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Are Drugs Any Different? Don't Bet on It

By Emma Thomas | Considering Another Side Essays

“The NCAA opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community” (“College Sports Betting”). The Internet has made it easier than ever for gambling to occur in an anonymous and unsupervised manner. Furthermore, student-athletes are considered to be easy marks for organized crime and at risk of resorting to methods of payment that both threaten the well-being of the student-athletes and undermine athletic competition (“Sports Wagering”). However, there has never been a proposal to track the bank accounts of student-athletes or even for institutions to randomly spot check the financial activities of student-athletes. Indeed, the suggestion of either of these options would undoubtedly result in uproar in collegiate athletics; it would be considered an invasion of privacy and a violation of the student-athlete’s Fourth Amendment rights. Yet by simply replacing the words ‘sports wagering’ with ‘drug use’ in the above quote one can accurately represent the NCAA’s position on drugs, and suddenly, violating Fourth Amendment rights and invading privacy becomes acceptable. This essay proposes that it is inappropriate for student-athletes to be tested for drugs by their athletic institutions and that, in line with sports wagering policies, education and psychological intervention should instead be used to promote anti-doping.

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution gives citizens the right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” (“Bill of Rights”). While it is generally accepted that urine testing constitutes a ‘search,’ there is some ambiguity over what is considered ‘unreasonable.’ However, the Fourth Amendment is mostly interpreted to mean that there must be some degree of warranted suspicion in order to justify the search; therefore, searches of whole groups are generally forbidden. Consequently, it should be considered that while urine testing based on suspicion of drug use is acceptable, preventative random drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment rights of student-athletes.

Not only does drug testing violate the student-athlete’s right to privacy, but providing a sample is also an incredibly degrading experience. For those who have been lucky enough not to be subjected to the humiliation that is observed drug testing, imagine squatting over a toilet, holding a cup underneath you, with your underwear around your ankles and jersey tucked in your bra. Then add in a middle aged woman, chatting aimlessly at you, watching like a hawk, willing you to pee. Perhaps you might now begin to appreciate how mortifying, not to mention time consuming and inconvenient, the whole ordeal is.

Furthermore, the fact that the tests are only screened for stimulants, steroids and recreational drugs means that their success in preserving the long-term health of student-athletes is questionable (Worth). In his book, Taking Sides: Clashing views in Drugs and Society, Raymond Goldenburg suggests that drug tests are ineffective at protecting student-athlete health because they focus on illegal drugs rather than tobacco and alcohol. Though these drugs are considered relatively harmless, they are far more widely used than banned substances and have the potential to be more damaging to health, academic achievement, and sporting performance, particularly in student-athletes (389).

Another important factor is the amount of money universities allocate to drug testing student-athletes. According to Darryl Conway, University of Maryland Assistant Athletic Director Sports Medicine, 750 drug tests were conducted by the University of Maryland in the 2007-2008 school year, each costing $30 (Conway).  Using the University of Maryland as an example, a total of $22,500 is spent on drug testing alone; the salary of the administrating staff is an additional expense that is likely to at least double this figure. While this may not seem like a large amount of money compared to the huge budgets of most athletic programs, in the current economic climate, every cent really does count. The impact of the economic downturn on sports teams at the University of Maryland is exemplified by the change in travel choices; in Fall 2008, teams travelled by air to competitions more than six hours drive away; in both Spring and Fall 2009, teams are forced to travel by coach for journeys up to twelve hours. Furthermore, the number of overnight stays has been significantly reduced due to budget constraints. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly imperative that anti-doping in college student-athletes operates in an economic, yet still effective manner, and thus random drug testing, which is not economical, must end.

