The latest PED-related nightmare revolving around Biogenesis and “The U” in Florida has fans and media asking the question, “What is it going to take to clean up the sport?” Most answers are clearly focused on punitive damages – 50 game suspensions, season-long suspensions, lifetime bans, etc. – or, in other words, business as usual in the world of drug-taking cheats and professional sports.
A few mention detection methods, such as blood tests for HGH and more frequent, randomized urine tests; some question the justice of an appeals process that allows a clearly positive test to be thrown out over a chain of custody technicality; but no one is really talking about the problem from the most obvious angle imaginable – player enforcement.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation attached to the Biogenesis story is the involvement of the University of Miami (The U) as a potential meeting place – a hub, if you want to call it that – for an illegal performance enhancing drug culture to flourish. It’s becoming increasingly more likely that officials and players at The U participated in relationships, meetings, and perhaps even networks that made it the perfect gathering place for current drug users, potential drug users, and dealers of the most despicable type to peddle PEDs like so much candy on the playground.
Suddenly, any baseball player who attended The U is suspect.
Take Ryan Braun, for example, former baseball player at The U who last year faced, fought, and defeated a positive PED test by way of appeal. Braun’s test was effectively dismissed because the person responsible for handling his urine sample mishandled it by storing it in his home for a time. Flash forward to this month, and suddenly Braun’s name pops up in a Biogenesis ledger along with other supposed PED users.
Why is his name in the ledger if, as he claims, Ryan Braun is innocent? Braun says it’s because his attorneys sought the advice of Tony Bosch (the name to know in the Biogenesis scandal) during Braun’s defense last year. And, according to what we know so far, his explanation seems plausible.
But how did he know to contact Bosch and Biogenesis in the first place? To put this in perspective, let’s pretend that you – an upstanding, law-abiding citizen – were to fail a drug test at work. You have 30 days to appeal the test or else you not only lose your job, you also get black-listed for future employers. Now…would you know a few drug dealers in your alma mater’s home state that could help you out with a little expert advice? Of course you wouldn’t. So how did Braun?
Ryan’s answer is the perfect one given the circumstances: His attorneys, not Braun himself, had a previous professional relationship with Bosch. Okay. Good enough. I mean, come on…attorneys know people like this, right? It makes perfect sense.
But then there’s the connection to the University of Miami.
“Jimmy Goins, a strength-and-conditioning coach at the school (The U) and alleged client of Bosch’s, worked with Braun during his three years at Miami. Goins has denied a connection to Bosch.” (Tim Brown and Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports)
Are you starting to get the point? If Braun didn’t use at some point in his career – which is unlikely – he was at least associated with someone “in the business.” Normally, that wouldn’t be enough to raise your eyebrows – I mean, after all, you probably work with a few pot users right down the cube row from your desk – but taken in context and considering all of the other names attached to The U in the latest PED investigation…
Isn’t it obvious that a large number of players are at least aware, on some level, of a persistent PED culture not only at the MLB level but also at the college and minor league level? Combine that knowledge with the PED-Two-Step any player from the “Steroid Era” skillfully performs when asked questions about specific players, eye-witness reports from players and former players about specific teammates and, in the case of Curt Schilling, team officials…and the conclusion is a simple one.
For every MLB player using PEDs, there is likely at least two other non-using players and/or team officials – typically more – who know it.
Again, to take this out of the arena of professional sports, let’s consider my own profession for a moment. As a licensed counselor in the state of Missouri, I am bound by a specific code of ethics. That code of ethics is strictly adhered to regardless of whether I agree with it or not. It is neither optional nor unclear. And every licensed counselor is bound by one.
