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Ex-NFL player says Congress should regulate steroids in pro sports

Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor
217-333-0568; jdennis@illinois.edu

Josh Whitman
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Photo by Mark Jones
Law student and former NFL tight end Josh Whitman says Congress should regulate steroids in pro sports.

1/28/2008

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Congress should step in to regulate performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports because players and owners lack incentive to effectively police themselves, former NFL tight end Josh Whitman says.

 “Faced with the overwhelming incentives present in modern sports – whether tangible like money or intangible like the competitor’s inner drive – it is both unrealistic and arguably unfair to ask athletes to protect themselves from the innate parts of their own character that we cheer so heartily while they are within the competitive arena,” Whitman wrote in an article published in the January issue of the University of Illinois Law Review.

The goal of those involved in professional sports, Whitman says, is to win – now and at virtually any cost.  The financial and social benefits gained from on-field success and the rapidly diminishing time window for athletes to achieve that success contribute to a modern sports culture that emphasizes the ends over the means – victory over integrity, Whitman argues. 

Whitman is a third-year law student at the U. of I. He was an Academic All-American at Illinois before graduating in 2001 and moving on to the NFL, where he had a four-year career with the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins.

For some players, Whitman writes, success becomes all-consuming, clouding their decision-making ability.

“Residual notions of fair play, espoused by youth league coaches and well-meaning parents during the athlete’s formative years, are replaced by the overriding pursuit of the fruits of victory. … For many, performance-enhancing drugs provide a competitive edge that enables them to take another step toward their dreams.

“For others, the motivation is less pure: The fame and fortune accompanying drug-induced athletic success can be irresistible,” Whitman wrote.

Whitman contends steroid use in sports threatens impressionable youth, as well as “many of the ideals this country holds dear: integrity, hard work and the valorous pursuit of victory.”

“At no time in American history has the awe-inspired question ‘How’d they do that?’ following remarkable athletic accomplishments carried such gravity,” Whitman wrote. “If enthusiasm is the mark of the true fan, skepticism has emerged as its constant companion. Today, no sooner do we applaud amazing athletic achievements than do we ponder the means by which they were accomplished.”

Government regulation would guard the integrity of sports and also protect those youth who might turn to steroids to follow their own dreams of glory, Whitman argues.

Faced with such a skewed incentive system, he argues that Congress, which recently launched another round of hearings on steroids in sports, “should remove the onus of developing drug-testing provisions from the individual parties and should itself create drug-management strategies aimed at reducing (steroid) use in American professional sports to a socially desirable level.”

Whitman’s article, “Winning at all Costs: Using Law & Economics to Determine the Proper Role of Government in Regulating the Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Professional Sports,” was awarded the U. of I. Law Review’s Best Note Award and was recently nominated by the College of Law for the Burton Award for Legal Achievement, a national legal writing award.

Editor’s note: To contact Josh Whitman, call 217-265-0347; e-mail jwhitman@illinois.edu.