Why Baseball Is in Denial

Article excerpt

There's too much money in the game for a more aggressive approach on steroids.

Drugs in sports are on the mind of just about every sports fan these days, at least in the United States. Earlier this year I was invited to speak at a high school in Atlanta, and one of the first questions concerned the issue of Michael Phelps, the Olympic star who lost some of his luster after being photographed recently with a marijuana pipe at a party. Meanwhile, the media are filled with stories about New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez, baseball's highest-paid player, who has admitted having used banned performance-enhancing steroids several years ago.

While the Phelps story will pass--authorities have decided not to press charges--the saga of A-Rod, as he is known, once again throws baseball and U.S. professional sports back into the glare of the drugtesting spotlight. Whatever is ultimately revealed--and we have now found out that there were another 103 baseball players who tested positive in 2003--I am pessimistic that anything will change. Baseball is in a period of denial.

To understand why, consider the contrast with amateur sports and the Olympics, where athletes must make themselves available for random drug tests by telling the governing bodies where they are going to be over a period of time. Experts from the World Anti-Doping Authority can turn up and require athletes to be tested anywhere, any time. True, the system remains imperfect. For evidence, just look at the number of Olympic medalists who were sanctioned between the Sydney Olympics and Athens, and between Athens and Beijing. But at least Olympic officials are using their weapons to fight drugs, and have shown themselves willing to ban top athletes for up to two years for violations.

By contrast, professional sports merely attempts to "manage the issue." In baseball, the penalty for using banned steroids has been increased to a minimum 50-game suspension for a first offense. But with no random testing, there is little chance of being caught. Can anything change? When I helped devise anti-doping policies for the U.S. Olympic Committee, between 1989 and 1994, Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, used to come to all the meetings. I explained how drug testing worked in the amateur-sports world. But he seems not to have gotten the message. …