Over the last few weeks, we have spent a lot of time talking about Machiavelli’s The Prince and Martin Hollis’ Dirty Hands. The Prince is essentially a piece of writing that outlines how Machiavelli believes a Prince should rule over his people. The Hollis reading, which is based around many of Machiavelli’s ideas, presents the principle we have talked about, that of Dirty Hands. This principle states that in politics, people are forced to make decisions they know are immoral and wrong, but do so for the betterment of the greater good.
Something that I have been thinking about over the last few days is whether I could relate the principle of Dirty Hands to something other than politics, and one possibility that came to mind was sports. In our world some of the most popular people are professional athletes. They make millions of dollars while serving as some of our biggest role models; although most of them have nothing to do with politics, I believe that because of recent events, that the Dirty Hands theory may be applicable to sports. Do professional athletes, as role models, millionaires and celebrities have an obligation to their fans to play clean and free of illegal substances? Or do you think this is a stretch, and the theory of Dirty Hands can’t be applied to professional sports?
In 2003, the federal government launched an investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Company (BACLCO) which was owned by Victor Conte, and for years had been suspected of providing performance enhancing drugs to many professional athletes, especially baseball players. As the investigation began to heat up, information began to surface that linked prominent American athletes such as baseball players Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens and Olympic gold medalists Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery to steroid usage. As more details began to surface, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig asked former Senator George Mitchell to lead an investigation into past steroid usage by MLB players. In December 2007, The Mitchell Report was released and it rocked the sports world, because its findings coincided with the BALCO investigation, and implicated Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens, among many others as probable steroid users. At this point, I believe that the theory of Dirty Hands is applicable to professional athletics, because just a few months after the report was released, Barry Bonds, Marion Jones and Roger Clemens, were indicted on federal charges of obstruction of justice, lying to a grand jury and perjury. Marion Jones, would ultimately be stripped of all five of her gold medals from the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, and was sentenced to six months in jail, while Bonds and Clemens are still entangled in legal troubles of their own.
The reason I believe this issue could be considered Dirty Hands, is that from the very beginning these athletes, who already have plenty of money and fame, made the decision to break the rules of their athletic leagues and the federal government. Like the politicians who are the leaders of our nation, these athletes who are the faces of their respective teams and sports, put themselves above other players and knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs in hopes of making themselves and their teams more successful. I argue that in this situation the players viewed enhanced skills as beneficial for themselves and their teammates, because it would help to make their teams better as a whole. However, the implicated athletes made matters worse, because they could have came clean and saved themselves more trouble, but they knowingly lied again. This second attempt to deceive their fans and teammates, only to dug them into a deeper whole, one that has already put a five time gold medalist in prison.
What do you think Machiavelli would say about the athletes’ decision to use steroids? Would he support it, saying that they should do whatever they can to get a leg up on their competition (that is if they could be a fox and not get caught) or would he call them fools for putting themselves in such a position in the first place? Judging from The Prince and the Hollis reading, I think Machiavelli would be in favor of anything these athletes could to do give themselves and their teams an advantage, regardless of whether they needed to break the rules to do so. However, I think the most important thing he would say is that they must not get caught, because these athletes are the leaders of their sports, just like a Prince is the leader of his people.