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A Return to Decency

June 30, 2006

What?  A post about something other than a) the Mini or b) the Transformers movie?  What madness is this?

It is a madness brought about by today’s events just prior to the start of the Tour de France tomorrow.  If you haven’t heard, seen, or read the news, several top cyclists, including Jan Ulrich and Ivan Basso, were dismissed from the tour after testing positive for doping.

Good.

Growing up, I, like most children, had my fair share of heroes, and many of those heroes were involved in professional sports.  Dan Marino.  Nolan Ryan.  Ryne Sandberg.  Scott Fletcher.  Rick Mears.

As the years passed, however, I became jaded.  The so-called end of innocence came for me in the form of the 1994 strike that shut down Major League Baseball.  I realized for the first time that many of the players I had grown up following and, yes, emulating, were greedy bastards.

In the aftermath of the strike, I saw greed everywhere, and professional sports were never the same for me again.  Apart from hockey and the occasional basketball series, Super Bowl, or Tour de France, I largely bowed out of following sports.  It had just lost something in my eyes.  I could not see past the greed.

And then came the drugs.  Oh, I’m sure they’d been around much longer, but that only makes it worse, doesn’t it?  How many of my childhood heroes were shooting up in the locker rooms before the games?  Forget it, I don’t want to know.

Here’s the thing.  If you play baseball and you gamble on baseball, you are banned from baseball.  But if you inject yourself with illegal substances and turn yourself into a freak of nature to break home run records, you might get a fine, or a suspension.  But, at the end of the day, you are gaming the system.  You are cheating, and it is disgraceful and disrespectful.  Disrepectful to the spirit of fair play.  Disrespectful to the fans.  Disrespectful to the game.

Which brings me to my point.  A few years ago, I read Bob Costas’ book on how to save baseball.  It was fascinating, and I agree with almost all of his points.  But I would go further.  If I were in the position to affect change in Major League Baseball, I would bring forward a code of conduct.  In my opinion, baseball should be a clean sport, and if players are going to demand salaries that surpass the gross national product of most African nations, they can suck it up and abide by the code.

It would be a simple code…

Article 1 – No steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.  If you are caught using said drugs without a legitimate medical reason verified by at least three doctors, you are banned for one season without pay.  If you are caught a second time, you are banned from baseball for life.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2006 7:31 am

    I think that 99% of people would agree, but the real issues are much more complex. 1) What do you consider a performance enhancing drug? Steroids and HGH are obvious, but what about antphetamines? And what level would you consider banning somebody since it can be found in a lot of over the counter medicine? If somebody takes a no-doz or drinks three Red Bulls before a game would that count? What else would you ban? Whey Protien, Glutamine and Creatine (all staples for weight lifters) will absolutley give you a strength advantage over somebody not taking those assuming that they are both on a weight lifting program, but they are all legal. Babe Ruth would drink before a game to “relax his nerves”, would that count. 2) Testing is way behind. They still do not have tests that can acurately identify HGH. They cannot develop a test until a new designer drug has been discovered. By that time not only have several masking agents already been produced, but more than likely they are already working on the next designer steroid.
    I am not sure to what percentage, but I’m sure that there is a group of players who will go undetected no mater what. How many players take performance enhancers just trying to keep up with those that go undetected?
    Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you, but I also think that as long as people have competed in sports, competitors have used something other than God given talent to gain a competitive edge. Even going back to the gladiator days, I’m sure that the top gladiators had a little more than pure skill on their side. As society and technology advance, so do the ways to boost your competitive edge. New skates, bats, shoes, helmets, rackets and curved hockey sticks are being introduced all of the time. The last softball tournament I played in had a list of 25 different bats that were now illegal in tournament play. 20 of those were legal last season and that cycle continues every year. So were those who used those bats last year cheaters? I used one of them for one game last season and hit a bomb that went almost 350 feet, about 20 feet longer than any other home run I have hit.
    My final thoughts….don’t despair Matt. This has been going on in sports since their have been sports, steroids are only the latest tool. That does not take away the competitive spirit of those who play. Although they may apear to be greedy, if a rival company called you tomorrow and offered you a 25% pay raise, would you take it? Would you be frustrated if somebody in your same position made twice as much as you even though you were a consistently better performer? If somebody offered you a $250,000 bonus to leave college early to take a job in advertising would you say no and finish your degree first? I am not justifying all of the issues, but I am sure that these decisions are are not always so black and white.

