Tommy Boone, PhD, MPH, MA, FASEP, EPC
Dietary "Sports" Supplements: The University
Teacher’s Role in Teaching Values?
Professor and Chair
Director, Exercise Physiology Laboratories
The College of St. Scholastica
Duluth, MN 55811
“Exercise physiologists do not
deal just in technical matters. Their business is to deliver a service
and to do it ethically, which goes to the heart of the profession.”
William T. Boone, Jr.
WHILE IT IS important to teach sound sports
nutrition, it is an ethical problem to teach students and athletes that
it is okay to take supplements to level the playing field. Or, is
it unethical? The question needs an answer. The idea used to
be that participation in sports teaches us about honesty and commitment
to fair play. Now, if young athletes have their way, it appears that
they would rather substitute drugs and supplements for talent, skill, hard
work, and motivation. “Win at all costs” is today’s thinking!
The cheaters have become our heroes. None of this is new. Athletes
have taken performance-enhancing drugs since the beginning of ancient sports.
So, what is the deal? In short, aside from the wining of trophies,
sports is also about teaching athletes the right and wrong behavior (ethics)
of dealing with life’s challenges and problems to being successful.
Instead, sports are more about pharmacy than about ethics. Managers
of sports programs, coach of athletic teams, sports medicine physicians,
and a host of others are pushing the cheaters’ rules of the game.
Doping, drugs, supplements and other dubious practices should not be part
of athletics. Exercise physiologists ought to be teaching that it
is wrong to substitute supplements for athletic training. Dietary
supplements are unregulated. Some are linked to serious health risks,
yet athletes will risk even death to get their hands on the so-called “sports
Robert Voy, a medical doctor and past chief
medical officer of the United States Olympic Committee, had this to say:
“…using performance enhancing drugs is cheating, plain, and simple” .
Everyone knows that a high percentage of athletes, young and old, are taking
all kinds of drugs to get their personal best. Winning is everything
because that is exactly what we have encouraged athletes to think.
Participants in amateur sports believe it and, worse yet, many children
between the ages of 10 and 15 years believe it. They know more about
retail outlets, the content of fitness magazines, the Internet sources,
and the black market than the university teachers. Who among exercise
physiologists is analyzing the ethical questions that surround sports supplements?
Is there an ethical problem with the use of supplements? Or, does
it become an ethical problem only when the supplement becomes illicit or
banned or when an athlete dies? Who is addressing the ethical conflicts
that arise when researchers take money from supplement companies and, afterwards,
fail to report findings that are contrary to the industry’s beliefs or
marketing strategies? The conflict that arises from this kind of
research is huge . Failure to disclose it to students is a problem.
Teachers above most other professionals are suppose to be open-minded,
objective, and fair when it comes to the education of students. The
fallout of questions that center directly on “competitive advantage” and
“leveling the playing field” need a straightforward answer or otherwise
it can only hurt the teaching profession .
Like the IOC medical code, most professions
have a code of ethics and, clearly, the professional status of each is
defined by agreed upon standards of conduct. What I’ve come to realize
is that when exercise physiologists are confronted with this particular
point, they become defensive if not angry. “Who are you to say these
things to us?” Or, “You don’t get it. You are out of the loop?”
You can hear them saying, “Hey, we need the research grants from the supplement
industry to build our laboratories so we can do good, quality research.”
I agree. There isn’t any question that college departments need more
money for all kinds of reasons, including research equipment and resources.
However, the university teacher’s task is to keep the work honest and to
keep it ethical, which goes beyond buying, cleaning, calibrating, using
laboratory equipment, and publishing more papers. It means engineering
new thinking, especially when the old thinking is problematic. For
example, when university teachers either encourage or look the other way
when athletes use amphetamines, narcotics, anabolic agents, peptide hormones,
and ergogenic nutritional aids like carnitive, chromium picolinate, creatine,
and sodium bicarbonate, they are failing to speak against a way of thinking
that goes against the spirit of fair competition. I dare say that
many academic exercise physiologists have not taken the time to justify
their involvement with nutritional supplements, products, and services
of the supplement industry and yet, according to Charles E. Yesalis and
Virginia S. Cowart , authors of The Steroids Game, “…to win at the cost
of your health, breaking the law, and cheating is wrong and cannot be justified.”
