Once again the PED issue is a hot topic as it pertains to Major League Baseball with last week’s news about Biogenesis and the potential 100-game suspension for Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, and the implication of about 20 other players in the probe. I think it’s fair to say that baseball fans have pretty strong opinions about PED use, and many have voiced those opinions in the week or so since this news broke. However, I think it is important to play Devil’s Advocate in looking at the issue, too, and seeing whether or not- in the broader scope of things- the players are actually being given the due process to which they are entitled as it pertains to PEDs and testing.
Before we go any further, reader, let’s get one thing absolutely straight: I think that performance enhancing drugs have less than no place in professional sports. In my personal opinion, I think that professional sports need to get tougher on punishments, even if that means a hefty fight from players unions. Baseball in particular, with its guaranteed contracts, seems to be operating in a system where the potential payoff for using is with the reward (see; Melky Cabrera- suspended for PED use in 2012, $16 million dollar contract in the 2012-2013 offseason). The system is broken.
Despite the inherent flaws within the current system, it has worked in certain situations. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, right? Within the confines of this system, Ryan Braun was discovered to have inordinately high testosterone levels, and thus produced a positive test, although the results were later thrown out over a chain of custody dispute. Alex Rodriguez has technically never failed a steroid test. His failed 2003 test was merely a baseline test to determine the pervasiveness of PED use throughout the sport, and was not meant to indict the slugger, as there was no MLB policy on steroid use at the time. Cabrera tested positive in 2012 due to heightened testosterone levels, and was suspended 50 games, in line with a first offense under MLB’s drug policy.
However, there is one subtle, but important, detail that differentiates the failed tests of Braun and Rodriguez and Cabrera: the right of a player to privacy within MLB’s drug policy. Cabrera’s failed test was not initially leaked to the public. Instead, the information only came to light after reports stated that MLB discovered a bogus website created by an associate of Cabrera in order to throw off MLB investigators. He admitted to using PEDs and was suspended shortly thereafter. By contrast, news of Rodriguez’s or Braun’s failed tests should never have seen the light of day. ARod’s test was never conducted in order to penalize a particular player, but rather taken as part of a broader sample throughout the sport. Braun’s failed test was ultimately thrown out (albeit on a technicality) after an independent arbitrator found there was a chain of custody issue. Unfortunately, neither player was afforded the luxury of privacy, which very well could have spared them their now-tarnished reputations (the alleged ties to Biogenesis notwithstanding).
According to MLB’s Joint Drug Treatment and Prevention Program, “The confidentiality of Player information is essential to the Program’s success.” The information only becomes public when 1) the player in placed on a treatment program or 2) the player faces sanctions or suspension as a result of admission to PED use or after exhausting the appeals process to not avail. Until that point, MLB, MLBPA, a team, a GM, a tester, an agent, everyone under the sun is “… prohibited from publicly disclosing information about an individual Player’s test results or testing history.” In other words, there is no person on this green earth that is allowed, under the confines of the policy, to disclose information about any failed test. The players are granted that specific right. For all intents and purposes, that policy seems to have been adhered to for Melky Cabrera.
Unfortunately for Braun and Rodriguez, that same right was not afforded. Rodriguez’s test results were leaked, forcing the multiple-time MVP to come clean about PED use in 2009, adding on to the negative public perception of him. Braun, the reigning NL MVP at the time of the test, had his result leaked. While public opinion of ARod has been molded by a plethora of other poor judgment calls, it was very much favorable of Braun. Whatever the public perception of each player may have been prior to the leaked results, the overall perception of each as a player was forever tarnished. Both names have since been synonymous with “cheat,” “dirty,” and “user.” For an athlete, there is no coming back from that, as it calls into question all that a player has accomplished over a career- how much was real? How much was fraud?
Both results should have been kept confidential. Think about it: yes, Rodriguez has been a magnet for tabloid fodder and the ire of Yankees fans for a long time, but much of that was self-inflicted personal behavior. But would the vitriol have been nearly as bad if he was never associated with PEDs because confidentiality was kept? Would anyone have really cared, or would fans have chalked it up to another well-paid athlete taking advantage of his lifestyle, in the same way that Dennis Rodman or Joe Namath did? With Braun, though he tested positive, the results were thrown out during the appeals process. As such, he technically never failed a test, even if his defense team never questioned the veracity of the contents of the cup. In essence, the failed test never happened. How would fans of the game have looked at Braun? Would anyone have a negative opinion of the clean-image player, who by all accounts is one of the nicest guys in the game?
The answer is probably “no” to all of those. Yes, Yankees fans may have come down on ARod for his performance failings, and his very public dalliances. But on the whole, it is likely that both players would be free from the scrutiny that now impacts their every at-bat, and the permanent damage to reputations. Under the drug policy of MLB, both player was entitled to confidentiality and privacy in the testing process, regardless of result, from start to finish. Neither player got it.
Major League Baseball needs to step up enforcement of, and up the ante for punishment, when it comes to its PED policies, this is true. However, it is also true that the league must do a better job of enforcing the current policies, such as confidentiality and privacy that are currently afforded to players. Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez were not able to exercise that right, but they should have been able to do so. As MLB moves forward to tweak it’s testing policies, it would also behoove the league to enforce the confidentiality policies that already exist before any more reputations are destroyed in the process. Yes, it’s true both Rodriguez and Braun tested positive for PEDs- but no one should have known about it.