Steroid problem finds its root in MLB’s leniency

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The baseball season has finally begun, and I’ve been waiting for those two happy words — “play ball!” — all spring. But this season is going to be different for one major reason, and that’s steroids and the media blitz the drug’s use has created.

The primary reason steroids are such a huge topic is because Congress subpoenaed a slew of baseball players, such as Jose Canseco, Mark Maguire, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling. These players, along with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, were brought in so that Congress could try and find out why and how the steroid problem had become so widespread in baseball. One name noticeably missing from the list of subpoenaed players was Barry Bonds, as it was feared that his appearance would have created too big of a media circus.

But why all this now? And more importantly, why is it MLB’s fault for not taking control of the situation years ago? The number one reason why steroids are the league’s fault is because of the labor strike in 1994. After that work stoppage, fans were so angry at baseball that they vowed to make the league wait a number of years before they would ever come back. Unlike most sports fans, they kept their word. After canceling half the season, including the World Series, the next season began with low attendance and dismal TV ratings. Something needed to be done to recapture fans affection, and what is the average fan’s favorite thing to see during a game? A home run.

To lure fans back to the ballpark, they made the fields smaller, they wound the balls tighter to make the balls travel farther, and most of all, they glorified the home run more than ever before. The worst thing MLB did (or did not do) was not ban suspected steroids that players were noticeably using. Feeling the pressure from MLB, the players did everything they could to make sure they continued to play the game at the highest level.

Now I’m not saying the players that took steroids are not without blame here, because they’re most definitely at fault, too. Nobody forced these players to take steroids, and no one told the players to lie about taking them, which allowed the public to label them as liars and cheaters.

Additionally, MLB has historically had a very lenient testing policy. Back in the day, a player would have to be caught three times in order for his name to be publicized, and even then he would only receive a ten-game suspension without pay. The total amount of money that a player could be fined for was around $100,000. For a professional baseball player, that’s nothing. In other professional sports, a player would immediately be fined and suspended. In the Olympics, for instance, if an athlete is caught using steroids, he or she receives an automatic two-year ban. Granted, baseball has the best player’s union in pro sports, but this policy was still far too lenient.

Now there is a new testing policy in effect, but again, names are not revealed until at least the second offense. Baseball players claim that testing is an invasion of privacy, and to a point, I agree with them. But most professional jobs require the employee takes a drug test, and since baseball players are “professional” athletes, they should be no different.

The main reason there was so much discussion this spring about steroids is because Congress had had enough, and brought players in to testify under oath for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to believe that Congress had nothing better to do with their time. It’s not as if our country is operating under a massive, growing deficit, and we’re certainly not in the middle of a war, right?

Yes, steroids are a problem, but they are MLB’s problem, not the federal government’s. The reason that Congress cites for stepping in is because of the effect it has on younger athletes. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times detailed the story of a local athlete who committed suicide, leading his parents to believe the reason for it was because he was doing steroids. This is not an isolated incident; there have been plenty of stories about high school and college athletes dying because they took dangerous amounts of steroids.

But those numbers are not nearly as high as the amount of high school and college kids who die every year from alcohol abuse. During spring break, it is estimated that over 1,000 college students are seriously hurt or killed from alcohol poisoning.

The bullying of another huge “organization” for not exercising control over its “people” is the most hypocritical thing Congress could do. Again, if one of the main reasons Congress is going through this process is to show how supposedly concerned they are with our country’s children, then why do they continue to cut funding from public schools and after-school programs? This is MLB’s business.

Secondarily, if baseball feels the need to keep players like McGuire and Bonds out of their league’s Hall of Fame, then so be it. If MLB feels the need to put an asterisk next to the suspected steroid users, I’m fine with that. Just remember, if they do that, then they should also put an asterisk next to all those men who played before the late-1940s, as baseball was not integrated. Consider about how different the record books would be if blacks and whites played together, especially back when Babe Ruth started hitting his 714 home runs.

The season has finally begun, and players will undoubtedly be back in front of Congress before the season is over, answering the same hypercritical questions from different senators.

This is going to be one crazy season.

Justin Satzman is a sophomore broadcast journalism major.