What constitutes a crisis? What makes one situation a scandal, while another is ignored? How is it that Mark McGwire taking the Fifth is front page, headline news, while Congress announcing it’s intention to enact a law requiring all the major professional sports leagues to submit to a drug testing program is essentially ignored but for a few articles here and there? After months of hysteria and hyperbole, ESPN and Sports Illustrated have no (zero) articles today mentioning the announcement made yesterday by the members of the House Committee investigating steroid use in sports. Why is that? Has the issue suddenly gone away? Have the efforts of Bud Selig and the other commissioners of their respective sports convinced the sports media complex that the bad times are behind us?
Hardly. In this situation, ESPN and SI have acted like a sort of Claude Lemieux, instigating a fight that they will now watch from the sidelines. Now that they have fanned the flames of hysteria for going on three years, they will stand and watch as Congress, wasting more money than you or I will make in our lifetimes, will now force their way into a scandal that doesn’t exist, moving towards a bill to solve a problem that isn’t there, will force all professional athletes to submit to year-round, random drug tests, with suspensions strong enough to essentially end their career should they fail. Out of touch with reality? You bet. Wrong-headed? Oh yeah. Waste of time and taxpayers money? Absolutely. Not needed? Who cares.
I know that Rep. Waxman wants you to believe that he knows what us fans want, or maybe it’s Rep. Christopher Shays who knows that fans want their athletes to pee in a cup, come out clean, and save the children. These guys know that fans want their athletes to stop using steroids, and they know that we won’t put up with it, and they know that we think it’s wrong and bad and against the American way. They know this, and they’re not interested in what you or I have to say about it, because they know!
So the fact that baseball has seen record attendance the last three seasons, the three seasons during which the ‘scandal’ of steroids has been front-page news the entire time, this fact is conveniently ignored. Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi are all the villians of our time, these guys know this too, the standing ovations these players have recieved by their home fans; well, I guess the fans these guys are talking about aren’t those fans. Yeah, it must be some other fans who are going to the Super Bowl, or to every sold-out NFL stadium. Must be some other fans that ESPN is paying billions of dollars to broadcast baseball and football to, because the fans Waxman is talking about don’t watch sports anymore and definitely are not going to watch these players who are cheating them out of their hard-earned entertainment dollars. Must be for the other fans, the long-term fans, the ones who will be watching in a couple of years, after Waxman and his buddies clean up the OK Corral.
Yeah, until then, I guess baseball and football will have to just play their games in empty stadiums and ballparks, because the Amrican people have spoken, and they won’t put up with it.
See, whenever the guys who were voted in to make sure that the trains run on time, and the water comes out of the faucet, and the criminals aren’t running wild through the streets, when those guys start sticking their noses into places where they just aren’t needed or wanted; it’s time for your and I to start worrying. Because the things that need attention, you know, Enron-type corporate scandals, or environmental issues, or, I don’t know, government corruption worries; these things are being ignored, pushed aside, forgotten about; while these corporate whores are running around insisting that they know what you and I want; regardless of the evidence to the contrary.
And they’re gonna pass laws. Scary? You betcha.
Interestingly, the one constituent we have yet to hear from are the owners. The owners, see, are the ones who reap the biggest rewards from steroid use. The owners see the sold-out ballparks, the millions of dollars in concessions, merchandising, television and radio deals, luxury boxes, and all of the publicity a championship team garners; and they know that, contrary to what Congress would like you to believe, they will do anything to win a title. From there, from an ownership that tells it’s fans that they are committed to winning, at all costs, you have a management team that is committed to winning, at all costs. And coaches, committed to winning, at all costs. And finally, players, committed to winning, at all costs. Are the owners going to stand by and watch a superstar player whom they have invested millions and millions of dollars in get banned from his sport? Say, Derek Jeter fails a drug test, (whether it’s accidental or he’s really using, Waxman doesn’t care), and he’s forced to miss two years, what do you think Steinbrenner will have to say about that?
Do you see where we’re headed? If a star like Jeter, that everyone loves and admires, fails his test, and has to miss two years, what’s gonna happen then? A team leader, a superstar, one who makes millions of dollars a year, banned for two seasons? How do the owners allow something like that to happen? How can baseball, or any sport, demand unflinching committment to winning it all, and then throw the players out who actually will do anything to win?
How can Congress think it has the pulse of the people, the will of the people, behind it when it moves in this direction? How can the men who run these sports not be able to manage this situation as well as the men who run corporate America? In many cases, they’re the same guys. What are they doing about this? I’d say it’s a farce, except that Big Brother just might get his way, even though this is all unneccessary.
Baseball has done two years of testing, and something less than 5% of the players tested have failed their tests. Football, running their drug testing program for almost two decades, has had similarly low percentages of failures. If so few players are failing the tests, wouldn’t you think that the problem isn’t as bad as everyone says it is? No, say the experts, only a few players are failing because the tests can be beat. Well, if the tests can be beat so easily, why the hell have the tests?!
It’s a never-ending circle of insanity here. First, we have the ridiculous assertions that as many as 70% of the league is using steroids. We need testing to stop the madness. OK, tests are done, and between 5 and 7 % of the players fail the tests. Well, that’s because there’s not enough tests. So, more tests are done, and the numbers keep going down. Well, that’s because the tests can be beat. So, the answer to that problem is even more testing and tougher penalties?! Where’s the logic in that? If the tests can be beat, why do more of them? And I haven’t even mentioned that the tests are fallible. Yes, that’s right, the tests are done in the real world, you know, where mistakes happen. Yeah, and under the governments idea of a testing program, the mistakes will be tough titties for whoever they happen to. That’s right, boys and girls, in the Olympic testing program, if you think you are clean and the test says you’re not, you sit out while you fight to clear your name.
The world we live in is complicated, filled with grey areas and uncertainties. Harsh, draconian measures fare poorly in our complex lives. Sadly, the hope that the men in charge of these decisions realize this before it’s too late is fading fast.
Update: Greg Skidmore chimes in with his two cents:
…. The thought of an independent testing group coming in and suspending a few superstars for two years will cause considerable nervousness in league headquarters. Leagues are fine suspending a few role players to make an example and show they are in compliance with the policy, but does anyone really believe that no superstar athletes have taken performance-enhancing drugs? Don’t think the NFL or Major League Baseball is going to give up this control without a considerable fight.
Update, Part II: Will Carroll directs us to Splendid Specimens, the History of Nutrition in Bodybuilding, a must-read for the fan who wants to discuss the issue intelligently. The writer, Randy Roach, already has his spot in my Steroids & Baseball Section.