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Strike Out Steroids

By Margaret M. Rossman

While fans follow America’s favorite, and most wholesome, pastime, its players have been consumed by something altogether more sinister. Performance enhancing drug use, from steroids to amphetamines, is rampant among baseball players. Although no one knows exact figures of player drug us, what is certain is that Major League Baseball remains one of the few major American sports that does not randomly drug test its players for steroids and amphetamines.

That performance-enhancing drugs harm players is clear. Athletes use steroids to increase muscle mass and strength, but side effects can include liver tumors, high blood pressure, fertility problems, hypertension, increased hostility and aggression and cardiovascular diseases. Even more prevalent than steroid use is amphetamine use, which players take to stay energized and alert during night games. Possible side effects of this drug include an increased heart rate and blood pressure, restlessness, weight loss and heart failure. Ephedra, which has similar effects to amphetamines but is sold over-the-counter, can also be dangerous when taken before exercise, and was linked to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler earlier this year. One Orioles team doctor said, “It makes the heart beat faster, the blood vessels constrict. That poor kid cooked to death from the inside.”

While drugs may damage the health of the players that take them, they are even more pernicious for the game as a whole. Among players, performance enhancing drug-use creates a divide between drug-takers and drug-abstainers. Those who strengthen themselves with drugs gain an unfair advantage. Aside from this clear violation of sporting ethics, drugs have led to a game more focused on brute force rather than teamwork or even individual finesse. Instead of a well-rounded game with defense, strategy and teamwork, over-powered homeruns now all-too-often clinch the victory.

Even in the face of such mounting evidence Major League Baseball has refused to alter their regulations, which theoretically ban the use of steroids and amphetamines but do nothing practical to enforce observance. After much negotiating last year, the Major League Players Association (MBPA)—the players’ union—finally agreed to steroid testing, which began during this year’s spring training. But these tests are not random—they are scheduled in advance, so players can easily schedule their steroid use around the test dates. They also only test for steroids, and not for other common performance-enhancing drugs. They are thus essentially useless. As Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s medical research committee, noted “[baseball’s new testing procedure is] more of an IQ test than a steroid test, because you have to be really dumb to fail it.”

The even-more ludicrous aspect of the new testing system, though, is that players face no punishment for a positive test. It is only if more than 5 percent of players test positive this season, causing random testing to go into place next season, that the penalties will be anything but harsh. In the future, under a random testing policy, a first offense would only require participation in a drug treatment program, and a second offense would only lead to a mere 15 day suspension. Furthermore, if players test positive, they are able to take a second test, one week later, and a negative result here will wipe out the earlier positive. Compare this to the National Football League (NFL), where one positive test for steroids leads to a four-game suspension, which is a quarter of the season.

In fact, most other athletic organizations are clearly aware of performance-enhancing drugs’ downfalls. The National Basketball Association (NBA), the NFL, as well as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), to name but a few, have all instituted random steroid and amphetamine testing. They have also enforced strict penalties in an effort to keep sports drug-free. The IOC, according to its official web site, has been “radically against doping” for the past 30 years, operating under the principles of “protecting athletes’ health, respecting medical and sporting ethics, and maintaining equal opportunities for all during competitions.” Major League Baseball’s lack of meaningful drug tests can only mean that it is not committed to those same values.

We watch sports for athletic competition, not for consumption competition. Performance-enhancing drugs have already irreversibly mutilated the game of baseball. They will only continue to do so if nothing is done.

Margaret M. Rossman ’06 is a freshman in Weld Hall.

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