A key part of that ethical code is the provision that clearly lays out how to address an observed violation by a fellow counselor. The observing counselor must first attempt to informally resolve the issue with the offending professional. If the issue cannot be informally resolved, the observing counselor has an obligation – to the public, the profession, and the current and potential clients of all counselors – to report the offending action and counselor. In all situations, the counselor is bound by his or her code of ethics to “take appropriate action.” (ACA Code of Ethics, H.2.a)
This is not a foreign concept. Educators and many public officials in your state are bound by similar ethics. Even scripture includes methods for handling observed sin:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” (Matthew 18:15-16, NIV)
Regardless of which ethical code you follow, the concept is the same. For any professional in any arena, the responsibility of preserving the integrity of one’s identified group falls first on the members of that group.
Except in Major League Baseball.
In sports, we are taught that players, coaches, and officials share in a kind of brotherhood that demands trust and transcends the expectations of ethics and integrity found in other professions. We’re told that a clubhouse is a sacred place where teams can expect complete and total loyalty to one another, regardless of what takes place in or around the team facilities. What happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.
It’s ludicrous, and it’s a perfect example of flawed thinking that must change.
Take the Penn State-Jerry Sandusky scandal…
When Sandusky’s heinous crimes came to light and the NCAA was forced to move on a corrupt administration in Pennsylvania that engaged in deep, wide-spread cover-ups, their punitive actions were far-reaching. Many fans and media members were vocally confused. Why punish future members of the team? Why take action against a student body that will have been unassociated with the transgressions of past members?
The answer: Because it’s not just about punishment.
The problem that led to the Sandusky scandal – the real, driving issue – was the pervasive belief that college football, the success and prestige it can lead to and the money it can bring, is so critical and so important that protecting it is worth any level of depravity, all kinds of despicable cover ups, and even the risk of further harm to small children entrusted to University officials. In other words, college football has been placed above all things – even our own basic sense of right and wrong.
That is what the NCAA action sought to change. It not only wanted punishment in the here and now for direct offenders…it also wanted real, lasting, memorable change in the college football community.
That’s what’s needed here. Real, lasting, memorable change that leads to a direct change in not only the thought process of Major League Baseball players, but also a direct change in how baseball’s integrity – and the integrity of its players – is preserved.
What am I proposing exactly? Simply this…
It is the responsibility first and foremost of the players, coaches, and team officials to protect the integrity of Major League Baseball. If a player or team official is observed engaging in activities that are in violation of MLB’s policies regarding PEDs, those observing individuals must immediately seek to resolve the issue by “taking appropriate action.” Whether that means personally approaching the offender or reporting the incident to Major League Baseball officials, the concept is the same – you must take action. The time for silence is over.
The Player’s Union won’t like it, and various coaches and players won’t be fond of it, but isn’t that part of the point? The idea that anyone could be against what is right and just…isn’t that evidence that something must change?
One last story…
I once made the comment to an MLB beat writer that I wouldn’t be shocked in the least to find out Jim Edmonds took PEDs. At the time, I was particularly hurt by all of the evidence coming out about my favorite players, and Edmonds’ apparent change in upper body mass from the year before was all the “proof” I needed to hurl accusations.
The beat writer was having none of it, and responded with something along the lines of, “I refuse to begin making unfounded accusations about random players.”
To which I responded with something along the lines of this:
“They (the players in MLB) all gave up their right to avoid accusation. If they wanted to avoid such unfounded claims, they should have pushed the Player’s Union long ago to help put a stop to PED use. By becoming an obstacle to real change, they opened themselves up to all manner of criticism and suspicions.”
I still find that to be true.
No player in Major League Baseball has the right to profess anger at PED suspicion unless he also has a clear record of campaigning for real change in PED testing and usage.
And any player who knowingly fails to report observed use and distribution of PEDs in Major League Baseball should be subject to suspension and fines as well.
It’s the only way to support real change. Anything else is simply a losing battle that encourages the most advanced and despicable laboratories to develop the next generation of untraceable, undetectable PEDs.
Here…let’s put it this way. Remember Smoky the Bear and his famous line in elementary schools across the country? “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”
Major League Baseball should hire ol’ Smoky to visit MLB clubhouses as well. His message?
“Only YOU can prevent PEDs!”