Steroid users lie and cheat. They lie by claiming to others that they do not use steroids. They cheat by claiming to competitors that they are competing on the same ground rules. They cheat by the unequal playing field effect. Their actions degrade the sport into an activity no longer connected to being human but to being augmented humans.
The deepest moral problem with using performance enhancing drugs extends the lying to stealing and betraying. Human sport as a practice grows from the drive to achieve excellence. In every society we know of the perfection and display of physical excellence in war and play exists. Play teaches humans to refine physical and mental skills through joyful repetitive actions. Play grows into sport and athletes develop what Aristotle would call virtue. They integrate mind, body and will to practice and through thoughtful repetition become better and more skilled at their fields.
The worth of athletics, the reason to admire it as a human endeavor lies in appreciating human possibility, human achievement. Real athletics is not scripted, it is not entertainment but carries a thrill and challenge of watching individuals and teams push themselves and others to excel and win. Athletics depends upon the attribute of its humanness and the uncertainties of being mortal.
This drive to develop our capacities and skills through games explains why we play and enjoy sports. We connect to the drive for distinction and the expansion of human potential in the best athletes. Beneath it all lies the sheer joy at play and skill cultivated from practice.
I have mentioned the tendency in humans to cheat in order to win and excel. This is not unusual, it exists as a temptation and reality in all domains of life. It is why the role of referees is so vital. What matters with athletes and steroids is that the athletes deny the premise of acting on the basis of their body and effort. They augment their body and betray themselves, the sport and their achievements.
The issue comes up often in battles over technologies whether new softball bats, swimming suits, tennis rackets or golf balls change performance of similar athletes by virtue of the technology alone. Most of these are solved by equalizing the technology used across competitors so that the game remains a human contest. To the extent technology affects it, it does so equally. The circus that passes for the American cup racing now has no relation to sports but has become a mere technological arms race.
Some suggest just letting everyone use performance enhancing drugs and pretend it is still a human sport. But this misses the point that it not only means the quality of the human beings changes chemically, and the sport moves to technology and arms races much like what happened with the East Germans who created an entire pharmaceutical industry to support their Olympic achievements.
Steroid using athletes steal false gain. Just as Prometheus stole fire from the gods, athletes steal performance enhancers to make themselves more than human. This disqualifies them as honest human athletes.
The most common steroids and human growth enhancers have two related impacts. First, they help generate human protein and muscle faster from the same amount of effort. They permit this through enhancing the efficiency of protein production and utilization but also promoting recover time. You can get bulked up monsters like Barry Bonds or smooth toned muscles like Alex Rodriquez depending upon the sophistication of the applications. Second, the steroids enable faster recovery time from effort. This helps with conditioning, but more important and the reason so many aging or borderline pitchers use them is that they enable a much faster recovery time. So age impact can be staved off, and workloads can go up with less cost.
The key here is that an individual human could achieve a certain degree of excellence upon the basis of his or her own work, talent, skill. They can push to their boundaries by their work ethics, which really separates those of roughly equal talent from each other.
But a Mark McGwire on steroids is not longer an honest human competitor; he is an augmented human. His muscles build faster, larger and stronger. He recovers quicker than a non-using human being because of his drug use. Given the same effort and same talent, he will succeed more than an equal by virtue of his chemical use, no other reason. This makes it unfair and inhuman.
Steroids and human growth enhancers can help people recover from illness or hold off debilitations of aging and chronic illness. These protect against conditions and illness, but steroid using athletes use drugs to enhance their performance beyond what their own body and efforts would achieve.
Steroids users betray their humanity. They betray themselves. The early Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriquez were great athletes as human athletes; the later ones sacrificed their integrity. None of them was the same physical being after they used steroids. In fact none of them was the same psychological being given what we know about the impact upon judgment and emotions. They literally are not longer the person they were before they ingest the drug.
These athletes steal from science to become more than themselves. They betray themselves. Finally they betray the game by pretending that they achieve by honest means. They lie to everyone and claim records, victories and championships based on the false premises that their human bodies achieved them, not their scientifically altered bodies and minds. This is the moral failure of performance enhancers.