In my personal opinion, whatever we call reality with encouraging athletes
to use dietary supplements to level the playing field, it is also mixed
with an image of possibilities that lack in bringing order to the players’
lives. Understandably, the use of ergogenic nutritional aids is not
the same as anabolic-androgenic steroid use, but where do you draw the
“The risks are something the takers
ignore, or the suppliers say nothing about. Added to this is the
fact that the IOC was able to find Nandrolone in over 14% of muscle-building
supplements it tested, all claiming to be ‘natural, safe, or steroid-free’
athletes.” -- sports-drugs.com
Recently, a colleague said: “Exercise physiologists
appear to lack a critical connection between building character and competitive
sports.” Is it true? Have the decades of emphasis on ergogenic
aids to improve sports training and/or performance caused us to think that
it is okay to do “whatever it takes” to improve athletes’ ability to win?
After all, winning is the name of the game. And, as exercise physiologists
developed themselves as researchers, they became good at researching nutritional
supplements. No one took the time to think that it might be wrong
since supplements were not banned drugs. So, it was easy to think
that the way to better athletics is through dietary supplements and, for
a long time, I also taught the typical sports supplements information.
Why not? It seemed to be the right thing to do. Today, however,
it is different. Yet, there are essentially no exercise physiologists
who are willing to argue against the use of supplements. It is next
to impossible to find exercise physiologists who will agree that taking
sports supplements to win is wrong. It is part of what exercise physiologists
“The use of nutritional or dietary
supplements is completely at the athlete’s own risk, even if the supplements
are ‘approved’ or ‘verified’.” – Athlete Advisory, United States Anti-Doping
The idea that supplements are somehow wrong
has not been discussed in great detail. The problem then arises as
to the message students are getting. Certainly, the teaching of sports
nutrition (and thus many types of supplements) to level the playing field
offends many who enjoy competitive sports without drugs making them into
a circus show. We might conclude that the current method of athletic
enhancement is based on conflicting values. We need to take the idea
that athletes can and should do whatever necessary to win far more seriously.
Such thinking is not in the best interest of athletes. It also lacks
awareness of a sound objective reality that ought to be part of the professional
development of exercise physiology. If this view has any merit at
all, then it is just a matter of time the competence of academic exercise
physiologists will need to be rethought. Others understand this point.
Parents are getting the message. Frankly, I have never understood
how values can be taught when athletes, winners or otherwise, are encouraged
to take performance-enhancing supplements. It is a contradiction
in sport ethics. Simply stated: We have no business of encouraging
children and young people to believe that the only reason to play sports
is to win. It is an absurd notion.
“The potential benefits to society
and to the individual from sport will only be maximized where fair play
is center stage.” -- Council of Europe
It is now a matter of members communicating
that intellectual dishonesty in exercise physiology weakens the integrity
of the evolving profession. Central to membership in a professional
organization is the moral balance and appreciation for ethically based
thinking. Members are expected to demonstrate the capacity to think
well for the sake of developing the highest organizational values and standards.
Their participation gives rise to a rational professional understanding
of the ethical principles upon which the rules of professional conduct
are based. The member who understands this moral connection will
act out of desire to do the right thing. Similarly, the professor’s
tasks, who is a member of yet another professional organization of educators,
should be to:
1. Teach a morally defensible
way for graduates to interact with the public sector. Students should
be taught that rules govern sports and life. The idea that “fairness”
is an out-dated concept is morally unacceptable.
This paper is probably the first of many that
will argue that exercise physiologists must pay attention to issues of
an ethical dimension to their teaching if a full professional statement
of their work is to be achieved. It is also an effort of ongoing
work to pull academic exercise physiologists out of a “deadly” way of thinking
or myth  and into a declared statement of values that define the professional
practice of exercise physiology. This effort is clearly vital to
the adoption of the ASEP mindset  that leads to a fuller understanding
of exercise physiology professionalism. By mindset, I’m referring
to the criteria that define professionalism (e.g., expertise, autonomy,
and altruism). University teachers can’t just sit back and develop
their “specialized knowledge” and argue for “independence” without also
paying attention to the ethical side of professional development (altruism).
