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About Jon
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
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The Evolving Dodger Thoughts Stance on Steroids - Day 5
2004-12-04 23:08
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Day 4 brought a deep, wide-ranging discussion on how to address the use of illegal enhancements in baseball, which contributed to some added detail for the Dodger Thoughts Steroid Policy for Day 5.

First, the discussion:

  • A lot of talk Friday centered on the idea that regardless of issues of competitive advantage or health, the mere criminality of steroid use should be sufficient for punishment.

    The problem with this is that criminality, in and of itself, is not a basis for punishment by baseball.

    On September 10, police arrested Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal for the second time in four years for driving under the influence, along with speeding and reckless driving.

    After spending most of that day in jail, for a second offense that posed much greater potential harm to society than steroid use, Furcal started for Atlanta the following night, according to The Associated Press:

    (Bobby) Cox, the Braves manager, said he was not reluctant to put Furcal back in the starting lineup after the player was arrested early Friday morning. ...

    Cox said Furcal "couldn't be more down."

    "That's why we need to get him back out there," Cox said. "He's completely devastated. He's got to keep going."

    In order to make mere criminality a basis to sanction steroid use, you are going to have to reconcile this broad inconsistency. Which may be worth doing, but just understand that it's a big deal. (And, of course, you will have to take into account that laws are different in every city, county, state and country.)

    Making criminality the fulcrum of the steroid policy will make it even harder to implement the policy. I think it's cleaner (pardon the expression) to make the potential health risks - even though the extent of those health risks continue to be debated by some - the basis of the policy.
    By the way, Furcal became in violation of his probation for his first DUI conviction when he was arrested for the second. He later pleaded guilty to the second DUI. The judge allowed him to serve both sentences concurrently, and after the playoffs ended.

    No outrage anywhere.

  • What should the punishment be for using banned enhancements? How long a suspension?

    To this point, my focus has been on the possibility of creating a framework to allow both sides to agree there should be punishment. Achieving that framework along has seemed enough of a challenge. Therefore, the Dodger Thoughts Steroid Policy has consciously left out specifics regarding punishment - saying only that it should include "both reprimand and, if appropriate, rehabilitation."

    I'm not prepared to go further than that right now. But for those who want a starting point for this discussion, the policy for baseball's minor leagues, according to the Times, is this:

    In a plan established four years ago, minor leaguers are tested in and out of season four times for prohibited substances. A player testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs is suspended for 15 games, a second positive brings a 30-game suspension, a third 60 games, and a fourth incurs a year suspension. The player is banned for life on the fifth positive test.

  • Commenter MikeJ had perhaps the most intriguing outside-the-box suggestion:

    I think that the athletes will always be one step ahead of the testers in what steroids they use. As soon as a steroid gets banned, they move on to the next undetectable designer drug of the week.

    To combat this, baseball should have an "allowed" list instead of a "banned" list. If you want to take a new supplement, get it approved by MLB and the Players Association. This way, you'll never hear the "I didn't know it was illegal" excuse any more.

  • One more key area for debate concerned whether athletes should be denied the right to improve themselves, whatever the risk. At least one person brought up laser eye surgery as an example. It's an operation with risk - something I can confirm, because my mother battled complications after she underwent the procedure - and an operation about which the long-term effects are not completely known.

    Scraps, a commenter on the All-Baseball.com home page steroid discussion, had this to say:

    It seems to me that Steroids is about two basic issues, and that people switch back and forth between them whenever defending one side becomes inconvenient: it's about health danger, and about competitive fairness (and then, as a kicker, it's about Substances, and the demonic role they have assumed in our society).

    (Derek) Zumsteg over at U.S.S. Mariner brings up the crippling of football lineman, who often end up unable to walk due to nothing more than the extraordinary wear and tear of life in football's trenches. I have said in the past that I would believe people's sincerity about the health issues more if we heard about Earl Campbell's crippling one-twentieth as often as we hear about Lyle Alzado's cancer. Football cripples men, and it simply doesn't get discussed. It's the price of having the sport at all.

    But baseball hasn't been subject to the same concern; a baseball fan can legitimately complain about the health issues involving steroids without hypocrisy. Most baseball fans that I know believe implicitly everything they hear from the anti-steroid media scare machine, which doesn't help the conversation, but for the sake of the argument, at least, I'll accept that steroids have permanent health dangers.

    But: Why is it my business to decide what risks players are entitled to take with their bodies? There are many more dangerous professions and hobbies than taking steroids, and we don't get outraged that people are allowed to risk their lives and bodies for them.

