THURSDAY JULY 20, 2017
 
Blog EGOS & ICONS
THE PED PROBLEM
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There are devil's advocates out there who tend to think, not without some validity, that wars on drugs aren't especially winnable, at least not in the decisive sense. By extension, they'll suggest, our major sports leagues might be better served to just look the other way when it comes to performance enhancing drug use among professional athletes, because potential PED users will always be tempted by the lure of multi-million paydays. Furthermore, they'll point out, the threat of getting caught (and whatever punishment that might bring) is never going to counterbalance the urge to cheat. Some scientists even say we're basically wired that way, driven by deep-seated animal instinct to try and gain an edge.

In the face of that dark reality, the quest toward a drug-free world of sporting virtue looks like a very tough road indeed. And as those devil's advocates can clearly point out, it's a path that pushes any league trying to walk it through unending minefields of bad PR as chemically-concocted superstars are dragged through the mud and disgraced in full public view.

The latest pair of Exhibits A and B in baseball's PED battle, Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, are about as big as they come in the star department, although neither is without some sort of drug stain already: Rodriguez is an admitted former user while Braun escaped penalty after his positive sample was dismissed because of a handling error.

But after baseball sources spilled some beans to ESPN's investigative report team this week, Braun and A-Rod were headline news for all the wrong reasons again, allegedly facing the threat of 100-game suspensions for their links to Biogenesis, a South Florida anti-aging clinic accused of attracting a long list of ballplayers in search of magical elixirs.

The founder of the now-shuttered clinic, Tony Bosch, arrived at Major League Baseball's head office in New York City today for the first of several days of in-depth interviews about his big league patients, and the products he provided them. Bosch agreed to sing to MLB after striking a deal to try and keep himself out of further legal trouble, with a league lawsuit against him dropped in exchange for his side of the story.

That the news of Bosch's impending revelations arrived on the same day baseball announced a disappointing drop in attendance over the early part of the season is fodder for those who say the fight against PEDs isn’t worth it, and inevitably does more harm than good by staining with scandal when the actual intent is to excise a problem.

Personally, I think baseball deserves credit for advancing beyond the head-in-the-sand stance it took on steroid use in the 1990's, and developing a strong drug program with serious penalties, in-season testing for human growth hormone and baseline measurements of player testosterone levels.

But the league, and the general enforcement of its joint PED agreement with the players, must be seen to be fair. And frankly, the prospect of 100-game bans for Braun and Rodriguez, essentially double suspensions for drug use they'd already lied about, comes across as anything but. It's the kind of ham-handed approach that could end up costing baseball if the union rounds up its lawyers, blows Bosch's credibility out of the water and manages to get the penalties tossed out or reduced on appeal. Just ask Braun how that can go, although nobody really wins with that outcome.

Whatever dirty details they hear from Bosch, nailing his suspected users won't be a slam dunk for baseball. More likely, it'll be just another few difficult steps along the Sisyhphean slog they face in trying to keep their sport clean. It’s a well-intentioned undertaking, to be sure. But you get the sinking sense they'll never be able to say they’ve won.

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