PED’s and the Harm Principle by Mill

Blog #4

Section #10

Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s) or “doping” have been an emerging problem in sports since the beginning of the 20th century. As a result of investigations such as BALCO and the Mitchell Report in the MLB, and player “tell-alls” the past 10 years have been a PED centered decade in sports ( Names like Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa come to mind when thinking of the most influential athletes who have used PED’s in order to perform better on the field. While many have come in the MLB, there have been thousands of incidents all across professional sports including the NFL, NBA, Olympics, etc. According to CNN, the first organization to ban the use of any PED’s (Anabolic Steroids, stimulants, HGH etc.) was the International Olympic Committee(IOC) in 1976. A recent occurence in the NFL has been players using adderall/other ADHD medications in order to stay more focused on the field (i.e. Richard Sherman Cornerback Seattle Seahawks). According to Richard Sherman, “Half the League uses adderal”. (yeah okay Richard..)

Richard Sherman - Cornerback for the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks

Richard Sherman – Cornerback for the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks

The issue of PED’s came into mind when reading John Stuart Mill and his expose “On Liberty” Chapters III & IV. The basis of Mill’s teachings in these chapters is the idea of individuality, and that every person has the ability to make personal choices in order to develop and grow as an individual. He speaks on the difference between individuality and conformity, and talks greatly about a concept called the Harm Principle.

The Harm Principle is largely about whether an individuals actions cause harm to others surrounding them. According to Mill, if a person’s actions only cause harm to themselves and not others or society as a whole, then it is an action that no governing body should be able to regulate. In section, we discussed mainly about suicide/euthanasia and if Mill would consent to the act of taking ones life in the context of the Harm Principle. Should government be able to regulate the action of an individual taking their own life? After discussion, the debate was still murky.

The question this blog is asking is whether Mill would be in agreement with individual professional athletes taking performance enhancing drugs in regards to his Harm Principle. Across the “blogosphere”, there are many articles which claim to understand Mill’s understanding of whether an action should be governed.

Education Portal

Education Portal provides a great chart as to how to determine whether an action is inline with Mill’s beliefs

As shown in the diagram an action by an individual should/should not be prevented based on whether it harms other people or not. The caveat that the article addresses is that if the action only hurts someone else’s feelings, then the action should not be prevented. I don’t necessarily agree with that as I believe harming a person’s feelings is just as detrimental as causing physical harm.


Barry Bonds – Home Run King*

In the context of Performance Enhancing Drugs under the guidelines of Mill’s Harm Principle, professional sport organizations should be allowed to regulate and prevent the usage of PED’s by their players. While the usage of these drugs provides a temporary high of performance, the long lasting effects of PED use are drastic such as liver damage, strokes, and depression (USADA). The problem behind this is the fact that the only thing Fans, spectators, and members of the organization see is the immediate positive results on the playing field. An example I like to bring up is the case of Barry Bonds. While Bonds has never admitted to using PED’s, he is the most high profile name associated with the BALCO investigation, and was charged with obstruction of justice of the Bay Area Company by the federal government prior to his retirement in 2007. Bonds on top of the home run charts (762) has affected billions of viewers who had watched him go from the top of the world – to the bottom of the heap. I mainly think of all the young people who worshipped him as an idol – saw his rise to success – then saw how he got there, and decided “Hey, if Barry can do it, why can’t we?” While I cannot prove that Barry Bonds caused thousands of kids to choose to take performance enhancing drugs, even the introduction of Steroids to young peoples lives by their idols and seeing them crumble is detrimental to their mental stability moving forward.

PED use is not only detrimental to the person who is taking them, but the everlasting effect on those around them would prove to Mill that PED use should be regulated by professional sport organizations. It causes harm to the person, the spectators, and the organization supporting them by tainting its reputation and character. The San Francisco Giants and the MLB will forever be linked to a disgusting vile act like Steroid usage, and to me that is harm. And to Mill it would be too!

One thought on “PED’s and the Harm Principle by Mill

  1. Pingback: What If the “Harm Principle” Is about Utility? | THE BIG HOUSE OF IDEAS

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