Who Is Really to Blame for the Drug Issues in Sports

As the 15 millionth blogger with an opinion on the Mitchell report and drug use in baseball, I believe I get a congratulatory fruit basket, right?

Instead of rehashing what was explained in that report, I’d like to address the philosophical and political side of the drug issue with baseball and sports in general. Former Senator (and pro-tobacco lobbyist) George Mitchell referred to steroid use in baseball as an “epidemic.” Ignoring the obvious hyperbole with that statement (malaria is an epidemic, steroid use is not even close), what makes it an epidemic?

As many anti-steroids people will tell you, Major League Baseball turned a blind eye to the steroid “issue.” It wasn’t a major concern with anyone, including the millions of fans who adored Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa during the 1998 season. The mercurial whispers were there, but nothing at all about how inept Selig has been or how baseball players are cheating not only the clean players, but the fans as well.

Steroids have been against MLB rules since 1991, but it wasn’t taken too seriously, especially since the new drug regulations were enforced via memo. According to Tom Farrey of ESPN:

Steroids had been banned in baseball since 1991, although few players knew about the policy. But there was no drug-testing agreement in place between ownership and the union providing the mechanism to catch cheaters.

So, since at least the early 1990′s, they had the thought of sweeping steroids out of baseball, but it wasn’t until recently that anyone got serious about it. What made them become serious? Was it the ’98 home run chase between Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy? Was it Barry Bonds’ 73 dingers in 2003? Was it the (misguided) fear of early death, as was the fate of former NFL defensive lineman Lyle Alzado, an admitted steroid user? What was the cause of the sudden distaste for steroids?

The world of sports is where intellectually honest discussion of morality goes to die. Sports are home to the biggest collection of “unwritten rules,” such as not stealing bases when you’re beating your opponent by 8 runs or so in the 7th inning, or not using trick plays in football when you’re beating your opponent by about 4 touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

It’s not surprising that there’s many indirect references to morality when the topic is steroid use. Many feel that regardless of what MLB rules have stated, any use of performance-enhancing substances is cheating. And to these people, I always ask, “Where do you draw the line?”

Is it just anabolic steroids and human growth hormone? If so, why not include Cortisone shots, which are bad for the same reasons as anabolic steroids (in fact, Cortisone is a steroid): they enhance an athlete’s performance and/or allow him to recover from injuries faster, and they are potentially harmful to his health.

Are we concerned with just the performance-enhancing aspect, rather than the health aspect? If so, why are we not concerned about over-the-counter painkillers? Or coffee, Red Bull, or other substances that provide a boost of energy?

Is it the health aspect that scares us? Why, then, are we not concerned about athletes smoking and chewing tobacco (the latter is still practiced by players and coaches, though the sheer number has shrunk significantly as the years have gone by), drinking alcohol (a tradition practiced whenever a team wins a clinching game), eating unhealthy food, or engaging in dangerous hobbies (was anyone concerned with Ben Roethlisberger’s motorcycling hobby until his accident?)?

After hashing out all of these possible reasons to get upset about steroids, it’s actually clear to see that none of these issues are significant enough to warrant the sudden public outrage, without, of course, being hypocritical.

The drug issue as it concerns MLB and the U.S. is a subject I’ve dealt with fervently, as you can see here, but I cannot stress enough how greatly the American public is being duped when it comes to the drug issues. From my previous article on this subject, I cited the following ties between U.S. politicians and those involved with the pharmaceutical industry:

[...]Drugmakers and HMOs hired 952 individual lobbyists in 2003 – nearly half of whom had “revolving door” connections to Congress, the White House or the executive branch. That’s nearly 10 lobbyists for every U.S. senator.

[...]In 2003, the drug industry spent a record $108.6 million on federal lobbying activities and hired 824 individual lobbyists – both all-time highs. In 2002, based on a more narrowly defined survey, the drug industry spent $91.4 million and hired 675 lobbyists.

[...]In all, 431 lobbyists employed by the drug industry or HMOs – or 45 percent of all their lobbyists – previously worked for the federal government. Among them were 30 ex-U.S. senators and representatives – 18 Republicans and 12 Democrats.

[...]At least 11 top staffers who left the Bush administration lobbied for the drug industry and HMOs in 2003. White House and administration insiders working as lobbyists on the Medicare bill included several former top advisers to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson.

The source for those facts is Public Citizen. You can read their agenda here.

