A Solution for Steroids Problem
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 15, 2006

WHAT SHOULD we be doing about steroids in sports? First, let’s talk about what doesn’t work:

--Banning steroids. If we know anything at all about human nature, we know that people will find a way to get what they want or think they need.

Dismay over the problems of alcoholism brought about a crusade early in the 20th century which wrote prohibition of alcohol into the Constitution. All that did was create a criminal culture which is still with us, causing more problems than alcohol ever did. People still found ways to get alcohol, often of a bad variety. In recognition of that, Prohibition was repealed.

Nonetheless, we are currently doing the same thing with our drug policy, which has remained constant whether the White House is occupied by a Republican or a Democrat, because it satisfies the emotional needs of the many moralists in our country. It’s called the “war on drugs,” but we lost it long ago. Again, it’s creating another criminal class, this time, many of them in Central and South America, while segments of our society are being devastated by crack cocaine.

Abuse of any drug, whether it’s alcohol, cocaine or marijuana, causes problems, but it makea much more sense to legalize them so their use can be regulated. Also, taxed, so we can actually get some money from them, instead of having to pay inspectors to make the much-heralded drug busts that accomplish nothing.

In sports, athletes are always looking for an edge. In 1920, baseball rules were changed so that pitchers could no longer throw a spitball, use emory boards to rough up the ball or put any foreign substance on the ball. That didn’t stop Gaylord Perry from throwing the spitter – and even publicly acknowledging it. That pitch turned him from a disappointment who would probably have had a short career into a Hall of Fame pitcher. There have been other pitchers who have used sandpaper, for instance (or, in Whitey Flord’s case, having his catcher, Elston Howard, do it) to get an extra break.

Amphetamines (greenies) were the big thing in the ‘60s, though the general public probably didn’t realize that until Jim Bouton wrote “Ball Four.” They’re still being used today, but steroids are the focus now.

The trouble with banning them is that the athletes and their chemists are usually a step ahead. The NFL has been better at policing drugs than baseball, but nobody who has been in a pro football dressing room lately has any illusion that the league is catching all the steroids users. The stiffer tests in baseball are mostly catching minor leaguers and low level major leaguers who don’t have the money or the contacts to get the steroids that can’t be detected. Olympic drug tests are the toughest but Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who wrote the book on Barry Bonds’ steroid use, said they talked to experts in the field who say there are Olympians who are taking undetectable steroids.

--Setting an example with Bonds by banning him from the game.

Again, look around you.

Despite the death penalty, our levels of violent crime are higher than western European countries who don't have it. Killing a criminal is the most extreme example you could find, but it's no detterent.

The IRS from time to time will catch a high profile tax cheat and put him on trial. Has that stopped tax cheating? If you think so, I have another question: Do you believe in the Easter Bunny?

Tom DeLay is under indictment in Texas, but now it seems that his successor in House Republican leadership has been taking more lobbyist-financed trips to golf resorts than back to his home district. Politicians are frantically trying to send back money they got from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, but they’re doing nothing about true campaign reform (except for John McCain and Russell Feingold) and avoiding what would truly change the way things are done, by having campaigns publicly financed. The Ken Lay/Enron trial is getting a lot of attention, but all corporate wrongdoers will take from that is that they shouldn’t be caught talking about what they’re doing in taped conversations.

If Bonds were banned, the only lesson players would get from that would be to avoid being caught, and as I noted, they’re already taking drugs which are undectable.

Throwing out his statistics would also be impossible. For openers, nobody knows how many pitchers who were taking steroids were throwing to Bonds. If he was getting an unfair advantage, so were they. Throwing out his statistics would affect everybody he and the Giants played. Can’t be done.

The idea that his stats could be identified by an asterisk is also nonsensical. There is a myth that then commissioner Ford Frick did this with Roger Maris’s record in 1961. In fact, what Frick ordered done was to put in two records, one for 154 games and one for 162. As soon as Frick was through as commissioner, there was only one record listed, for Maris.

In Bonds’ case, how do you differentiate? Do you divide his stats into two eras, one before steroids and one after? Do you do the same for Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro? And, do you go back in history and put some kind of identification on Perry's stats, since he admitted cheating? This is just plain silly.

--Talking about the integrity of the game and how athletes should be role models for children. Please.

Baseball is simply entertainment, not religion or even government, and athletes are just young men with all the foibles and personality flaws of the young. As reader Janice Hough pointed out in “Letters” the other day, it is hypocritical to think that athletes should set an example for young boys and not be concerned about the example that movie stars and entertainers are setting for young girls with their surgically-enhanced bodies and eating disorders. If parents are not doing their jobs in raising their children, it’s unrealistic to expect athletes to take their place.

MY SOLUTION is simple: Allow athletes to take anything they want, but with the provision that they put into writing everything they’re taking and submit to a complete medical examination at the end of the season. Those who do not do this would be subject to random tests; if they tested positive, they would be banned for at least a season. Perhaps some would still want to deny that they’re taking anything, but I doubt many would risk suspension for that.

This would give a better idea of who was taking steroids and, more important, it would allow doctors and scientists to trace the effects of steroids on the human body. Most of the “evidence” we have now is anecdotal. Lyle Alzado’s name comes up every time, but Alzado was taking numerous drugs. The potential damage of steroids may be great or it may be small, but we have little direct evidence now. With this program, we could learn.

Of course, this won’t satisfy those who yearn to punish Bonds. It won’t satisfy those who want to have the same warm and fuzzy feelings they had toward the games and its players when they were kids. It won’t satisfy the moralists who think Bonds and other steroids users are cheating, without acknowledging the long history of cheaters in the sport.

So, nothing like this will ever be enacted. Instead, we’ll have constant calls for tougher drug testing to catch those using steroids, or whatever new drug comes along in 10 years, in 20, in 30. And, nothing will ever change.

LETTERS: I’ll be updating this section later today.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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