New Baseball Report Reveals Widespread Drug Use
> 12/18/2007 9:27:18 AM

The Mitchell report has arrived, and the industry-sponsored assessment of performance-enhancing drug abuse in Major League Baseball will most likely continue to influence public perception of the sport long after next year's trophies find their way onto player's mantles. But will it provide redemption for a sport that, at the height of its popularity, seems to need a serious PR revamp? Some of baseball's most popular players have been accused of using steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance-enhancing substances, and the 89 past and present major leaguers named in the report certainly do not constitute even a significant minority of those who have suited up to play each night with a chemical boost.

The report, though somewhat predictable to those in the know, has recast the steroid debate in a far broader light: baseball's performance drug epidemic is hardly limited to a few guilty stand-alones, and hulking power hitters are not the only offenders. The most significant name dropped by Mitchell was that of Roger Clemens, a multiple record-breaking veteran who is unquestionably among baseball's most highly regarded pitchers. The high possibility that both sluggers like Barry Bonds and the power pitchers they faced (like Clemens) played under the influence of steroids complicates the statistical and historical picture. How much derision can one place on a single star knowing that many of those playing against him were "juiced" as well? More importantly, the report makes clear that the most flagrant offenders are not always the most obvious: 5'8" shortstops and relief pitchers are just as likely as big homerun kings to turn to steroids and HGH. In other words, illegal drug use is an all-encompassing problem. Despite apparent decreases in usage and fear of exposure (evinced by declining statistics for both hitters and pitchers), illegal substances are not likely to disappear from the diamond anytime soon.

One mistake that pundits and fans should avoid is falling into the assertion that the drug-tinged blotch on the MLB, and pro sports in general, is a recent development and that players in the unnamed "golden age" operated on a higher moral plane. Cheating (or granting oneself an illicit edge) has certainly existed in some form since soon after the very first athletes chose to compare their prowess through organized competition. Some current and former players claim that the use of amphetamines dwarfs that of anabolic steroids or growth hormones, and the drug speed has a far longer history of recreational and competitive use. Team trainers distributed amphetamines freely in the 50's and 60's, and baseball's disciplinary policies are far more forgiving for amphetamine use despite the fact that these substances also serve the purpose of enhancing performance abilities.

Steroids and related drugs have, of course, dominated sports news recently, with Olympic track champion Marion Jones officially stripped of her many medals weeks after revealing that she was indeed under the influence of banned drugs during her triumphant performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Floyd Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour de France, also had his title stripped after urine tests uncovered the abnormally high testosterone levels common to performance drug users.

Why do athletes use these drugs in the first place? The answer is simple: because they work. In baseball terms, steroids make hitters stronger, faster and more precise. Juiced pitchers throw quicker fastballs and trickier change-ups due to increased focus and faster reflexes. Of course, they also contribute to any number of subsequent health problems from arthritis to heart attack and stroke.

So will this report in any way curb the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and other major sports? The report itself proves very little beyond the already-established fact that the steroid controversy stretches far beyond the bad habits of one or two superstars. Many view it as a false spectacle designed to appease the public and insist that it will have very little influence on the drug habits of baseball pros. Perhaps MLB believes that publicly shaming a couple of big-name players will discourage further abuse, but we think otherwise. Increased penalties for positive drug tests are commendable and necessary, but if baseball wants to counter this problem in a serious way, they cannot shy away from it. They must continue to address this subject in an open and public manner. The enjoyment that fans derive from the organized competition of MLB, like other sports leagues, is built on public trust. Having broken that trust, baseball and the player's union must now focus on winning it back, and there's no better place to do that now than on the field.

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