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Chemical Conundrum: Beyond The Mitchell Report

The timeline leading to the release of Senator George Mitchell’s document on the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s) in MLB on December 13, 2007 had a cryptic and inauspicious beginning way back on June 7, 1991.

On that day, then-commissioner Fay Vincent sent a memo to all MLB clubs outlining the ban of “all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids.”

That bark wasn’t followed with much of a bite, however, as the player’s union did not collectively bargain a testing policy. That’s akin to setting a speed limit on an interstate highway, but neglecting to monitor the traffic flow.

Good luck with compliance, my friends!

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Vincent would later tell Mitchell that the PED problem in MLB “may be the most serious challenge that baseball has faced since the 1919 Black Sox scandal, and that is cheating of the worst sort.”

Yes, it is every bit of a serious challenge, not to mention a lesson in ignorance and a blueprint for how not to conduct the daily operations of a professional sports league.

And it most certainly is cheating – both on the field and in the trickle down effect it has with our young people.

Senator Mitchell is to be commended on this exhaustive and implicating manuscript on the sad state of affairs in MLB, one that names over 80 players and blasts just about everyone from the clubhouses to the luxury suites for allowing this deep wound to bleed uncontrollably for so long.

He is also to be lauded for the steps he recommends in the healing process, one that will take a lot of time and effort on the part of the players, management, coaches, owners, and even the fans.

Unfortunately, this hormonal nightmare we’ve been living for far too many years is ongoing and certainly isn’t going to abate solely in light of the Mitchell Report. As coaches, administrators, trainers, owners, and parents, we have a daunting task ahead of us.

Up first is the realization that this happened because there were those who were asleep at the switch, and others who simply put their hands over their eyes.

Let’s look at the current state of affairs with the PED crisis, interject some of the more prominent points made in the Mitchell Report, and offer some personal perspectives and suggestions to help turn the tide of this chemical aberration.

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A Closer Look at the “Collective Failure”

Senator Mitchell’s blistering 400+ page report navigates us through a hideous scenario of drug abuse, ignorance, and the turning of a blind eye by people in baseball who had the power and wherewithal to do something about it. The “code of silence” that was in effect for so many years eventually made guilt by association commonplace throughout MLB.

In Mitchell’s words: “Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades – commissioners, club officials, the player’s association, and the players – share to some extent the responsibility for the steroids era. There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on.”

Mitchell continues by urging Commissioner Bud Selig to create an internal department of investigations to examine drug abuse in baseball and to perform random, year-round, unannounced drug testing by an independent body.

There are two key terms in that recommendation; unannounced, which has apparently been a compromised component of the current testing program, and independent body, which will alleviate concerns about the reliability, validity, and integrity of the testing process.

Lack of courage and credibility in the clubhouse has also stalled progress in getting to the core of this dilemma due to what former pitcher Tom Candiotti called the “locker room mentality.” In his words, “You just don’t give anybody up. You hated to see what was going on, but you just don’t rat people out. What goes on in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse. That’s the law in baseball.”

The problem, however, is that this “law in baseball” means adopting a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” code with those who are engaged in health devastating practices in addition to breaking the law.

A Call to Action

That fact that it is illegal to distribute or use these compounds without medical qualification and a prescription tends to get lost in the quagmire. PED’s (including “pro-steroids” and precursors such as androstenedione) have been placed under the Controlled Substance Act as Schedule III drugs, and those distributing and/or using them without valid medical reasons could face felony charges.

And yet, there are those players who continually express the decades of lack of controls via a sound policy and testing program in MLB as an excuse for the abuse.

After all, as they will argue, baseball did not have an agreement to ban steroids until September 2002, and did not have testing with concurrent penalties, albeit relatively weak ones with no teeth, until 2004.

Let’s get this straight: The Federal Government has strict laws and penalties for the distribution and illegal use of these drugs, but because MLB chose to ignore the problem for so long, shouldn’t everything be OK as long as everyone plays dumb? That’s basically the interpretation of that fractured rationalization.

Bud Selig said that the report was “a call to action, and I will act.”

Well, let this fiasco be a lesson to everyone at every level of athletics: A mindless, do-nothing, slap-on- the wrist PED policy will rapidly fester into a full-blown catastrophe replete with all of the lying, deceit, ignorance, and evil elements that nobody wants to deal with initially, but one that will seriously hurt everyone eventually.

Turning a blind eye to these activities will undoubtedly – as has been illuminated in MLB — give you two large, swollen, black and blue shiners that will not dissipate quickly.

Final Rep

In a recent confidential survey study (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, January, 2008), 57% of the 3,200 students from twelve states in grades 8-12 who admitted to using PED’s said that professional athletes influenced their decision to use the drugs. Another 63% said that pro athletes influenced their friends’ decision to use them. And nearly 80% of the abusers said that they believed PED’s would help them achieve their athletic dream.

The most shocking finding of all: 65% said they would be willing to use any type of pill, powder, etc., regardless of the effects on their health, if it guaranteed they would reach athletic stardom.

We may have to come to the realization that we are not doing enough from an educational standpoint, and will eventually have to follow the lead of New Jersey, Texas, and Florida in implementing steroid testing at the high school level to put more backbone into our deterrence efforts.

And now, with Human Growth Hormone (HGH) looming as the PED of choice at the higher levels of sport, our job gets continually tougher. An encouraging note is that we are close to developing a valid, credible blood test for HGH, but more work must be done to perfect it.

The bottom line: Education and random, unannounced, year-round testing must continue to spearhead our efforts – and all of us must be relentless in this quest.

TIP FROM THE TRENCHES

An Open Letter to the Stars

As a concerned parent and one who has witnessed enough sidestepping of the truth regarding PED”s in both professional and amateur athletics, here is my personal message to those who have already defaced or are contemplating upsetting the integrity and sportsmanship that we admire, respect, and expect in our star athletes:

Dear High Profile Athlete:

It is my hope that as you progress in your career that you will always remember your tremendous obligation to our young people. Whether you believe it, accept it, decline it, or embrace it, you are a role model to these little eyes that are constantly upon you. They watch and imitate every move you make, and listen to every word you speak as if it was the gospel truth.

We are their parents, but you are their heroes. I hope you don’t take that responsibility lightly, because it is yours – like it or not. After all, it is children like mine who have put your name in lights and contributed in many ways to your notoriety, popularity, and endorsement package.

You wouldn’t let your own kids down, would you? Please, don’t let mine down. Show them that you can be great with honesty, integrity, and by simply doing the right things.

If you use PED’s, you’re sending the message that it is OK to do so. And by saying that, you are, in essence, a drug dealer. No, you’re not on the corner selling the stuff in plastic sandwich bags, but because you are bigger than life to these kids, it really amounts to the same thing. They copy your moves, most of your actions, and they will believe what your conduct tells their impressionable young minds to believe.

I ask you to achieve greatness the same way so many have done before you – with hard work, perseverance, mental and physical toughness, and by using your God-given talents in the very best and honorable fashion possible.

Don’t get caught in the trap of having an asterisk stamped next to your name or, more importantly, carrying the burden of contributing to the physical destruction of our children for the rest of your life.

Leave a great legacy – one that everyone can be proud of.

About the Author

Ken Mannie is the head strength/conditioning coach at Michigan State University. ([email protected])

 


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