King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Baseball's tougher steroid tests: A red-letter day for whoever has succeeded BALCO.


Salon Staff
November 17, 2005 10:00PM (UTC)

Where do you think the best lab is? The one that's leading the way, producing today's version of THG, the synthetic steroid the drug cops didn't even know existed until somebody sent them a syringe?

Or should I say where do you think the best labs are? Because as baseball's drug punishments keep getting stronger, beating the drug cops has got to be a growth industry. BALCO got busted, but there are other BALCOs out there. Some lab is on top of the game, and its prices just went up.

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Baseball and its players union have modified the current collective-bargaining agreement for the second time to toughen penalties for steroid use, announcing Tuesday that positive tests will result in a 50-day suspension for the first offense, 100 days for the second and a lifetime ban for the third. Those banned for life will be able to apply for reinstatement after two years.

The agreement is likely to cause a grandstanding Congress to back off its threat to pass a law mandating longer penalties for steroid use, or at least to exempt baseball from it.

Lawmakers were concerned about our nation's youth and didn't want kids following the example of juiced-up ballplayers by taking steroids. As Murray Chass pointed out in the New York Times, politicians interested in the health of this country's kids ought to be introducing bills to ban cigarettes, but it sounds silly just to say that, doesn't it?

Steroid manufacturers don't have lobbyists or political action committees and they don't write big fat checks as campaign contributions, or at least they don't do so as steroid manufacturers.

So this sort of thing is inevitable. The testing and penalties have to keep getting tougher until the public is satisfied the problem has been solved. Then we'll all get worked up about some other problem, regardless of how big a problem it really is, or whether any of us actually know the first thing about what we're talking about.

The owners and executives can stop pretending that they care about this issue and always have, and the politicians can turn to the next problem that's threatening the youth of this country and that can get them on television without alienating their biggest donors.

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In the meantime, the bad guys, the drug makers, dealers and users, will stay ahead of the cops. They always do. Everyone who thinks there were only 12 dirty players in the major leagues this year, the number who got caught, clap your hands. And then fly around the room twice. Go ahead. It should work, because you're dreaming.

The new testing and punishment regime finally addresses amphetamines, a far greater problem than steroids and a category of drugs that, unlike steroids, is undeniably performance enhancing. The penalties won't be quite as stiff, of course, because speed isn't as sexy as steroids, which is a little ironic given the best-known side effect of steroids for men.

Human growth hormone remains unaddressed by the new program.

The one good side effect of the antisteroid mania of the past few years is that there's a lot more information out there that's a lot easier to find. A teenager would have to be damn near brain-dead to have a friend suggest he start juicing and not have at least an inkling that it might not be a good idea, that there are dangers, and that maybe he should at least get online and try to learn a little something before he starts.

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Of course, a lot of teenagers are damn near brain-dead. But at least the information's out there, at least it's been talked about, and maybe Mom, Dad, coaches and teachers are a little more aware that Junior's severe back acne might be the result of something more than genetic bad luck and poor bathing technique.

I've said before that I don't know the best way to keep kids -- and grown-ups too -- off of steroids or any other dangerous drug. I just know a law enforcement approach doesn't work. It changes behavior -- encourages users to choose drugs that are harder to detect or that the cops are less interested in, spurs manufacturers and dealers to be more creative -- but it doesn't solve the problem.

I suspect a good place to start would be an aggressive, innovative, energetic and varied program of education and treatment, one whose message is broad enough and ever-changing enough that it can reach all types of people, and keep reaching people who eventually start ignoring last week's message.

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And I don't mean the brain-dead approach that put "Just say no" into the lexicon, although I think if the mainstream media just started calling steroids "ball-shrinking juice" it would keep more kids clean than all the speeches Rafael Palmeiro is ever going to give at schools for the rest of his life.

What I'm talking about would take money, creativity and massive effort. With law enforcement carrying the day, all the money, creativity and effort are going toward drug policing and drug-police avoidance. And not in that order, because there's more money in beating the cops than in being one.

So enjoy the steroid-free 2006 baseball season, folks, and while you're flying around the room, say hi to Abe Lincoln. Now that I've mentioned him, you're going to see him in your dream too.

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Previous column: Len Elmore on race and sports

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