    OK, my rant is done.

  2. July 1, 2006 11:34 am

    Good points, all.

    Of course, I am not commissioner, but were I, I would establish a specified list of banned substances. I would do my best to make it reasonable, and possibly even give the fans themselves a hand in determining what those substances might be. The key, I think, would be to make the punishment for doping as severe as that for gambling.

    And I think the line should be drawn in one place and held consistently (perhaps adjusting as new drugs emerge, but never expanding to include substances that were legal, but all of the sudden are not).

    An interesting aside – the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a race governed by literally thousands of regulations. Cars are divided into four classes, and each class has specific standards they must meet. Minimum weights, wing sizes, engine displacement, what have you. Even the materials used in the brakes is regulated. The idea is to level the playing field and put the race down to the quality of car and driver, not to horsepower or weight or whatnot.

    Well, this year Audi ran away with the win. How? It’s new car, the R10, is a turbodiesel. It gets better gas mileage than the other cars in its class, and over the course of the 24 hours saved itself something like five pit stops. It marks a huge step forward for diesel technology, and I can’t fault Audi the win. They innovated and found a new way of doing things that was not prohibited in the ACO regulations. I don’t want to squelch innovation…I bet in four years every car in the LMP1 class will be diesel…but I think steroid use, or EPO in pro cycling, is a different matter. Those are banned substances, and the punishment for using them should be severe enough to dissuade their use. Permanent banishment ought to do it.

    And something else for the spirit of competition. In the same Le Mans race, in the farther down GT2 class (which consists of race-modified Porsche 911s and the like), Aston Martin placed 4th in a production V8 Vantage. The other cars in the class have tuned engines, fiberglass bodies, and push the regulations as far as they can. Aston raced a car that had come off the production line (they brought it up to racing spec with a roll cage and fire system, etc, but left it alone other than that), and placed 4th. Personally, I think that is every bit as impressive as the Audi win.

  3. July 1, 2006 1:15 pm

    I think that you are correct – stiffer punishment will definitley help. There is a reason that crime is so low in the Middle East – you steal, you don’t your hand slapped, you get it cut off. Unfortuantley, they also have a very violent culture. A different topic for a different time. Maybe the lifetime ban would discourage ennough people.

    No baseball palyer has been caught gambling on baseball since Pete Rose.

    That is cool about Aston Martin – Good for them!

  4. July 1, 2006 1:50 pm

    I find the history of the Middle East both fascinating and tragic at the same time.

    In the Middle Ages, the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, the Middle East was downright progressive. It was home to arts, sciences, mathematics, philosophy. In Spain, Muslims coexisted peacefully with Christians and Jews for nearly four hundred years before relations fell apart in the 1080s. One could argue that the ancient texts of Plato, Aristotle, and others transmitted from the Middle East to western Europe were the spark that would ignite the Renaissance.

    The problem is that, at some point, the region stagnated culturally. The Middle East never experienced the social changes that shook Western Europe. There was no Magna Carta, no Renaissance, no Reformation, no Enlightenment.

    As a result, today, much of the region remains, socially, in the Middle Ages. Absolute monarchies, fuedal societies, and theocracies are very much the norm. Women are still treated like cattle (or camels), and at least a not insignificant portion of the populace embraces the idea of Holy War (jihad).

  5. July 2, 2006 5:50 pm

    Matt…….It’ OK to smile when your picture is taken.

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