Montreal, June 18, 2006 • No 180




Jasmin Guénette holds a master's degree in Political Science at Université du Québec à Montréal.




by Jasmin Guénette


          The use of steroids today is widespread in many professional as well as amateur sports. It goes without saying that in order to become a professional bodybuilder, steroid is a must use substance. Anyone denying this fact simply won't admit reality. Ivan Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi are all steroid-fueled baseball players. If you look at Barry Bonds when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the mid-80's compared to his 2001 season when he became the record man for home runs with the San Francisco Giants, you can clearly see he's juiced-up. Now, should baseball – or any other professional league – ban performance-enhancing drugs? The answer is yes, if they want to. But, should we be able to buy steroids at the local drug store? The answer is also yes.


          If Major League Baseball (MLB) wants to ban steroids, it is completely entitled to do so. It's a private league. Its owners and players can agree or not on contracts that aim at banning drugs. Now, just like the National Hockey League and some other professional leagues in North America, MLB is the only league that can offer baseball players multi-million dollars contracts. One of the consequences of that superiority is that many of the players will then agree to rules that they would normally not agree to in the first place. But hey, nothing ties them to MLB if they are not happy.

          This is the case with steroids. We can assume, with what we've seen in the past few years, that if pro-sports had permitted the use of drugs many athletes would not have hidden the truth about their consumption and we could then see what talent mixed with science can achieve in terms of performance. This is not going to happen soon though; the government is putting a lot of pressure on MLB "to clean up its act" and "Congress wants to impose uniform drug-testing and punishment standards on all sports leagues."(1)

Personal choice

          Private companies and associations should be able to define what rules will govern them without any intervention from politicians. A private association has no obligation to accept me if I don't agree to their rules, just as I should not be forced to join any associations I don't think are fit for me. This logic should also prevail when it comes to the sale and use of steroids. If a group of people, let's say Bodybuilders and Co., think performance-enhancing drugs are OK, they should be left alone if they don't force anybody to follow their path. Sadly, this is not how things are done. Today, the debate about steroid use is widely dominated by morally superior do-gooders who believe it's not right for an athlete to use products that help him or her perform better.

          Deciding to use or not to use steroids is exactly the same thing as asking yourself if you should go to the movies or stay home, eat a cheeseburger or a salad, have a beer or a glass of sparkling water. It is a matter of personal choice, a matter of preference. People look at the possible risks and at the possible benefits of taking drugs and then make a decision. For some the cost is too high. The risks involved may not be worth the price. Ken Caminiti, a former baseball superstar, admitted having taken steroids during his 1996 MVP (Most Valuable Player) season. He died in 2004. Even if his death is shrouded in mystery (some say heart attack, some say overdose), many are citing his case as a clear example of what happens when people use performance-enhancing drugs.

“I am not suggesting that people should take steroids or use other drugs. But just as I don't want other people choosing what's right for me, I don't want to choose what's right for others.”

          I am not suggesting that people should take steroids or use other drugs. But just as I don't want other people choosing what's right for me, I don't want to choose what's right for others. This is what respect is all about; not forcing other people to think like you, to act like you and to obey laws simply because vote-seeking politicians and their allies think some products should be illegal.

Protecting people against themselves

          One case often cited in the world of bodybuilding to justify making steroids illegal is that of Greg Valentino. This man was arrested for selling steroids at his gym. He was himself taking a lot of drugs to maintain his 27-inch arms(2). A lot of people say this guy proves steroids should be illegal. But this is a one in a million case, and we should not merely look at this issue through this situation because it is the exception.

          Even if prohibitionists are advocating "zero tolerance" when it comes to steroids and even if it is illegal today, this does not stop all the Valentinos of the world from taking the drugs they want to take. This is true today, and will be true tomorrow. Prohibition simply doesn't work because as long as some people are willing to pay for a product, a producer will be willing to make it available. Today cocaine is illegal, just like marijuana, heroine and a lot of other substances. Is this enough to stop people from cultivating, transforming, distributing, selling, and taking drugs? We all know the answer.

          It's a fact: the type of drugs used by Valentino can be hazardous to anyone's health. No doubt about it. But this fact is not enough to legitimize state intervention that aims to tell people what to do with their own lives. In a free world we must respect and tolerate, even if we don't understand, the fact that other people have different goals and dreams, and that they are willing to use tools we may regard as inappropriate in order to reach them.

          Steroids should be legal even if they may cause health problem for some heavy users. People are smart enough to make the best possible decisions – as they see fit – for their own lives. And if some take too many steroids, it's their own personal problems, not a "social" problem.


1. S.M. Oliva, "Pounding the Steroids Issue." Mises Economics Blog, November 28, 2005.
2. Chris Shugart, "The Most Hated Man in Bodybuilding - An Interview with Greg Valentino." Testosterone Nation, May 31, 2002.