“For the guys that haven’t done anything and don’t need to use anything, it’s tough because we have to answer those questions and there is that cloud that does hang over us.” –Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, discussing steroids to Time Online.
As a lifelong baseball fan, I think I can understand where Ryan Howard is coming on this subject of steroids (and presumably human growth hormone and whatever other illegal performance enhancing drugs might be out there today).
If we assume, as his comments certainly suggest, that Ryan Howard is simply a naturally big and powerful man, who has never taken any performance enhancing drugs, , then we can understand why it must be frustrating for him. And it must be frustrating for many others in baseball, to be on grouped in, at least in some fans’ eyes, as a potential suspect in the plague that haunts the game. Guilt by association is not enough to put somebody in jail, but it is enough to sway the court of public opinion against all of those in said association.
While I believe that baseball has taken reasonable steps to curb steroid use, there is an understandable cynicism that surrounds the program and surrounds the game. While steroid testing does exist today, I think it is safe to say that, in general, a strong suspicion exists that players can time their steroid cycles, or in other ways cheat the tests. And there is not a reliable test today for human growth hormone.
And so while baseball management and owners can try to fight it all they want (and it’s not clear to me exactly how much all owners want to fight it), the cloud, as the situation stands now, will always be there until the players truly take charge.
So I have a simple proposal for guys like Ryan Howard.If you do not do illegal drugs, take the bold step of announcing that you will be tested, routinely, and the results will be made public. Consult with independent leading medical experts; have them endorse the methods and timing of the tests. Publish the test results exactly as they come back.
State unequivocally that you are doing this for the good of you, the innocent player, and ultimately for the good of the game. Those that are clean should not be forced to both unfairly compete on an uneven playing field between the white lines, while also unfairly absorbing even an ounce of criticism or suspicion because of those peers who choose to cheat.
Now, this will not be simple. It will take courage and leadership. The hue and cry from the Major League Baseball Players’ Association will be, well, muted in public, but it will be strong in private. I have to believe that, at least initially, the union, as well as many player agents, will not like this one bit. A player doing this will be looked at harshly by some…including some teammates (perhaps even some of them who are clean). There is a code of silence that still permeates major league baseball clubhouses; and a code of solidarity that runs strongly through the union.
But, assuming that there is a reasonable percentage of baseball players not taking steroids, I have to believe that there is a reasonable percentage that will actually appreciate the stance. This most certainly would have to be led by a major star such as a Ryan Howard, a Derek Jeter or a David Wright. A marginal player probably couldn’t afford to do this first, unfortunately, even though it might ultimately help the marginal players most of all.
Now, you don’t have to do this as a sideshow or allow it to become a circus. But it should be public, it should be credible, and it should be consistent.
Of course no player should be forced to do anything that the union that they belong to hasn’t agreed to. But spare me the hand wringing over “guilty until proven innocent.”
That’s a basic tenet of the United States justice system, but playing baseball, first of all, is not a Constitutional right. Secondly, the union has already agreed to testing for steroids anyway. The next step is a reliable way to test for HGH in blood. Offer to freeze your blood for future testing when it becomes available. If you are completely clean, then, well, what is the issue, exactly?
I’d venture to say that Ryan Howard, or any other big name star willing to do this, would instantly become the most popular baseball player in America (much the way guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have become the most vilified former baseball players in America).
Of course, privacy should be protected. There could, after all, be other underlying medical conditions that a player would rather not be made public. That’s perfectly understandable and that right should be absolutely respected…and they are today. Baseball players are ALREADY given blood tests every year as part of their physical. THOSE results aren’t made public, and nor should they.
The point of all of this is that as with so much in life, peer pressure can be a great motivator and a great deterrent. If clean players begin to step forward and begin to, in effect, fight this problem that the game faces, the game truly will start to police itself.
With that exists now, with penalties for getting caught and no penalty when not caught, understand that these incredibly competitive people must, to some degree, see that in and of itself as a competition. If the competition were changed to now, in effect, be known as a clean player, I suspect many would join in and the game, and players, would benefit immensely.