Baseball’s Steroids Scandal

Baseball’s Steroids Scandal

William C. Kashatus
Philadelphia Inquirer
August 12, 2013

Alex RodriguezAlex Rodriguez is making a mockery of Major League Baseball. Hours after being suspended through the 2014 season for receiving banned performance-enhancing drugs from the Biogenesis clinic and then trying to thwart the sport’s investigation, the New York Yankees star declared his intent to appeal the decision and took the field, starting at third base and batting cleanup against the Chicago White Sox.

Commissioner Bud Selig could have prevented this three-ring circus by invoking a power exclusive to his office and banning A-Rod for life to protect the “integrity of the game.” But Selig fears the players’ union would challenge a ban, and he doesn’t have the stomach for a drawn-out legal battle. As a result, during the appeal, A-Rod will likely play the rest of this season.

This latest episode in baseball’s steroid scandal proves that the sport has very little legal muscle to make players accountable to the drug agreement procedures outlined in its collective bargaining agreement. Sadly, the real losers are impressionable baseball-playing adolescents who are learning the wrong lessons from an arrogant, overpaid athlete.

The use of appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs by teens is more troubling than their use by elite athletes, and it is growing. According to the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which educates students, parents, and coaches about the dangers of steroids, teen use is on the rise. In 1993, one in 45 high school students admitted to using anabolic steroids. By 1999, the number increased to one in 27. Today, one in 16 high school students, about 1.5 million, admit to using the drugs. The numbers do not include teens taking nutritional supplements laced with steroids or steroid precursors like creatine and androstenedione.

Adolescents use steroids for the very same reasons the pros do. They build muscle mass, augment quickness, and improve recovery time from injury. They give athletes a competitive edge in power, speed, and endurance. But, taken in megadoses, performance-enhancing drugs have been linked to tendon and ligament tears, kidney and liver damage, impotence, heart disease, and cancer. The adverse effects can be even greater for adolescents.

Unlike pro athletes, teens are more susceptible to the physiological and psychological effects of steroids because of the natural hormonal imbalance associated with adolescence. The effects include irritability, rage, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Psychiatric symptoms associated with steroid withdrawal persist for a year or more after the abuser stops using.

Unfortunately, A-Rod’s example is teaching teens two very dangerous lessons. The first is that the risk of using steroids is worth the reward. His $275 million, 10-year agreement with the Yankees is the highest salary in the history of the game. Even if his suspension (211 regular-season games) is upheld, the Yankees are responsible for the $94.5 million they still owe him through 2017. The message is: It’s OK to use performance-enhancing drugs because they not only improve athletic performance, but also increase the potential for college scholarships and pro signing bonuses that can lead to a lucrative career in baseball.

Second, A-Rod shows youngsters that it’s better to lie and ask for forgiveness than to tell the truth. Four years ago, A-Rod admitted that he used drugs while playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2003. Selig briefly considered whether or not to punish Rodriguez, but, at the time of the testing, MLB had no punishments for doping.

Instead, the commissioner looked the other way, heartened perhaps by A-Rod’s decision to become a spokesperson for the Taylor Hooton Foundation,speaking at schools about the dangers of steroids. The message is: “If you are doping, lie about it. Only ask for forgiveness if you get caught. Then continue doping.”

Taylor HootonHow quickly we forget that the 2005 congressional hearings on steroid use in Major League Baseball opened with the heart-wrenching stories of Taylor Hooton and Rob Garibaldi, two teens who committed suicide after using steroids. After those statements, congressmen reminded the players and other witnesses about the adverse impact steroid use by role models was having on the youth of America.

If Major League Baseball and the players’ union are going to shirk their responsibility to make players accountable on drug use, then Congress should remove the game’s antitrust exemption. Eliminate the outrageous salaries of the players and the profits of the owners, and there will no longer be a steroid problem in baseball.