Furthermore, drug testing is, at best, a short-term solution that does not have a significant impact on the long-term health and well being of student-athletes, which many schools cite as the goal of drug testing. While drug testing might be sufficient to discourage drug use amongst student-athletes during their playing and practice seasons, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on student-athletes knowledge about the risks of drugs. In fact, study by Yusko et al. found tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs to be particularly widely used by student-athletes outside of their practice and competition season. There are several educational techniques described on the NCAA website to prevent sports wagering that would also be suitable for use as anti-doping tools. Providing education to student-athletes, coaches and officials about the dangers of sports wagering, information, as well as conducting locker room visits to educate and answer questions would be a good first step. This should be supported by holding information sessions at annual compliance seminars, providing on-campus compliance officers with educational resources, and creating an interactive educational website, which would all be beneficial in preventing drug testing (“College Sports Betting”).

Moreover, upperclassmen play a significant role in shaping the culture of the team by setting a standard and a philosophy for lowerclassmen. In my experience as an incoming student-athlete, it was the interactions and friendships I built with team-mates, rather than with coaching or academic staff, that most shaped my attitude towards school-work, practice, nutrition and what constituted acceptable behaviour for a student-athlete. As student-athletes are role models for one another, providing information and education is essential to help foster a powerful culture of anti-doping.

Student-athletes are not only considered to be role models to one another, but also to fellow students and fans. While many student-athletes speak out on their stance on drug use, few have the knowledge to do this with advanced reasoning. Where student-athletes make the choice not to use drugs, as opposed to being in an environment where drug use is prohibited, their decision may carry greater weight with others and have a greater impact on the drug use decisions of others. Furthermore, the Mission and Goals Statement of the University of Maryland is to “prepare all graduates for productive roles in society” (“University of Maryland Board of Regents”). While drug testing does not hinder graduates’ ability to hold a productive role in society in the future, it affords neither the same long-term protection against drug use, nor does it enable student-athletes to educate and inform others in the future.

Additionally, O’Reilly and Madill’s article, “The World Anti-Doping Agency: The Role of Social Marketing,” suggests that social marketing, a specific form of marketing designed to achieve specific behavioural goals, could enhance educational and legal approaches to anti-doping. Unlike drug testing, which is a retroactive prevention, social marketing is a proactive technique that seeks to use normal marketing techniques to influence social behaviours in order to benefit the target audience and society as a whole. Research proposes that social marketing “succeeds by increasing the proportion of interventions that emphasise individual change” (Andreasen 112). Evidence suggests that social marketing has not yet been used in anti-doping, and that it could be a powerful tool in changing society’s opinions regarding drug use, both inside and outside of athletics.

Another field that is coming into the spotlight is that of sports psychology. While psychological intervention is being used increasingly by collegiate sports teams to improve team dynamics, technical consistency and management of competition pressure, it can also be an effective mechanism to prevent drug-use. It has been found that athletes with high task orientation declared the most favourable attitudes toward doping, while athletes with low task orientation declared the least favourable attitudes (Sas-Nowosielski and Swaitkowsia). Task orientation is evident when perceptions of competition are self-referenced and based on maximal effort and personal improvement. In this system performance is evaluated based on personal skill improvement and errors are viewed as part of learning. This means that athletes are encouraged to compete to be the best they can be, instead of competing to achieve certain goals. Furthermore, task orientation is associated with reduced performance anxiety, better overall performance, greater performance satisfaction and higher levels of enjoyment (Jowett and Lavallee 146). Creating a motivational climate that promotes task orientation, could not only improve confidence and performance, but also aid long-term anti-doping efforts, since athletes who do not judge their performance on results are less likely to feel the need to use drugs in order to meet those expected results.

Given the NCAA’s identical stance on drug use and sports wagering, it is inconsistent for education and marketing to be considered sufficient to protect student-athletes from becoming involved in sports wagering, but for the ordeal of observed urine testing to be deemed necessary to prevent drug use. Furthermore, evidence suggests that psychological intervention and sports marketing could be effective in proactively reducing drug use in student-athletes. Additionally, drug testing is a much shorter term solution since it has no impact on athletes’ opinions on drugs in the future, and has no precipitating impact over time. Moreover, longer-term interventions have the capability to reduce the costs of anti-doping through peer education and culture. Consequently, it should not be considered appropriate for student-athletes to be drug tested by their athletic institutions. Instead, in line with sports wagering policies, education, psychological intervention and social marketing should be used to promote anti-doping.

Works Cited


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