Sunday, May 24, 2009

An Ethicist’s take on Manny Ramirez

An interesting piece popped up in the news regarding right and wrong and the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports. The article came from Randy Cohen’s piece in The New York Times Moral of the Story column, The Ethicist’s take on the news, where he asks the question whether we are right to “condemn such players (as a positive Manny Ramirez) as unethical?”

Cohen writes that the boost that athletes receive from PED’s is significant, but limited. He cites the change in the single season home run record from Babe Ruth’s 60 (Roger Maris actually had the record at 61 before Mark McGwire broke it with 70 prior to Bonds) to Barry Bonds’ 73 and specifically mentions that the record didn’t jump to 500. 60 to 73 is a 22% increase; 60 to 500 would be a 733% increase. Roger Maris surpassed Ruth's home run record by one home run, not thirteen.  Let’s keep this argument in reality.

Cohen gives many of the same arguments that baseball elders gave in explaining how aging sluggers were hitting more home runs: modern training programs, better nutrition, smaller ballparks. Even though steroids were prohibited from baseball in the early 90’s, there was no mandatory testing in place. To further his change in technology and sports, Cohen cites cycling illustrating how the bikes have transformed from being made out of the heavier steel to carbon fiber. The sport of cycling has one of the biggest doping cultures. Another example Cohen cites is Tiger Woods’ Lasik surgery to improve his vision to 20/15, better than normal. In both examples, bike makeups and eye surgery, there is nothing in the rules of the respective sport that says a bike needs to be made of a certain material or your vision cannot be altered. Hence, these athletes are not doing anything wrong.

Cohen suggests that rather than increase penalties for bad decisions, cast the image as one of workplace safety. “Baseball authorities must prohibit actions that are unduly dangerous, whether taking drugs or playing after a concussion, or that mar the beauty of the game, not because such things are unethical but because they are unwise.” Why is taking drugs unwise for ballplayers? Using PED’s in the first place is what led these players to get to the big show, get the big money contracts and get that extension. The only remedy that will make it unwise to cheat and use PED’s is to implement an immediate lifetime ban from the sport and a requirement that the cheat would need to return all monies earned. Since the “honor code” didn’t work too well before, when the player’s money and right to earn a living are on the line, they will learn quickly how unwise it is to take the spike and will call MLB to confirm that the supplement that they picked up from GNC is legit.

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