Shortly after Major League Baseball enacted tougher steroid restrictions, the U.S. passed the Steroid Control Act of 2004, which added prohormones to the list of controlled substances. And hey, guess what is a precursor? Androstenedione, the drug that was found in Mark McGwire’s locker in 1998.

It’s undeniable that the politicians’ distaste for steroids has had an effect on steroid use in baseball, especially since Major League Baseball must follow U.S. law, obviously. What is also undeniable is how much of an agenda these politicians have for making anti-steroid laws, since they are paid off by pharmaceutical lobbyists to vote in favor of anti-steroid legislation (as steroids, which cure a wide variety of ailments, are competition for the pharmaceutical industry’s more lucrative “one pill per symptom” scheme).

The biggest culprit in all of this is not our highly corrupt politicians, or Bud Selig, or the MLBPA; it’s the American public for being so easily led into this anti-steroid furor. If American citizens were into holding politicians responsible; if American journalists were into asking the necessary questions, none of this would be an issue. The reality is that steroid use in baseball is not an issue. It has become an issue because you have been told that it is an issue.

Ask yourself why you don’t like steroids. Then apply those reasons to the numerous legal substances that are sold on the shelves and behind counters of every convenience and drug store in this country.

Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) had a problem when he was on two prescription drugs, Ambien and Phenergan, as well as alcohol, all legal drugs.

On May 4, 2006, Kennedy crashed his 1997 Ford Mustang convertible into a barricade on Capitol Hill at 2:45AM. He had been operating his vehicle with the lights off in the early morning darkness. Officers at the scene said that Kennedy appeared intoxicated, smelled of alcohol and was visibly staggering, but Kennedy claimed that he was merely disoriented from prescription medications Ambien and Phenergan.

Right there, you have a U.S. politician putting not only his own life at risk, but potentially the lives of others, as well. But it’s just A-okay because he’s using substances approved by other U.S. politicians and the industries that own them.

Then there was the Vioxx issue. The risks of the drug were known beforehand, but was allowed to be prescribed anyway because it’d make mega-billions for the pharmaceutical industry. After the drug had caused many problems in its users, the chiefest of which were cardiovascular problems, and was estimated to have caused nearly 28,000 deaths, they recalled the drug, but only after it had created a great profit for, well, you know who.

In not-so-hilarious irony, the anti-steroids crowd tried to use the Chris Benoit double-murder and suicide as a blade against steroids, as he was found to have steroids in his home. Putting aside the obvious logic that rules out “‘roid rage” (premeditation, no steroids found in his urine), it was actually prescription drugs that were near the center of the issue: Xanax and hydrocodone. But you don’t hear anyone calling for the criminalization of Xanax or hydrocodone (known most prominently as Vicodin), because the American public hasn’t been told that those two substances are bad, since they make such a profit for the pharmaceutical industry.

Until spring training begins, the hot topic in baseball will continue to be steroids, and the American public will continue to do as they’re told — they will demonize Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, and the numerous other big names listed in the Mitchell Report. For public backlash, you need at least one figurehead. Mitchell has provided many with his report.

This steroid craze very closely mimics the anti-terrorism craze following 9/11. There’s a disaster (in MLB’s case, it’s a perceived disaster), a threat of a large problem (hence Mitchell’s use of the hyperbolic “steroid epidemic”), and the finger-pointing at the people most responsible (never themselves).

Following 9/11, it was Osama bin Laden to whom we were instructed to direct our anger. The Bush administration promised us they’d capture him and his henchmen, and bring justice to them. Five years and just over three months since that tragic day, Osama bin Laden is still uncaptured, and has been literally forgotten about (in fact, Bush disbanded the CIA unit dedicated to finding him).

Six months after 9/11, Bush said the following:

So I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you.

That was said on March 13, 2002. One year and one week later, the War in Iraq was started, and the American public was given a new figurehead to spew vitriol at: Saddam Hussein. And now that we’re nearing the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War, the Bush administration is preparing to give us another figurehead to dislike: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran.

This is how the steroid issue will go both in sports and in the United States as a whole. The sports world’s Osama bin Laden was Barry Bonds, its Saddam Hussein is Roger Clemens, and we’ll have to wait and see who will fill the role of Ahmadinejad. One thing is for sure: the American public will continue to do its part by being willfully ignorant, excessively suggestive, and unconcerned with anything other than how their favorite teams are doing and which celebrities are sleeping together.

Just listen to President Bush (why is he commenting on the steroid issue as it pertains to baseball, again?):

“The players and the owners must take the Mitchell Report seriously,” Bush said. “I’m confident they will.”

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