Gaming the System: Doping in Sports

A performance-enhanced (Photoshop) picture of San Francisco to fit with the theme of my talk

For those of you in the San Francisco area (home of Barry Bonds, who never knowingly used “the clear”) Swissnex has organized a public event on doping in sports titled “Gaming the System: Doping in Sports.” Professor Max Gassman, Professor Carsten Lundby and I will be giving a talks on the current issues in doping in sports.

For those of you who don’t know, Prof. Gassmann and Lundby are the real deal when it comes to the science of doping (I am clearly the very junior scholar on the panel). Of Prof. Lundby’s notable works, one involved sending samples from 8 athletes positive for EPO to two WADA laboratories. The results were startling. Prof. Gassmann has also shown interesting results doping mice with EPO. Either Prof. Gassmann is hoping mice racing will be a future Olympic event or he has made some important findings about the nature of drugs on sporting competition–mainly that over-doping (where athletes take too much of a drug) may not be of such concern with EPO because of the performance decrease that results from high hematocrit.

My talk will is titled “The ‘Sporting Prometheus’: What Doping Reveals About Science, Bioethics, and the Nature of Humans.” Linking to the Prometheus trope present throughout western literature, I am planning to address the cultural fascination with performance-enhancing technologies in sport, which manifest itself as both fear and enthusiasm. Thankfully, the omniscient New York Times decided to run a “Room for Debate”: The Case for Doping section on this issue. While none of the authors were very novel, including one that put forward an article that could have been written by an undergrad at CSUF, the authors captured the two sides in a nutshell. What I will argue is that this whole debate–and indeed the cultural interest in doping–reveals larger social concerns about what it means to be human and what to do when we have the power to make ourselves better that traces back to ancient Greece. Taking the position that sports mirror our society, I will conclude that the current conversation has little to do with actual sporting practices or the reality of performance-enhancing substances. It also has little to do with health, fairness, or spirit of sport. Instead, the performance enhancement issue, like the story of Prometheus, is mostly about our own cultural concerns over what it means to be human and what happens when we try to improve ourselves.

Now rumor has it that this might be broadcast on some public access channel somewhere so if I find a video link to my talk or decide to publish the text, I will let you know. In the meantime, please share your comments on my proposed talk and drop me a line if you can make it.

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