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Crossing the Line: reading informational text; Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Sports 8

CCSSELA: RI.8.1, RI.8.2, RI.8.8, RI.8.9


Read the fictional newspaper
and the reader response letter to the op-ed, then answer the TWO practice questions.

Are Performance-Enhancing Drugs Really the Enemy?

by Skip Higginbotham
  1. The term “performance-enhancing drugs” (PEDs) refers to illicit drugs that help an athlete improve their athletic performance or physical condition. They are a major topic of debate in professional sports. Athletes like tennis star Maria Sharapova, soccer player Diego Maradona, and cyclist Lance Armstrong have all been caught using illegal performance enhancers. Those who use these drugs face suspensions, lifetime bans from a sport, or even prison sentences.
  2. Some claim that these drugs provide an unfair advantage to users. They allow elite athletes who are willing to take the risk of
    to soar to heights where athletes who obey the rules can’t follow. Those who have truly examined all sides of the issue, however, argue that banning PEDs is inconsistent, ineffective, and unfair.
  3. If the term “performance-enhancing drugs” described a clear, unambiguous group of substances, the laws governing these pharmaceuticals would be much clearer. However, choosing which drugs to ban is a subjective matter. Caffeine supplements provide a burst of quick energy and are completely legal. However, the health risks include high blood pressure, dizziness, and reduction in calcium absorption. Methamphetamines, which have many of the same side effects, can mean a one-way ticket to prison. Human growth hormone (hGH), which aids in injury recovery, is a banned substance. Creatine, which can cause kidney damage, liver damage, and many other harmful side effects, is not.
  4. In addition to being unclear, laws against PEDs are ineffective. We see this in the number of athletes banned from their sports every year for doping. Despite intensified efforts to catch and punish athletes who use banned substances, doping cases show no sign of going away. The World Anti-Doping Agency reported 1,804 cases of doping in 2017. This was a 13% increase from the year before.
Bar chart 1: definition of anti-doping rule violation (ADRV): either an athlete who tests positive for a banned substance, or who doesn't properly follow the rules around drug testing; e.g. missing several tests, possessing a banned substance. Source: World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), 2017 Anti-Doping Rule Violations Report.
  1. Finally, banning PEDs causes inequitable standards for athletes. It is impossible to test every professional athlete for possible drug usage. In fact, only those with the greatest innate skills are likely to be tested. Swimming superstar Michael Phelps was tested for drug use thirteen times prior to the Rio Olympics. Other, less-talented swimmers were not tested at all. Legalizing PEDs would put all athletes on a level playing field, rather than giving an unfair advantage to those willing to break the rules.
  2. Many will argue that legalizing performance-enhancing drugs risks the health and well-being of athletes. Ultimately, though, all sports are a risk. Do PEDs carry a legitimate health risk? Absolutely. So do concussions, a major danger in all contact sports. Concussions can cause long-term brain damage, and spinal injuries can result in paralysis. Players have broken bones during soccer games, torn ligaments playing tennis, and sustained a huge variety of injuries during boxing or wrestling matches. Athletes willingly accept these risks. These are adults who have committed themselves to athletic excellence. It should be their choice to accept or refuse the possible dangers and advantages of PEDs.
  3. Professional athletes inspire fans by showing what the human body can accomplish. It’s time we allowed them to perform at the highest level possible instead of setting unclear, unrealistic limits on how they can achieve their potential.

Reader Response Letter

  1. To Whom It May Concern:
  2. Last week, this paper published an editorial regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs. This piece advanced views that are extremely short-sighted and dangerous. After reading this article, it would be easy to assume that banning PEDs is ridiculous. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. This paper owes it to its readers to share the actual facts about performance-enhancing drugs.
  3. Performance-enhancing drugs are used to increase the abilities of the human body, making it capable of superhuman achievements in speed, strength, or endurance. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, they do so at a huge cost. PEDs can cause increased aggression, depression, liver damage, and even premature death.
  4. Proponents of legalizing these drugs claim that all sports involve risks to athletes’ health, such as concussions or broken bones. It’s one thing, however, to walk onto a soccer field knowing that an injury is possible. It’s a different story altogether to inject a dangerous drug for the sole purpose of shaving a few tenths of a second off an athlete’s record speed.
  5. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941. Serena Williams’ grand slam records. Michael Phelps’s 23 gold medals. All these records will become irrelevant the moment PEDs are legalized. It is impossible to compare the performance of clean athletes against that of athletes who use drugs to achieve their records. Suddenly, the great athletic achievements of the past will look meaningless and unimpressive compared with new, drug-enhanced accomplishments.
  6. Finally, there are youth sports to consider. Youth sports have become increasingly intense, specialized, and competitive. Even if PEDs were only legalized for adult athletes, it’s obvious that they would trickle down to college and high school athletes, and perhaps even younger. One 2013 study found that 11% of teens reported using synthetic human growth hormone (hGH) for athletic or physical appearance reasons, while 7% said they had used steroids for the same purpose. For kids who see sports as their ticket to a better life, the long-term risks of PEDs will seem like a small price to pay for athletic greatness. Only the awareness that doping leads to immediate consequences, like banning and prosecution, will convince young people that it isn’t worth the risk.
Line graph 1: graph shows % of teens who said they had used synthetic hGH or steroids once or more in their lifetime "for athletic performance or physical appearance" when a doctor did not prescribe them. Source: 2013 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study.
  1. While some sports fans advocate the legalization of PEDs, it’s clear that this will not raise the bar of excellence in sports. Instead, we’ll see more injuries, unfairly-won records, and premature deaths of sports stars. Legalizing these drugs would threaten athletes, fans, and the very institutions of professional sports. I hope this provides food for thought for anyone who might have been convinced by last week’s article regarding legalization of PEDs.
Josefina Diaz
Arcata, California

Practice questions

This question has two parts. Answer Part A, then Part B.

Part A

What is the central idea of the letter?
Choose 1 answer:

Part B

What evidence from the text best supports this central idea?
Choose 1 answer:
Psst! Don't forget to choose an answer for both questions :)