With this picogram nonsense coming out of Jon Jones and the UFC, I’ve been thinking about this problem again recently. I find it quite interesting. The idea is that you don’t want anybody taking performance enhancing drugs to avoid giving anyone an unfair advantage when competing. But where do you draw the line on what’s a drug, or enhanced performance, or the difference between a fair and unfair advantage?
Most of these fighters are on a scientific diet that includes a range of daily supplements. The optimal fuel for your body is undoubtedly an advantage. But some supplements are considered fair use and some aren’t. Some are outright illegal. It seems like we’re putting all kinds of things in our bodies, looking for that added advantage. If so, avoiding the banned substances list seems more like a guideline than a requirement. Tito used to always say that if you weren’t cheating, you weren’t trying. I learned that if you want to change someone’s behavior, you can’t just tell someone that they’re not allowed because they’ll just look for a way around it. You have to give them a better option, and let them choose it.
I have a friend who still says give them all the roids they want and let them go to town. Considering how entertaining things were back in the days of Pride, the fans would certainly benefit. But I would protest and say at that point, it’s not a competition of skill but a competition of chemistry. I would also suggest that it would be danger to the fighters as they would trade years off of their bodies to go faster and harder today.
When GSP stepped away and criticized the prevelence of steroids in the sport, I was still a little skeptical. I was skeptical because I knew they were doing drug testing and assumed a professional standard. But I also just didn’t know that much about it. Then USADA showed up and it couldn’t have been more obvious. Not only were a ton of fighters testing positive for PEDs, many of those who didn’t, looked like deflated versions of themselves. It would seem like we’ve reached an even playing field, but I don’t think that’s the case.
From the dietitians, to the nutritionists, to the supplements, to the substances on the banned list, everyone’s looking for the best fuel available. And rightfully so, it’s a big part of performing at your best. And most of it, when used appropriately, is good for your body. People often forget how frequently steroids are prescribed by doctors. So here’s my wild idea, what not put together a team of medical specialists and task them with creating a healthy regiment of supplements? I’m sure you could apply this to other sports but we’ll start with the UFC.
Each fighter is given a weekly check-up by a member of the medical team. The check-ups will help the medical staff to track and monitor the athlete’s health over time. On the first check-up, the fighter will be given the option to fight naturally, or join the enhancement program. If you choose to fight naturally, you’ll be issued a banned substances list and receive standard testing. If you choose the enhancement program, the ufc will cook you up a tailored PED cocktail and ensure that you have the diet, training, and recovery regiment to support it.
It’s important to give fighters the opportunity to use PEDs or not to use PEDs. Those who choose not to and find success will be rewarded by the fans accordingly. But for those who do, the objective will be peak health and not peak performance. If you prioritize peak performance in the short-term, you’ll start to make trades for the athlete’s long-term health. This is an important distinction and at the crux of this approach becoming corrupted. The purpose of using PEDs isn’t to create the most violent fights but rather to increase the short-term and long-term health of the athletes. In doing so, we hope the fighters will exceed their physical limits, that they recover more quickly from their injuries, that they will become injured less frequently, that their careers will be extended, and that their health in retirement will be optimized.
In the current system, PEDs still exist. Right now, according to the UFC, the testing system is simultaneously so accurate that it can test for amounts that ‘shouldn’t be testable’, yet so inaccurate that plenty of PED users have found ways to navigate the system. While I think they’re full of shit on a range of things, they have a point. You can test right down to the picogram, and still have people figure out how to game the system. It’s a perpetual game of cat and mouse where the mouse is never truly caught. You gotta give them an option that they’re rather have. For those who want to use PEDs, let them. Get a program tailored specifically to their body and training regiment, by medical professionals, who are looking out of the health of the athlete, and can monitor them on a regular basis. Not only would athletes be far less motivated to find their own PEDs, it would be very difficult to include additional PEDs into your body when you’re already been monitored on a regular basis by a medical staff. For most fighters, I don’t think it would be worth the effort.
The net result should be a higher caliber of athlete. Once which is chemically enhanced, but since when are chemicals not fuel and since when are we not biological machines? As long as long-term health is the priority, this could push science in a meaningful direction. As it is, most R&D for PEDs is based around avoiding detection and maximizing short-term performance. If we change the priorities, we change the motivations. If we change the motivations, we change the R&D. All of the sudden, the chemists and biologists are looking to better understand the body and what we put into it. The data coming out of a research center like this could end up being highly valuable to the world.