Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2009




The Catholic University of America




During President Barack Obama's first primetime press conference, reporters asked primarily about the state of the economy and terrorism. Wedged between questions on these two vital issues was a query from the Washington Post's Michael Fletcher:

Question: What is your reaction to Alex Rodriguez's admission that he used steroids as a member of the Texas Rangers?

Obama: You know, I think it's depressing news.... And if you're a fan of Major League Baseball, I think it - it tarnishes an entire era, to some degree. And it's unfortunate, because I think there are a lot of ballplayers who played it straight. And, you know, the thing I'm probably most concerned about is the message it sends to our kids. What I'm pleased about is Major League Baseball seems to finally be taking this seriously, to recognize how big a problem this is for the sport, and that our kids hopefully are watching and saying, "You know what? There are no shortcuts, that when you try to take shortcuts, you may end up tarnishing your entire career, and that your integrity's not worth it." That's the message I hope is communicated.1

Situating the use of steroids by baseball players on the same level as the economic meltdown in the U.S. and the war in Afghanistan may seem strange, but less than two weeks later in his weekly Op-Ed column in the Sunday New York Times, Frank Rich produced a similar list of what he saw as the major evils that were denied during the Bush administration: "Steroids, torture, lies from the White House, civil war in Iraq, even recession ....",2 As to steroid denial in particular, Rich noted, "[a]nyone with eyes could have seen that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire resembled Macy's parade balloons in their 1998 home-run derby . . . ."3 And in its February 23rd issue, the cover of the New Yorker featured a portrait of Alex Rodriguez signing autographs for young children whose arms were bloated like balloons.

As we will explore in this Article, some ethicists think that the concern about drugs used for "enhancement," including steroids used by baseball players to increase their strength, is misplaced, and that adult athletes should be able to use whatever enhancers they want, so long as they are not dangerous to their health.4 Putting aside for a moment the health dangers of steroids on adults-which are contested-the other two primary reasons for banning the use of performance enhancers in baseball are that they are, as President Obama noted, a form of cheating that undermines the integrity of the game, and that they encourage emulation by children.

Sports has been the primary arena in which what might be termed the "enhancement debate" has played out, and, at least until the publication of the Mitchell report in late 2007, most of the attention focused on the Olympics and devising ways to detect cheating by athletes who were using drugs.5 In George Mitchell's recounting, as well as a recent survey by the Wall Street Journal, the two teams that had the most players who used steroids were George W. Bush's old team, the Texas Rangers, and the New York Yankees. 6 As Red Sox fans, we can, of course, be accused of prejudice, especially against the Yankees. So it is probably best we leave the sports debate to others. Instead, our focus in this Article is on the use of performance enhancing drugs in the arena that bracketed the Alex Rodriquez question to the president: the war against terrorism, and specifically the unasked question regarding the use of "enhancement" drugs by U.S. soldiers in combat.

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