Sacramento Bee – Dec 4, 2004 – Nick Peters – There are more questions than answers
Recent revelations regarding sluggers Barry Bonds’ and Jason Giambi’s use of steroids squarely placed the responsibility on Major League Baseball to adopt a tougher drug-testing policy, doctors and ethicists said Friday.
Giambi told a grand jury that he used steroids provided by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Bonds said he used substances from BALCO but did not know they contained steroids.
Despite his insistence he used steroids unknowingly, Bonds’ reputation has been tainted as he chases Hank Aaron’s all-time home-run record. And Giambi is facing the possibility of having all or part of the remainder of his $120 million contract with the Yankees voided.
The revelations come at a bad time for baseball, which saw record attendance last season and was riding the wave of positive reaction to the Boston Red Sox winning their first World Series title since 1918.
The escalating BALCO scandal is creating a cloud of uncertainty over the integrity of the game.
“As I have repeatedly stated, I am fully committed to the goal of immediately ridding our great game of illegal performance-enhancing substances,” Commissioner Bud Selig said in a prepared statement Friday.
“The use of these substances continues to raise issues regarding the game’s integrity and raises serious concerns about the health and well-being of our players. … I urge the players and their association to … join me in adopting a new, stronger drug-testing policy modeled after our minor-league program that will once and for all rid the game of the scourge of illegal drugs.”
Giants players and management would not comment on Bonds’ alleged involvement with steroids. A club spokesman said, “We can’t comment. It’s a legal matter, and we’ve been asked to direct questions to the Commissioner’s office.”
BALCO founder Victor Conte went on ABC’s “20/20” Friday night and declared that more than 50 percent of the athletes are taking some form of anabolic steroids.
He also said he saw track star Marion Jones inject herself with steroids that he provided.
Asked specifically about baseball’s dealing with drugs, Conte replied: “I think they still believe there’s a Santa Claus. … They’re not in contact with reality. … The program they have put together is a joke.”
Selig told reporters Thursday in Washington that he hoped to have the minor-league program instituted at the major-league level by spring training. Minor-leaguers are tested in and out of season four times for illegal substances and face increased punishment for each positive test. A fifth positive test brings a lifetime ban.
Under an agreement between MLB and the players’ union, there was increased testing in the majors last season, but it was infrequent.
Here’s how the current system works:
* The first positive test results in treatment and continued testing.
* Any subsequent positive testing means a fine and suspension, beginning with 15 days and up to $10,000. By the fifth violation, the penalty is a one-year suspension and up to $100,000 fine.
* The suspensions would be without pay, and the reason for the player’s absence would be disclosed.
Why would athletes take the risk of using illegal substances?
“It’s a combination of extremism and perfectionism, and a lack of education (on the dangers),” said sports performance psychologist Dr. John F. Murray, who works with the Miami Dolphins and golfers in Florida.
“I don’t buy the argument athletes don’t know what’s in their bodies. They’re aware of what they’re doing. In some ways, it’s good this is coming out. How many more are doing it? It’s just the tip of the iceberg. … We need to be more strict and have better measures in place.”
Dr. William O. Roberts, a team physician in St. Paul, Minn., and president of the American College of Sports Medicine, commented in an e-mail Friday on the unresolved issue of steroid use by professional athletes and the need of reform.
“Too much of the focus this week has been on competition and performance issues such as records and cheating,” Roberts wrote. “Not enough attention is being paid to the messages being sent to impressionable young athletes.
“… Without an appropriate level of focus on the negative health implications of steroid use, young athletes may be led to believe that steroids can help them achieve greatness on the playing field, and that the only danger is getting caught.”
He pointed his finger squarely at baseball.
“No other entity in American culture is in a better position to address this than Major League Baseball,” he wrote. “Baseball and its players union simply cannot shun their ethical responsibility to society by failing to eradicate steroid use by its players.”
Baseball’s relatively soft stance on drug testing at the major-league level has been under scrutiny for some time. While Selig gets much of the blame, the biggest culprit could be the strength of the Players Association.