This is also another way of saying that university teachers cannot overlook
the ethical concerns of their clients. Other healthcare professionals
understand this point all too well. That is why physical therapists
have not only defined their exclusive body of knowledge and practice as
well as their right (through licensure) to control entry into and practice
within the profession. They understand that if the practice is not
defined by ethical thinking , the practice of physical therapy is meaningless.
2. Teach that cheating is unacceptable.
Even if every athlete is using supplements to gain an advantage, it is
wrong and unacceptable behavior.
3. Discuss the importance of the rules
of sports and the ethical principles upon which sports are based, particularly
with reference to moral learning and development beyond sports.
4. Emphasize that winning at all costs
is a gross misunderstanding of sports and the admirable qualities of athletes
upon which others model their lives.
5. Speak out when the sports behavior
of athletes, coaches, and researchers is inappropriate, especially when
athletes are not taught the dignity in defeat.
6. Model, through personal and professional
behavior, the thoughts and feelings of what is right and acceptable sports
7. Demonstrate a genuine commitment to
fairness and honesty in sports competition.
8. Counsel individual members of the profession
and athletes, in particular, to help them understand what is right and
fair in athletics.
It has to be recognized by exercise physiologists
that “instilling values” (such as fair play and sportsmanship) is imperative
to professional development. It allows members of the profession
to evolve to professional status whereby they can justify their practice
as ethical and honest. This is clearly not something exercise physiologists
discuss or teach in their college classes. It doesn’t get research
data collected or manuscripts published. It may even be argued that
discussion of professional issues is a waste of time and unnecessary.
This seems to be the case among some gatekeepers (university teachers)
throughout the United States. Their lack of a formal education about
professionalism and the ethics of a professional practice may be one reason
why their appreciation for the professionalization of exercise physiology
is rudimentary. There is also the problem that stems from groupthink
[8-10], especially when speaking the truth is compromised by the powerful
position of the organizations to which the members belong.
Exercise physiologists have a Code of Ethics
 that applies to the members of the American Society of Exercise Physiologists.
Exercise physiology ethics, therefore, applies to members of the ASEP organization
and to no one else. This reason, among others, is both a standard
and a challenge because it teaches and guides exercise physiologists in
the right way to practice the profession. This is true of the profession
of exercise physiology just as it is of the physical therapy or nursing
professions. As suggested earlier, teaching ethics is not part of
the mix of exercise physiology courses, yet it should be for obvious reasons.
Students need to be aware that they are part of a profession defined by
a scope of practice that is technically and professionally part of their
altruistic beliefs. But, it is self evident that the understanding
of ethics is poor among students. This is why university teachers
should teach a course in the professional ethics of exercise physiology
. And, the entire subject matter should be part of the curriculum
not by chance but by purpose. Needless to say, though, this is not
happening. Professors are seldom organized to teach ethics nor do
they typically search for opportunities to do so. So, how are students
going to develop habits of ethical thinking so that they can understand
professional responsibility to the public?
If one reflects on the importance of instilling
values among our students, we can agree that there is a problem.
Not only is the clash of interests between sports medicine and exercise
physiologists unsettling, it is central to a better understanding of how
we should collectively manage our ethical concerns and issues .
It is easy to look the other way. It is difficult to look at the
problem, especially since it also requires acknowledging that his/her direct
participation in sports medicine has contributed to the problem.
It is my belief that the “beginning of wisdom” is triggered by coming to
grips with what is best for our students’ education and future job opportunities
. And, admittedly, it is hard to change one’s perspective, especially
when it is comfortable, but that is exactly the simplicity of right thinking
for the right reasons. It is also clear that instilling values is
not just worth discussing, but is valuable both in the support of the students’
education and emotional growth. This point has received greater attention
among other more established groups of professionals who have addressed
the issues underlying training rather than education. Training is
not an education, and all training is defined by its absence of elaboration
of meaning (values). Perhaps this is the crux of the problem and
the reason for new standards of professional development by the ASEP organization
that should be taught by university teachers.
People who identify with this description
can be found in all kinds of careers in exercise physiology. By virtue
of their challenges to find both professional respect and financial stability,
that is, those without the doctorate degree, they have navigated to a variety
of organizations that appear to act more on their behalf. Many have
conformed to the values and beliefs of these organizations and, therefore,
are in adherence to their mission. Others continue to struggle with
finding the organization that fits into their notion and personal values
that associate with exercise physiology. It is a huge struggle of
values, ideals, and identities tempered with a hopeful expectation that
something better will come along (in the form of licensure, in particular).
Ultimately, this radical idea was pushed through in Louisiana and, as such,
has failed to address the needs of exercise physiologists throughout the
United States. In short, those who challenged the system and made
the big splash (i.e., licensure) were not prepared for licensure not defining
their professionalism. Sustainable professional growth is doable
only when founded on existing practices of organizational development inspired
by ethical thinking. To expect the same results from an altogether
different approach is suggestive of running a race without proper training
before hand. It simply violates the path to professionalism 
and, in the end, upsets the collaborate effort to bring about real change,
respect, and cooperation with other healthcare professionals.
This occurred because no one took the time
to organize for sustainable change defined by established procedures.
This is not true with the ASEP organization. The founding members
inspired change by literally beginning with the smallest problems first
and, then, moved to more crucial concerns as they unfolded. While
the task may seem nearly impossible, the ASEP vision has catalyzed a new
and profound organizational structure and social context for all exercise
physiologists that have never existed before. The 1997 founding of
the exercise physiology professional organization meets the needs of its
members, which is not a revolutionary idea in itself. However, creating
an organization just for exercise physiologists is revolutionary.
As a result, students interested in exercise physiology should become members
and, therefore, confirm their commitment to the observable differences
between ASEP and other organizations. Another important task of university
teachers is to send signals to their students that it is okay (if not expected)
for them to join ASEP and become part of the change process. Exercise
physiology is a profession. Students should be encouraged to challenge
conventional thinking about exercise physiology so that new ideas will
be considered, developed, embraced, and nurtured. The time is right
to address this new model of thinking about exercise physiology; one with
values and hopes about a professional healthcare career with social, economic,
and technological implications in addition to the obvious physical and
athletic concerns. This would ultimately enhance the public’s view
of the practice of exercise physiology.
The university teacher’s responsibility
is awesome and even unmatched by most other professions. Teaching
is not for everyone. Thinking right is a challenge, especially when
asked to examine presuppositions that many exercise physiologists take
for granted. Again, the idea of encouraging sport supplements is
a natural behavior, yet it is practiced with unfortunate consequences.
The seemingly unrelated “do whatever it takes to win” is often crafted
in real life situations to accommodate the notion that its okay to cheat
on one’s resume to get a job or misrepresent someone else’s work for your
work to get a promotion. This unbundling of the right way to think
is a poor investment in the students’ education. Many correctly understand
this point; others have abandoned making the connections between an education
and right (ethical) thinking. Interestingly, corporations understand
the commitment to education and ethics.
“A number of corporations have
been moving to create ethics officers who report to the highest level of
authority and play increasingly major roles in setting and reviewing corporate
policy…” – John B. Bennett 
Is this what ASEP should do? With an
“ethics officer” there might be an increased emphasis placed on ethical
behavior. On the other hand, the commitment of one person to keep
ethical thinking central to the organization’s purpose may not be a great
idea. Why? Because professionalism incorporates ethics and
all members ought to value the commitment to professional development.
Being unfaithful to the challenges and opportunities to educate students
in the most ethical manner cannot be tolerated. Members of other
professions understand that ethical practices under gird the integrity
of their products and their fundamental relationship with the larger community.
The professor’s task is no different. Education is about seeing what
students can become. Here again, the role of the professor is to
set the example in terms of attitudes and values. Similarly, the role of
a board member of any organization is helping the members do the right
thing even when they hear statements like, “Why even bother with ethics.
Everyone is doing it. Get real.” Or “Who are we hurting? Athletes
want the stuff.” Regardless of whether they want it or whether they
have been taught that performance-enhancing drugs and supplements are okay,
it is the wrong message for young people. Athletes should be athletes,
nothing more, nothing less.
But, unfortunately, there is strong financial
incentive and support throughout the United States by business-minded executives
to exploit athletes to ensure maximum financial benefit to their companies.
They represent individuals with very low standards of ethics. They
are responsible to no one but their business partners and activities.
Members of ASEP (and especially the Board of Directors) ought to be (as
well as the university teachers) responsible to their stakeholders (i.e.,
ASEP members and students, respectively). What they do and say (or
fail to do and say) influences the professional development of the organization
and board members’ ability to achieve the ASEP vision. This is why
questionable practices must be written about. A starting point for
coming to this understanding is the Exercise Physiologist’s Code of Ethics.
The ASEP organization is serious about ethics. It has to be because
it is a professional organization. It is also a new way to perceive
the world of exercise physiology. That is, a new paradigm (model)
for exercise physiologists. Naturally, those who practice the present
paradigm are at risk of losing something with the change in paradigms .
They will think the shift is absurd, stupid, or just a waste of time.
However, this article and others like it throughout the print copy journals
and the Internet sources represent the beginning of the trend to a new
way to think about exercise physiology.
Although many supporters of supplements
and ergogenic aids would have us believe otherwise, this is a controversial
topic. The controversy goes beyond the individual’s code of ethics
. The multimillion-dollar sports nutrition market itself is a
questionable part of sports. Preying on the desires of athletes who
seek an edge, the manufacturers of sports nutrition supplements are gambling
that athletes are willing to take risks and do almost anything to win.
Understanding this point, the obligations of the university teacher are
to teach the differences between fallacious and valid evidence and to dispel
erroneous and baseless beliefs . Dr. Edward Shils, author of
Academic Ethic, a report of a study group of the international council
on the future of the university, said it best: “The critical scrutiny of
the tradition (of his subject) and particularly of the most recent increments
to it is an obligation of a university teacher to his colleagues in his
own university and at others, present and future, even where it requires
that he render negative judgments on their work.” [19, p. 59]
The last point, of course, centers directly
on the take-home message to one very important question: “What is best
for student athletes?” The university teachers’ obligation is to
be honest with students and colleagues. No trait is more noticeable
in university teachers than the passion to do the right thing. When
they do, they earn the trust of their students. This is the kind
of stuff that sets exercise physiology teachers apart from the others.
“You have to tell it like it is.”
-- William T. Boone, Jr.
1. Voy, R. (1991). Drugs, Sport, and Politics.
Champaign, Illinois: Leisure Press, p. xvi.
2. Boone, T. (2002). Exercise Physiology
Quackery and Consumer Fraud. Professionalization of Exercise Physiology-online.
Vol 5 No 5 [Online]. http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/ExercisePhysiologyQuackery.html
3. Boone, T. (2002). Professional Behavior
in the Academic Ranks of Exercise Physiology. Professionalization of Exercise
Physiology-online. Vol 5 No 7 [Online]. http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/ProfessionalBehavior.html
4. Yesalis, C.E. and Cowart, V.S. (1998).
The Steroids Game. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, p. vii.
5. Boone, T. (2001). The Sports Medicine
Myth. Professionalization of Exercise Physiology-online. Vol 4 No 7 [Online].
6. Boone, T. (2002). A New Academic Paradigm
for Exercise Physiology Teachers. Professionalization of Exercise Physiology-online.
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What Is It and Why Does It Matter? Professionalization of Exercise Physiology-online.
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8. Boone, T. (2003). Overcoming Institutional
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Vol 6 No 2 [Online]. http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/OvercomingInstitutionalInertiaWithLeadership.html
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Physiology-online. Vol 5 No 11 [Online]. http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/ThinkingOutsideTheBoxExercisePhysiology.html
10. Boone, T. (2003). The Power of Individuality.
Professionalization of Exercise Physiology-online. Vol 6 No 4 [Online].
11. American Society of Exercise Physiologists.
(2003). ASEP Code of Ethics. [Online]. http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/ethics.htm
12. Boone, T. (2003). Introduction to
Professional Ethics. Professionalization of Exercise Physiology-online.
Vol 6 No 5 [Online].
13. Boone, T. (2003). Organizational Code
of Moral Principles and Values. Professionalization of Exercise Physiology-online.
Vol 6 No 3 [Online]. http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/OrganizationalCodeOfMoralPrinciples.html
14. Boone, T. (2003). The Making of American
Exercise Physiology. Professionalization of Exercise Physiology-online.
Vol 6 No 1 [Online]. http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/AmericanExercisePhysiology.html
15. Boone, T. (2002). The Passionate Pursuit
of Professionalism: A Critical Analysis. Professionalization of Exercise
Physiology-online. Vol 3 No 10 [Online]. http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/Passionate.html
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Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.