Thursday, June 08, 2006

Shades of X-Men and other augmentations

When Camille Walters plays soccer, her normally brown eyes have a spooky red tint – that’s because of the contact lens designed to give this athlete an edge.
That's because the 15-year-old wears tinted contact lenses that block certain wavelengths of light and help athletes see better. Oh, and they look cool, too.

But does these lenses give some athletes an unfair advantage? The associations that govern high school and college sports don't think so, but they're keeping an eye on the lenses.

Jerry Diehl, assistant director of the National Federation of State High School Associations in Indianapolis, Indiana, said his group doesn't believe the lenses provide the competitive advantage that Nike claims.

The federation allows the lenses and puts them in the same category as sunglasses or corrective lenses. The NCAA also allows the sports lenses because it considers them similar to sunglasses.

But Diehl said he's worried about the perception of an unfair advantage.

"If one affluent team can get this, it forces everybody else to go out and do that," Diehl said. "Is it really something that makes a difference? In this instance, at this juncture anyway, it doesn't seem to be any better or any worse than allowing what is already under the rule."

Dr. William Jones of Nashville said price will keep some athletes from buying the lenses, but he expects them to be popular on high school athletics teams in wealthier school districts.

1 comment:

Kevin T. Keith said...

The details are not clear, but from the description this would seem to be nothing more than specialized sunglasses, in the form of contact lenses. Sounds like a lot of expense for a minor benefit.

I don't think it qualifies as "augmentation" - it doesn't really affect the functioning of the person's body, it is just a technology that makes ordinary functions more effective. It sounds similar to bigger gloves and pads for hockey goalies, or aluminum bats for baseball players - technologies that we may choose to regulate or to ban, but not enhancements that affect something fundamental about the players themselves.

That said, the worry that some players are purchasing a playing advantage by means of their greater economic advantages is a worthy one, but also a familiar one. (Wealthier kids, and wealthier leagues or school districts, always have better equipment.) At any rate, it seems to be a question of social justice, and of the social values we want children's sports to embrace (competitiveness vs. egalitarianism), not a major bioethical problem.

BTW: Art Caplan has been writing frequently on sports enhancement technologies in his MSNBC column and elsewhere. (Here's one; here's another.) The question of what, exactly, is an "enhancement" is a difficult one. Cf. his discussion of high-altitude-simulating training tents for Olympic athletes (second link above).