Kinesiology and Philosophy: A look of steroids in sports

            As Kinesiology students, we are always searching for the next breakthrough in the fields of science and medicine. Most of the classes we are required to take, deal with the application and methodology that is required to plan and execute new studies that will lead to these great breakthroughs in our field. We tend to think that science holds the answers to any question we may come across, but is that necessarily the case? Science can show us an endless amount of informative studies that can tell us everything we need to know about the human body. But there are many questions that science cannot give us the answer to. Like what makes up a human soul? What makes competition unique and appealing to athletes? I can answer these questions at another time, but instead I want to look at the relationship that science and philosophy could have together. There is room for both of these fields to have their own individual impact in Kinesiology, and understanding both may open up new research in the field.

            A question I want to bring up to you is what can philosophy bring to the table that science can simply not explain to us? I found the answer to that question to be quite simple: we can use philosophy to explain how the results of science should or should not be used. If we look at the field of Kinesiology, one of the most controversial subjects in all of sports is whether or not athletes should be able to use anabolic steroids to increase their performance. In an article on, Martin Cothran explains that when it comes to questions of how, when, or whether to use new technologies that science brings up, science is of little help and we must rely on finding out our own answers to these questions and come up with our own conclusions (Cothran). So if look at steroid use among athletes under a philosophical microscope, we can ask ourselves whether or not athletes should be able to use steroids in sports using the findings that science provides us.

            Philosophy is not a black and white subject, and with that understanding, we can certainly come up with scenarios in which an athlete would resort to using an illegal substance. Maybe the athlete is succumbing to all the pressures around him. Competition can be so intense in sports at times and you can understand why an athlete would want to do everything in their power to gain a competitive advantage. Maybe the athlete is coming off a serious, career threatening injury and  using a substance that can aid them in their rehabilitation can be the difference in him/her putting money on their family’s table or becoming unemployed. A real life example of this can be seen with former NFL player, Charlie Waters. He was a player who took a minute amount of steroids, under doctor supervision when rehabbing is knee. This is not something he is proud of or would tell others to do, but taking the substance significantly helped him aid his rehab process and allowed him to play in the NFL for more than ten years. Waters even felt the ramifications of the drug, saying “My personality changed. But I was strong. Much stronger. I recovered much quicker. It was beneficial for the recovery of my knee” (Fisher). With this example, we can certainly see a scenario of why an athlete would take steroids and we can almost emphasize with this athlete because he did not abuse the substance to gain a competitive advantage.

Charlie Waters

            But there are also many reasons why steroids are banned in mostly every sports league or organization around the world. Steroid use among higher skilled athletes will show much greater gains than gains to an individual who has never worked out before ( In fact studies of anabolic steroid use among high athletes have shown weight gains of thirty to forty pounds and strength increases of up to thirty percent (Fahey). In this case, science tells us that steroids give athletes a greater advantage in terms of strength over athletes who do not take the substance. If we were looking at this under a strictly scientific perspective than it would be clear that steroids should never be allowed in sports. But like I said earlier, we need to start incorporating philosophy and science together if we want to obtain the greatest amount of knowledge. Philosophy shows us, like the example with Charlie Waters, there are scenarios where steroids can greatly benefit an athlete without giving them an athlete a huge competitive advantage. Why is it that athletes who uses the substance once treated the same as an individual who abuses it for the length of their career? They are both ostracized by fans and media as being “cheaters” and “ruining the integrity of the game”. If steroids can benefit an individual in the rehabilitation process, should we not look into steroids as a viable recourse to help out athletes? In an era of player safety, should we not allow the player access to beneficial drugs so they decrease their chance for re-injury? Science can tell us the effects/benefits of a substance but it is up our philosophical minds to determine whether or not we should allow athletes to use it. It is not a simple case of steroids should never be allowed in sports. There are situations and scenarios that science cannot account for and we must think about that before coming up with such broad generalizations.

If we look at Philip Kitcher’s idea of what makes a good theory, he says that a good theory must be general, precise, and accurate. Banning steroids in sport because it might give you a competitive advantage is both general and accurate but I don’t think it’s precise. To be precise, the measurements under the same condition must show the same results. We know this is not the case because steroids may have a different effect for one athlete over the other. Also the abuse or intake of steroids will show different results. Simply put, it is not fair to lump all athletes under the same rule because each athlete is different and their circumstances are different. 

Cothran, Martin

Fahey, Thaomas D.

Fisher, Mike

Kitcher, Philip


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