Exclusive Content   Join Now

Regardless of the sport, there are some who violate the rules

Dec 18, 2007 5:53 AM

Senator George Mitchell’s manifesto on chemical cheating in baseball said nothing new to those covering the sport, and nothing new to those covering horseracing or football or track and field. It merely added a skilled and experienced voice, speaking clearly and courageously.

While the names are different, the facts are the same, across the board.
Mitchell wrote 361 pages, but delivered the heart of his message in his 37-page summary and recommendations.
One learns that “from hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents we learned enough to accurately describe baseball’s ”˜steroids era.’”
What is jolting is not what he learned from the documents, but what he did not learn from the players, their association, and Major League Baseball itself. By and large, they stonewalled him, ignoring his requests.
Hundreds refused to be interviewed. Although Mitchell did interview more than 700 witnesses in the US, Canada and the Dominican Republic, he also asked more 500 former players to talk with him. Only 68 agreed. The Players Association, he reports, “was largely uncooperative,” and its player representative refused to talk to Senator Mitchell.
When he narrowed down his study to five who had spoken publicly about the drug issue, and made clear to them that their testimony would not suggest in any way that any of the five used performance enhancing substances, four of the five refused to talk to him. Frank Thomas of the Toronto Blue Jays was the only one who did.
Mitchell said the Players’ Association delayed the adoption of mandatory drug testing for 20 years, and that major league baseball regarded drug testing as “not as high a priority as economic issues.” It still doesn’t.
Five years ago a top spokesman for baseball told Congress that flaws in testing was “ad hoc at best, and dysfunctional at worst.” Today it is a sham, because steroids, which can be detected, have been replaced by human growth hormone, which cannot.
This is precisely the problem in all American sports today. Reports of only a few positives tests being found mean nothing if you can’t test for what is being used.
Mitchell told of advance notice being provided when testing would occur. The same glaring fault has been reported at tracks where the backstretch somehow knew exactly when testers would appear.
Major league baseball has confidentiality clauses in its agreement with the Players Association, and invoked them in certain areas where they would not cooperate with Mitchell.
Mitchell advocates a strong educational program to alert players of the health dangers of steroids, of the human growth hormones that have replaced them, and of the sources where the illegal substances are obtained. The same is true of racing, where the health and welfare of horses is hardly considered by those who cheat, or by owners who risk their substantial investments.
Mitchell accuses the commissioner of baseball of laxity. Horse racing, of course, has no commissioner. It has scores of them, politically appointed racing commissioners who play virtually no role in the actual enforcement of rules they write on illegal substances. Mitchell advocates “a truly independent authority that holds exclusive authority over its structure and administration. This could be in the form of an independent expert who cannot be removed except for good cause, or an independent non-profit corporation, transparent to the public.”
Mitchell says if baseball does not cure the fissures between regulation and years of opposition to it by the Players Association, his study and his recommendations will go for naught. 
He blames everyone in the game — players, commissioners, club officials, the Players’ Association — and says they all share the responsibility for the “steroids era” in the sport. He thinks it is time the game sets aside the past, and starts anew.
But the key paragraph of his 37-page summary, and of the entire huge report, was one that goes to the heart of the sorry problem, whether it be baseball or football players, horse trainers, or athletes in any other sport.
It says this: “The minority of players who used such substances was wrong. They violated federal law and baseball policy, and they distorted the fairness of competition by trying to gain an unfair advantage over the majority of players who followed the law and the rules. They — the players who follow the law and the rules — are faced with the painful choice of either being placed at a competitive disadvantage or becoming illegal users themselves. No one should have to make that choice.”
With that final sentence, our italics added, Senator Mitchell delivered the challenge faced by all athletes, and all sports, in North America today.