The Drugs Won: The Case for Ending the Sports War on Doping
The fight against performance-enhancing drugs has long been framed as a moral crusade. But some heretics like retired investigator Don Catlin and former USATF exec Doug Logan now contend that the battle is a quagmire, and doing more harm than good.
This article was originally published on VICE Sports U.S.
Doug Logan had seen enough. For years, he had served on the front line of the sports war on performance-enhancing drugs, first as the commissioner of Major League Soccer, and later as the chief executive officer of USA Track and Field. For years, he believed in the fight.
Logan was a professional mentee of Peter Ueberroth—the man who organized the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and helped fund the country's first anti-doping laboratory—and a lifelong runner himself. Two days after he took the top job at USATF, in the summer of 2008, news broke that former Olympian Marion Jones had asked President George W. Bush to commute her prison sentence for lying to federal investigators about her PED use. Logan responded with a harsh open letter to the White House, calling Jones a liar, a cheat, and a fraud. In 2010, when sprinter LaShawn Merritt blamed a failed doping test on his use of a sexual enhancement supplement purchased at a 7-11 store—an explanation an arbitrator later found credible—Logan nevertheless blasted him publicly, stating he was "disgusted" and that Merritt had brought "shame" to himself and his teammates.
Logan believed it was his job to protect his sport. Back when he established MLS's first drug-testing program, he insisted that front-office executives be tested, too, just like players, and that his urine be the first sample collected in a cup. "I took my responsibility seriously," says Logan, now 73 and living in Sarasota, Florida. "I kind of followed the tribe on this for a long period of time."
During that same span, however, Logan didn't witness any real progress. He would walk the infield at track meets, observe the superhuman physiques all around him—men and women—and know they were crafted with chemical help. He would overhear coaches talking about using asthma inhalers with their athletes, none of whom were actually sick. For all of the strong words and tamper-proof sample bottles, nothing much was changing. Nothing ever had. "My first year in MLS, we had only one positive test," he says. "That was for marijuana. And it was for an off-the-field employee!"
This was a war, Logan began to realize, with few victories. In 2010, he was fired by USATF, reportedly in part for his outspoken style (a subsequent wrongful termination suit was settled). The split gave Logan time to think, and by the summer of 2013 he was ready to share. In an online column titled "May the Best Meds Win," he called the sports war on drugs hypocritical and unwinnable. A quagmire. Dismantle the constabulary, he wrote, starting with the World and U.S. Anti-Doping Agencies, WADA and USADA. Put Barry Bonds in the Baseball Hall of Fame. If athletes break criminal laws, then let them face the consequences; otherwise, let them decide what's best for their bodies. Comparing PED prohibition to the Vietnam War, Logan concluded that it was time to declare victory, give up the fight, and bring the troops home.
"This is a war we have not won, cannot win, and should not be involved with," he says today.
When the Rio Olympics begin on August 5th, thousands of athletes from around the world will march into Maracanã Stadium, smiling and waving national flags. Many will go on to run fast, jump high, and otherwise push the limits of human performance. Some almost certainly will be doping. For decades, the sports world's response to PED use has been the same as Logan's letter to the Oval Office: zero tolerance. Police and punish. No retreat, and certainly no surrender. USADA executive Travis Tygart called Russia's recently revealed state-supported doping program a "violation of the very essence of sport." As is the case with the larger war on drugs, Just Say No is the athletic status quo, with the battle against banned substances ranging from testosterone to cold medicine framed as a moral crusade.
However, a small group of heretics—academics, mostly, but also people like Logan—have started to challenge that view. The war on doping, they contend, has done far more harm than good: wasting money, retarding medicine, fostering corruption, and trampling on athletes' rights and dignity while failing to protect their health. The ongoing Russian scandal—which features bribes, extortion, and state security agents infiltrating a Moscow anti-doping laboratory to slip doctored urine samples through a secret hole in an office wall, all resulting in at lea