Have you ever driven your car over the speed limit? Chances are you have if you have been driving awhile, and when you made the choice to speed you balanced the risk (potential greater risk for injury, or possibly a ticket) for reward (arriving at your destination more quickly). In sports, athletes experience a unique “risk vs. reward” when deciding whether to use performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) — the risks include personal harm, or a penalty from the league for cheating; but the perceived rewards are better athletic returns, leading to longer and more lucrative contracts.
Research study findings
A recent Yahoo survey asked fans what they would do if they were athletes in a similar situation — would they take PED’s if they were a career minor league player and could make $15 million per year in the big leagues by cheating? The findings of the poll revealed that roughly 30% of fans who responded indicated they would use PED’s to make it to the Major League. Does this number surprise you? What would you do?
This is not the first poll ever conducted to gauge the likelihood of using illegal PED’s, as many surveys have asked athletes directly the same question, and the results have been similar. In fact, one sport psychology text I used to teach from revealed that nearly 2/3 of Olympic athletes would take a drug if it guaranteed them a gold medal — even if the side effects might kill them. It appears winning and success are more important than integrity for some athletes (and fans as well as revealed from the Yahoo poll).
These findings might also be a precursor to future Hall of Fame elections with more fans becoming desensitized (and perhaps even developing sympathy?) for players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens, to name a few. To date, baseball players suspected of using PED’s from the “steroid era” have been largely shut out by the Hall, but that may be changing.
Cheating in sports comes in different ways
Cheating in sports has become confusing on many levels these days. Are athletes who use drugs like Adderall cheating (psychostimulants have been found to help with focus, a key part of sport success)? Some athletes fake the symptoms of ADHD (remarkably easy to do by the way) just so they can acquire an Adderall prescription and improve athletic performance. And what about athletes who have corrective eye surgery and end up with better than 20/20 vision, or others who have procedures like Tommy John surgery before they even need it in order to build muscle strength? Drugs, it appears, are just one way to cheat in sports.
According to surveys, cheating in sports appears to be approved by more athletes (and fans) than what might have been thought, and the means in which athletes cheat goes well beyond PED’s. Unfortunately, kids pick up on the temptation to risk cheating in order to improve chances for the reward of possibly playing better, making it that much more important that we as parents and coaches have regular, ongoing talks with our kids about these issues and encourage them to play safely and with integrity.