“It is stronger than what the other sports have in place, and they hide under the guise of privacy issues,” said a former player who spoke on condition of anonymity. “(Union head) Donald Fehr and (legal counsel) Gene Orza are unwilling to compromise.”
The union’s stance also explains why players are reluctant to condemn teammates who cheat. There was an uproar two years ago when former MVPs Jose Canseco and the late Ken Caminiti admitted to steroid use. Canseco estimated 85 percent of major-leaguers took the illegal substances; Caminiti put the figure at around 50 percent.
Sacramento’s Pat Gomez, a former major-league pitcher and now an assistant coach at Del Campo High School, recalled baseball’s lax attitude toward drugs when he pitched for the Padres and the Giants from 1993 to 1995.
“Basically, if they said they suspected you (of drug use), that was it, and you didn’t have to do anything,” he said. “You had to darn well be caught with a needle in your arm.
“The temptation is very real and the money is very large when you move into that category of player.”
Gomez said baseball needs a strict policy for the players’ health and the integrity of the game.
“If a guy who spends $18 on a ticket realizes if he loaded himself up, too, he could be out there, that’s not good for the game,” Gomez said.
Despite Selig’s recent get-tough stance, he came to the defense of Mark McGwire last spring when reminded that the former A’s and Cardinals slugger used a since-banned supplement while hitting a record 70 home runs in 1998. Selig said he’d never put an asterisk by McGwire’s records.
By comparison, the NFL and the NBA have their share of off-field problems, yet steroid use is not one of them. The NFL’s drug policy is regarded as the most stringent of all major sports.
It was established through a collective-bargaining agreement between the league and the Players Association in 1993. It has been updated to address concerns about whether the NFL is doing all it can to eliminate its biggest concern: steroid use as a means of a competitive advantage.
Each year, the league routinely tests all players for recreational drugs. They are given a specified date and advanced warning, usually at the start of training camp. If a player fails a test for recreational drugs, it is kept confidential.
The league considers recreational-drug use a medical issue and wants to treat instead of punish the player.
It is not until he fails a second test that he receives a four-game suspension. A third positive test can be a year’s suspension.
Steroid use, which can be detected through weekly random testing of six players per team, is a more serious matter. The first positive test means a four-game suspension. A second is six games, and a third will result in at least a one-year suspension.
In addition, the league also tests for masking agents.
If a player tries to pass a test by using a masking agent, that also means a suspension, even if a steroid isn’t detected.
In the NBA, where drug issues have been a familiar dark headline for decades, there has never been a perception problem with steroids that comes close with marijuana, alcohol or even cocaine.
Steroids were added to the list of banned substances in March 2000, and without fanfare. Officials don’t recall anything close to heated negotiations between the NBA and the Players Association after the union conceded key points to end the 1999 lockout.
Eight types of steroids later became an addendum to that deal, most notably Androstenedione, which within years would become known as Andro and a focus on the debate regarding steroids in sports when McGwire went on his home-run spree.
A player testing positive the first time would be suspended for five games and be required to enter a program under the supervision of professionals jointly selected by the league and the union.
A second positive test would result in 10 games and re-entry into the program, and any subsequent violation would mean 25 games and another re-entry Also, a player would be banned from the NBA if he is convicted or pleads guilty or no contest to a crime involving the use or possession of steroids.
Selig was questioned after the San Francisco Chronicle published grand-jury testimony in which Giambi admitted that he had used steroids.
His testimony was given a year ago to a federal grand jury investigating BALCO. An investigation into the leak was ordered by a U.S. District judge Friday.
Selig said he has instructed Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, to continue working with the Players Association to implement a tougher testing program in baseball.
“I instituted a very tough program on steroids in the minor leagues in 2001,” Selig said. “We need to have that same program at the major-league level.
“I’m going to leave no stone unturned until we have that policy in place by spring training. We need a tough policy, and I’m going to be very aggressive in the implementation of that policy.”