    So, it's fundamentally about competitive balance. (And Substances.) It's unfair that players supplement their natural gifts with anything other than hard work; and it forces other players to make the same choice (which slides back into the health dangers issue, and is the part of the argument with which I have the most sympathy).

    But why, then, no outrage over laser eye surgery? It is, after all, an artificial procedure that gives players a competitive advantage (a more demonstrable one than steroids), is arguably still dangerous, forces other players to consider the same alteration, and has nothing to do with natural gifts or hard work. Yet no one objects to it. It's legal, of course, but also, it's not a Substance. Seriously, I think that's the big bugaboo. If players -- I should say "when" -- could achieve the same results, with the same dangers, from surgery that they do from steroids, the hullaballoo would be a fraction what it is now.

    Here's why I fundamentally don't care about steroids (and here's where I depart from almost everyone else on the issue, probably including you): People say that improving the body through steroid use is unfair. But our bodies are unfair. Why is it less fair to inject a better body than to be born with one? I'm five foot four, and the only way I could have been a professional athlete would be to have the greatest athletic instincts in the world. That's unfair; if I could take something to give me a world-class athletic body, why would there be any less virtue to that than being born with a world-class body?

    If (when) we can all make ourselves the bodies of our choice, then sports will really come down to hard work, dedication, intelligence, and character. And for the first time in history, sports will really be about what fans and sportswriters think it's about.

    I thought this comment was full of insight. I do think Scraps is missing one thing - the explanation of why substances are a bugaboo. Surgery is risky in the same sense that getting into a car is risky - the activity is not inherently risky, but dependent on factors such as the age of the patient/driver, the equipment in use. On the other hand, there is at a minimum a perception that there is an inevitiability that underground substance use will have deleterious consequences.

    In any event, this takes us back to a debate bigger than baseball and almost as old as time - is it society's role to protect people from themselves? Baseball, the sport that creates trauma to the human body from the first pitch, is inherently inconsistent in this area. But it's okay if baseball does offer protection when it can, isn't it?

  • The final major area of discussion was what to do about statistics and records. (I have to tell you, when I first meant to type "area," I actually typed "error", which might be a Freudian slip.) I found nothing to convince me that altering or asteriskizing the record books would be practical or logical. What happened, happened. Each statistic affects another - to try to change one would open Pandora's Dominos. It's not like flunking someone on a spelling test after they cheated.

    However, a few people found my comparison of the use of banned enhancements (which players have control over) to factors like park effects (which they don't control) to be poorly chosen, or at least distracting. I'm going to rewrite the final point of the policy in an attempt to rectify that.

    So that's the discussion. On to the policy itself. For the first time, we venture beyond 10 points. Will 13 be lucky?

    Current Beliefs

    1) Throughout the history of baseball, players have ventured down many different avenues in pursuit of a competitive advantage.

    2) Throughout the sport's history, players have been convicted of a number of criminal offenses without receiving any punishment from baseball officials.

    3) However, baseball should discourage players from using illegal steroids, drugs, enhancements or supplements that they know could be potentially harmful to the body long-term.

    4) Additionally, no one should be pressured to use these supplements by the idea that they need them to stay competitive.

    5) That being said, despite what individual people are convinced is true, there is debate in the scientific community about how harmful steroids are. (Indeed, steroids are prescribed to promote health in certain cases to people of all ages and ilks.) They might be harmful to athletes, but some respected people say that you cannot conclude that they are harmful to athletes. No matter how convinced one is about one’s position, this debate undeniably exists.

    6) In the face of this confusion, it is not automatic that baseball should ban steroids.

    7) However, there is sufficient risk that steroids are harmful that it is reasonable for baseball, a private enterprise, to take measures to regulate their use, including their possible ban from the game.

    8) A ban on steroids, or any other regulation, should have the support of both management and the players. This is critical.

    9) That support should manifest itself in a punishment structure that is carefully vetted, and that includes both reprimand and, if appropriate, rehabilitation.

    10) In particular, the institution of drug-testing has serious human rights consequences (and some amount of fallibility). Therefore, methods for eliminating steroids from the game, such as drug-testing, should be instituted with the greatest care possible to protect those rights.

    11) Punishment should not be applied retroactively - someone who broke a current or future rule, before that rule was enacted, should not be subject to reprimand.

    12) Players should have the right to petition for the approval of enhancements, supplements, etc., on the chance that one or more can be shown to be safe and worthy of use.

    13) Baseball's official statistics chronicle the action that takes place on the field. They are an objective observation, from which we can form any interpretation we like. There is no effective means for, or purpose in, adjusting statistics compiled by players found to have used illegal substances.

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