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Performance Enhancement By American Youth

Based on the movie Bigger, Stronger, Faster (Christopher Bell, 2008), this research paper assesses the phenomenon of performance enhancement by young people in the United States. Whether it is in sports, performance, academics or for recreational use, performance enhancers pose not only a moral problem, but also a medical risk.

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Performance Enhancement By American Youth

  1. 1. 1406525320675<br />Director : Chris Bell (2008)<br />Performance enhancement by American youth<br />Yannig Roth (yr4@students.uwf.edu)<br />Introduction<br />The movie Bigger, Faster, Stronger is a documentary in which Christopher Bell, a young American, investigates the performance-based culture of the United States, especially in sports. Like his two brothers, he was fascinated by muscular wrestlers (like Hulk Hogan) and bodybuilders (like Arnold Schwarzenegger) and started to use steroïds to get bigger, faster and stronger. While Christopher stopped taking any performance enhancing drugs, he examines an American culture based on competitiveness, performance and a particular ideals of beauty. The documentary asks various questions about society, the role of the media or ethics in some particular industries, we will focus on the phenomenon of performance encanhement within the American youth.<br />In this research paper, we will first draw a rapid picture of performance enhancing behaviors among American youth, whether it is for cosmetic means, for athletic or for academic performance. We will then see the influence that the American culture and the American system has on this phenomenon, and finally we'll discuss the impact that it has on society, thus making it a social problem.<br />Use of performance enhancers among youth<br />One of the strongest motivations to use performance enhancing drugs is the " cosmetic" motivation : the desire to appear muscular and strong. According to the movie, only 15% of the those who take steroïds are athletes which seek to improve their performances, which indicates that the other 85% are recreational user, or " gym rats" . Anabolic steroids are artificial hormones which indeed stimulate muscle synthesis at a higher rate than the body's usually builds muscle. Taking steroids rapidly shows positive effects on the body and brings compliments from peers about muscle size and shape. An example of a " poster boy for steroids" is Arnold Schwerzenegger, a hero for a lot of bodybuilders and for young people, who are inspired by his roles in movies like Rambo, Terminator or Conan the Barbarian. Christopher Bell (the narrator in the documentary) remembers that he wanted to look like " [his] heroes" , and that's why he and his -" a little bit chubby" - brothers started training and wrestling in the basement of their house, while taking steroids.<br />The youngest of the three brothers, Mark Bell, continued as a weight lifter and planned to quit steroids because of his family life. His older brother, Mike, continued using performance enchancing drugs in college where he gave way to his trainer's pressure. College sport is a subject that often comes up in the debate about steroids, and the problem indeed reveals to be particularly important.<br />According to trend data collected from 1999 to 2003 by the Risk Behavior Surveillance System at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6.1% of students in grades 9 to 12 admitted to taking steroid pills or shots without a doctor's prescription one or more times (in 1999, 3.7% of students reported this behavior). Even though figures vary, starting at about 3% of the youth taking performance encanhers, this is still a huge percentage and certainly the wrong way to pass on the values of sport and competition for young students. While trainers (and parents) certainly have the strongest reponsibilty in this issue, sport celebrities aren't always examples to the kids and amateur athletes. One example is that of the American national pass-time : Baseball. Very famous athletes like Mark McGwire or Jose Canseco where convicted of using performance enhancing drugs during their career, and Canseco's famous book states that these practices were normal at the time, he even predicts that gene doping " is definitely the next big step in evolution" . According to Osagie Obasogie from the Center for Genetics and Society (CGS), " Engineering humanity is hardly the inevitable next stage in evolution" , but he clearly says that it's mankind's responsibility to " draw lines regarding acceptable and unacceptable uses" . During the congressionnal hearings that followed the players' revelations in 2005, Joe Bidden said that there was " something unamerican about this" . This matter will be discussed later in the paper, not sure that M. Biden is right on this...