The Price of Winning at Any Cost

With Eric Cohen, Washington Post Outlook, February 1, 2004.


It’s Super Bowl Sunday. A day of hype and heroics. Big money and bragging rights. In all likelihood, more people will watch Super Bowl XXXVIII on television than will vote in the next election. But some of us who have watched football since before the first Super Bowl will find ourselves perplexed: What sort of human activity are we watching and why? And who are these supersize combatants on our screens?

What the screen rarely reveals are the competitors behind the men on the gridiron: a slew of trainers, nutritionists, physical therapists, psychic advisers and video analysts, not to mention their hidden boosters — a wide range of supplements, surgeries and performance-enhancing drugs.

We are a long way from the sporting days of “Chariots of Fire,” when an Olympics-bound athlete could be censured for using a professional trainer. Today, although we still fuss about the use of steroids in sports, we are actually complicit in the growing dependencies of our gigantic heroes. We not only enjoy the spectacle of greater power and speed pitted against fiercer pursuit and bone-crushing tackles; we cannot readily articulate our unease with performance-enhancing drugs — either in athletics or in many other activities.