As long as games exist so too will cheaters that target those games. Taking a legislative approach to prevent cheating accomplishes a lot, but it comes with some inherent limitations.
Primary among those limitations is that the system is necessarily a reactive mechanism much like the criminal court system in America. MLB can educate, inform, and penalize, but it cannot actually stop players from trying to gain an unfair advantage. Emperor Bud and cohorts can cajole, ban, threaten, coerce, and bribe players not to cheat, and players will still possess the ability to cheat.
Would stiffer penalties reduce the amount of PED use? Maybe. One might certainly argue that re-balancing the risk component of the risk/reward scenario would have a positive impact. However, you may still be hard pressed to affect the player working to rehab an injury who perceives a significant benefit from PED use. What about the marginal player who just needs a multi-year deal to secure his financial future? If he goes year to year making the minimum and takes a all-or-nothing attitude about PED use, even a performance boost for a few months means millions to him. Same thing goes for some guys trying to hold on to what careers they do have. The risk simply does not always outweigh the potential reward.
People do stupid things and have since the dawn of mankind. MLB certainly won’t be the organization to change that, but that doesn’t mean the league shouldn’t try. Mind you, the truly useful tools in the deterrent toolbox simply cannot or will not see the light of day. Giving teams the ability to void a contract due to a PED violation would certainly change the way many view the reward for improved performance. The player’s association will never agree to this, and I’m not here to say that it should.
On the flip side, teams could be the real winners in the PED discussion. What does a team lose if a player decides to load up on HGH or synthetic testosterone? Sure, the team likely loses that player for a period of time, but one might argue that the player’s perceived value to the team diminishes the moment the PED case has been made. It’s a rather morbid win-win situation for the team that may profit from the PED user’s work but pay no significant penalty when the user gets busted. What if MLB having a PED policy violator play could result in a penalty for the team? Maybe MLB could coax teams to truly join the fight on the side of good.
After all, the league currently has a fight on its hands with perceived apathy on one side and testing limitations on the other. If you find yourself in a battle you cannot win outright, then change the battle by changing the rules. Understand the perceived apathy, and encourage the apathetic to join the less evil side (MLB in this case).
Use the Todd Helton DWI charge as the catalyst for sweeping changes. Sure, public outcry may not seem commensurate with the crime in this case, but maybe that’s because as much as we would like to logically connect drunk driving with PED use, it simply won’t happen. I’d venture that almost everyone above the age of 18 personally knows at least 1 person who has been arrested for public intoxication, driving under the influence, or driving while intoxicated. No matter the semantics, operating a motor vehicle while drinking fire water happens, and it happens a lot. It’s bad. We’ve also been slightly desensitized to it by now.
PED use may or may not occur which anything near the frequency that intoxicated driving does. Given the number of athletes involved with MLB, the rate of occurrence could be as high as intoxicated driving is in the general population. Regardless, we’re talking about significant differences in terms of both scale and celebrity. A PED accusation or violation may seem worse simply because it receives much more news coverage than your average DWI does. Add the media layers comprised of talking heads decrying the heinous violations that impact the holy game of sportsball, and you have a multimedia melee on your hands.
As of now, no single PED violation has been as terrible or potentially life altering as a single incident of drunk driving. None. A drunk driver can injure or kill themselves and other people, thereby passing on a horrific verdict on the lives of a few to dozens upon dozens of lives. A PED user can do much the same to himself, but we simply do not logically connect that use with the all-too-familiar story of some drunk idiot running a light and broadsiding a family of 4. Yet we still have tempered reactions to the drunk driver. Maybe that’s because many of us understand that alcoholism as a disease process still defies comprehension. Maybe. Or maybe many of us have seen both sides of that terrible equation. We’ve seen the gradual decay of an alcoholic and the subsequent decay of the support system around that person. Sympathetic? Maybe, maybe not. Empathetic? Possibly.
Regardless, PED users and drunk drivers simply cannot be lumped together so easily as some might suggest. However, please understand that the answer may not be as easy as getting more upset about drunken driving. Maybe the real answer is to be slightly less invested in the outcome of sportsball events and more focused on real problems. That’s not to say that I don’t want a better mouse trap for PED users. As a matter of fact, I’d like to see a DWI conviction given the same treatment as a PED offense and part of a 3 strikes program. More on that…
- Drug program 1st offense for DWI, DUI, PED = 81 game ban with 1 year contract subject to being voided. If voided, a portion of the contract goes to a drug awareness and/or rehabilitation program specified by MLB. The money is paid by the team.
- Drug program 2nd offense for DWI, DUI, PED = Full season ban with 1 year or multi-year contract subject to being voided. If voided the equivalent of the average annual base salary in present day dollars is payable over what would have been the lifetime of the contract to a drug awareness and/or rehabilitation program specified by MLB. The money is paid by the team.
- Drug program 3rd offense for DWI, DUI, PED = Lifetime ban from MLB. Contract voided. Team pays monetary penalty equivalent to 10% of the total base contact amount.
Is this really a better mouse trap? Probably not, but it does shift some of the onus to teams to steer clear of cheaters or at least not to risk too much on them. The suspension penalties for drug program violators appear to be more severe, but the ability to void a contract might be a greater deterrent. Not that the player’s association would ever agree to any of this, but we easily forget that the PA protects the players and NOT the game itself.
Perhaps the most important provision here relates to the handling of DWI/DUI convictions. Group them with PED use, and maybe we can all learn more about both. While they certainly are not equal, I see no reason to keep them logically separate. Maybe that’s just me.
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