<br />But not only high-school and college sport are plagued by doping practices. Various people improve their abilities by taking drugs : fighter pilots use amphetamines to enhance concentration, musicians use beta blockers to prevent performance anxiety and, we come back to education, students use stimulants to increase alertness and concentration. The two most notorious prescription drugs used to that extent are Adderall and Ritalin, both derivatives of amphetamines, and allow " cognitive enhancement" , but students also use it for weight loss (you can study up to 13 hours without rest or food) and recreational purposes. According to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, up to 15% of the student body at selected universities admitted misusing ADD/ADHD medications like Adderall or Ritalin. <br />One of the questions that can be discussed is whether the use of these means of stimulating the mind & the body have to be considered cheating or not. Some say that it depends on the level of competition, others argue that it depends on the nature of the activity in which you compete, some also mean that if itis not prohibited, there's nothing immoral about improving one's performance artificially. Wherever this debate may lead, we can say that the American culture plays an undeniable role in this discussion.<br />As American as apple pie ?<br />In several parts of the movie, American culture is linked to the phenomenon of performance encancing pratices : one bodybuilder thinks that " steroids are as American as apple pie" , the father of a high-school student who commited suicide after quiting taking steroids says that American society is " a competitive society" , and one of the Bell brothers says that he " was born to attain greatness" to justify his lifestyle choice(s). President Nixon said in 1984 that " sport seems to be an ideal vehicle for understanding the pursuit of the American Dream... because achievement and success are so openly and explicitely emphasized in sport" . It seems that the competition-based American culture, which hallows winners and excludes loosers, encourages this kind of practices. This provocative thesis is also supported by the documentary's directory. He concludes that for some Americans, being the best is more important than doing the right thing, and this message is also conveyed by the media, from news coverage to advertising.<br />It's " heroes" like Conan the Barbarian (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Rambo (Silvester Stallone) or Hulk Hogan that led the Bell brothers to start wrestling in the basement of their family house - and to start taking steroids. Today, they were all caught at least once with illegal drugs, but their image still inspires young & old. This obsession for muscular bodies is also shown by the evolution of G.I. Joe action figure, which was (just) a fit soldier a couple in the sixties, and today has a mountainous, v-shaped body.<br />But not only children are influenced by such ideals. The dietary supplements industry, for example, targets grown-out men and women by showing images of very lean and muscular individuals. One of these photo models is interviewed in the documentary and admits that he takes steroids to shape his body. He almost reveals some tricks used to make the bodies more muscular too... but the photographer cuts him down before he comes to an answer. Of course, the producers of pictures like photographers and industrials often retouch and modify the photos to make them more appealing - and misleading. This is one illustration of the practices of this unregulated industry of products which creates this desire to attain impressive results with few efforts. The system, however, does not sanction these practices : the United States indeed is the only country to allow direct advertising of these products (containing derivatives of steroids) to the customer. Furthermore, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) entitles producers not to reveal the exact composition of their products and to use the term " Proprietary Blend" instead.<br />To come back to the social factors that trigger the consumption of performance enhancing drugs and supplements, some suggest that increasing pressure may be an explanation. This is what Dominique Rossi says in his article " Cognitive enhancement on campus" : he talks about " loan-burdened students [pursuing] competitive grade point averages [and] employment opportunities" . This means that students who take these drugs do it to deal with high expectations from their parents, teachers or even from their peers. Not only the students' but also the peoples' social environment (individuals, peer groups, media etc.) produces very high expectations from them. Thus, some of them fall back on means to enhance their abilities artificially, instead of lowering the goals to attain. This has various social implications, and raises some ethical questions.<br />The social issue<br />In the documentary, some of the athletes raise doubts about the dangers of steroids, saying that they cause only 3 deaths a year, while tobacco kills 400,000 and alcohol 75,000 people every year (" more than peanuts" , says one recreational body builder). While statistical sources rarely allow to draw clear conclusions, the short-term side effects of anabolic steroids are clear : symptoms like physical deregulation (liver damage, hypertension, hormonal imbalance) and behavioral troubles (agressivity, depressive feelings) are among the most cited. Besides, these drugs bear high risks of addiction, which amplifies these effects (even though long-term side effects are largely unknown). Amphetamines like Adderall and Ritalin (a derivative of amphetamine) may cause anxiety, insomnia, irritability or increased blood pressure. Beta blockers can have some opposite side effects (a slowed heart rate, dizziness, short-term memory loss), but various other side effects have been reported too.