transparent. I've even thought about favoring this answer myself - until I heard a commentator making exactly this case recently. As he talked, I realized, in one those flashes of rationality, that this simply would never stop cheating. It would not work. It is a very simple economic truth that drives this realization. Even if you make drug use transparent, it will never be truly so, because there is a very distinct payoff to cheating. 

The reason this is currently true is because there is always a health cost to using drugs to enhance performance. Drug use today is far less dangerous than the last generation of popular performance drugs (speed, coke, and barbituates), but is still extremely dangerous. "Roid rage" is real. It has killed athletes and their families, and has ruined lives. The East German athletes who were part of the generation their state used these drugs on report long-term issues. Then you have blood enhancers: EPO, blood transfusions, etc. Not as dangerous as steroids, but still with risks. Asthma drugs, etc, etc. They all have side effects and dangers. It is this danger - the health cost - that drives the economic payoff of cheating, because it means that some athletes will always be more willing to risk drugs than others. 

Now, we think: "let's clear the air, make the playing field even. Everybody is allowed to do drugs, but they must submit to examination, and must admit to what they do." Everybody will know. Sounds wonderful. It would never work. Once the playing field was "even", you would still have some athletes using drugs that were more willing to take health risks than others. If all the drug doers were open and transparent, the guy who came in second without the drugs will just come in second with the drugs. Those athletes have to do more drugs to win. And, if they tell, then the field will level again. It wouldn't pay them to be transparent, to tell all, simply because everyone else would simply up their dose, too, until you reached the point where people were openly dieing as a result of doing the drugs. We don't have to scoff, and say this could never be, because we KNOW that this has already happened with ephedrine. 

It's that simple. Cheating pays. If you want to stop cheating, you have to make the risk so high that athletes are not willing to take the risk. That is the only answer, even if it is not very satisfactory. 

And now, on the "light" side, the world's best optical illusions! 

No comments: