The so-called "Goladman Dilemma" is one of the most frequently cited statistics in discussions of doping in sports. It holds that world class athletes are not like you and me because many more of them would be willing to engage in prohibited or illegal doping even it it meant a certain, early death in exchange for sporting success. Recent research however suggests that the Goldman Dilemma is no longer an appropriate characterization of the view of elite athletes (if it ever was).
The Goldman Dilemma was characterized as follows in the New York Times in 2010:
There’s a well-known survey in sports, known as the Goldman Dilemma. For it, a researcher, Bob Goldman, began asking elite athletes in the 1980s whether they would take a drug that guaranteed them a gold medal but would also kill them within five years. More than half of the athletes said yes. When he repeated the survey biannually for the next decade, the results were always the same. About half of the athletes were quite ready to take the bargain.The original source oh the dilemma is apparently a 1984 book, by Bob Goldman and colleagues, titled Death in the Locker Room.
A new study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine by James COnnon, Jules Woolf and Jason Mazanov has tried to replicate Goldman's findings with a rigorous survey of elite North American track and field athletes. They were motivated to do the study because, "there has been little in the way of replication of the Goldman dilemma since 1995."
Titled "Would they dope? Revisiting the Goldman dilemma" the study finds results at odds with that of the Goldman dilemma:
Only 2 out of 212 samples (119 men, 93 women, mean age 20.89) reported that they would take the Faustian bargain offered by the original Goldman dilemma. However, if there were no consequences to the (illegal) drug use, then 25/212 indicated that they would take the substance (no death condition). Legality also changes the acceptance rate to 13/212 even with death as a consequence. Regression modelling showed that no other variable was signiﬁcant (gender, competitive level, type of sport) and there was no statistical difference between the interview and online collection method.The results suggests that elites athletes are perhaps more like you and me than suggested by the Goldman dilemma. However, even with 1-2% of elite athletes willing to accept Goldman's Faustian bargain, it still helps to explain why doping is pervasive.
Goldman’s results do not match our sample. A subset of athletes is willing to dope and another subset is willing to sacriﬁce their life to achieve success, although to a much lesser degree than that observed by Goldman.