<br />A lot of the issues raised by the youth's tendency to use artificial performance enhancers are ethical and moral. Three different situations can be assessed to discuss the problem :<br />The individual takes some drugs to achieve direct results, influenced by nothing but the desire to experience strength. This is the case, for example, of " cosmetic use" of steroids to improve one's muscular appearance. Since this situation doesn't harm anyone but the individual himself, some argue that it is part of one's individual freedom to experience with these performance enhancers. Two counter-arguments can be raised however : if these substances are prohibited by the law, experiencing with them is a public-order crime and can be sentenced by emprisonment since it violates the order or customs of the community. The other argument is that if performance enhancement is used in a competition, whether it be athletic or intellectual, its use infringes the moral values of the competitive challenge. Since competition is " reacting to the choices, strategies and valued abilities of the other" , introducing this bias turns the situation into " no longer reacting to each other as persons but rather become more like competing bodies" .<br />The individual takes performance enhancers in order to cope with high pressure or to attain objectives which are beyond one's normal abilities. These expectations are often unspoken and come from a young person's supervisors, peers or even parents. In the best case, this excessive pressure just leads to performance anxiety, but it " sometimes causes kids to do things such as take performance enhancing drugs because they're looking to get that extra advantage" , says Dr. Jordan D. Metzl, a renown sports medicine physician from New York City. Even though peer pressure and competition are positive stimuli in a large majority of cases, an excessive emphasis on winning (which is typically American, according to the movie Bigger, Stronger, Faster) can lead to resorting to steroids, amphatamines or other substances.<br />The individual uses performance enhancings drugs because of explicit pressure, whether it be emotional, psychological, verbal or even physical. A survey conducted in 1993 in Minnesota found, for example, that 21% of the state's amateur sportmen said they had been pressured to play with an injury. Few data is available about this type of abuse, and it certainly constitutes a minority of the performance enhancement behaviors in the Unites States. However, these phenomenons are major factors leading to the use of performance enhancing means in sports. Since psychological and physical pressure is harassement, and therefore illegal, this certainly is the most shady part of the problem.<br />These three possibilities vary by the way the youth is influenced by its environment. Whether it is one's personal choice or dictated by some authority, the only situation in which taking performance enhancing drugs is not morally doubtfull is when someone does it outside of any kind of competition. But even then, the uncertainty about its consequences on the body makes taking these drugs as questionable as smoking or regular alcohol consumption.<br />Conclusion<br />From diffuse social influence to explicit pressure, all of these environmental influences result from the society in which a young person grows up and lives. The interactionist approach certainly is the most adapted way of considering this problem, since we've seen that young people's tendency to use performance enhancers can largely be attributed to their environment. The interactionist perspective indeed explores the way people take on the values of the group in which they live. Furthermore, this perspective also analyzes the role of opinion makers in people's adoption of individual and social behaviors. The paper described the role of heroes as reference persons for young people, but also observed that structural pressure led some young Americans to use performance enhancing drugs. A parallel can also be made with the general acceptance of plastic surgery, which is also an artificial way to modify (we'll avoid the verb " improve" ) the body.<br />In the same reconciliation bill that contains the recently adopted health care reform, the House passed is a bill which reforms the federal student loan system, avoiding wastefull subsidization of commercial banks. Beside finding ways to relieve the federal budget, legislators could also think about means to relieve pressure on students who, burdened by loans to pay college education, sometimes fall back on drugs to cope with the pressure.<br />Sources<br />Movie : <br />Bell, Christopher, " Bigger, Stronger, Faster" . BSF Films (2008).<br />Articles : <br />Fernandez, Bobby, " Parental Pressure May Contribute to Youth Steroid Usage" . Greeley Tribune (Jen. 27 2008). Web. 21 Mar. 2010<br />Hawthorne, Karen, " Pro Wrestler 'Med Dog' Bell Found Dead" . National Post (Dec. 19 2009). Web. 10 Mar. 2010.<br />Obasogie, Osagie, " Jose Canseco and Human Genetic Engineering. Will He Be Right Again?" . Center for Genetics and Society (Oct. 21 2005). Web. 10 Mar. 2010.<br />Rossi, Dominique, " Cognitive Enhancement On Campus" . Adbusters (Mar.-Apr. 2010): 88.<br />Shaver, Jennipher. " Underground: The Youth Culture of Steroids." Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro 21.6 (2005): 20-7. OmniFile Full Text Mega. Web. 10 Mar. 2010.<br />Books :<br />Simon, Robert L. " Good Competition and Drug-Enhanced Performance" . Sport Ethics: an Anthology (2003). Blackwell Publishers. Print.<br />Trujillo, Nick & Vande Berg Leah R. " The Rhetoric of Winning and Losing: The American Dream and America's Team" . Media, Sports, & Society (1989). Sage Publications. Print.<br />