Thursday, August 22, 2013

What Drives Selig's Hard Line on PEDs?

Bud Selig is crazy…crazy like a fox. The bumbling car peddler managed his way to the head of the owners’ table and put together a coalition of merry men who engineered the biggest transfer of wealth since Lenin's crew. With the Steinbrenners and their ilk long since conquered, now it seems his sights are focused on the other group with whom he must share the proceeds of his profitable sport, the MLBPA, and he has a big stick. 

Major League baseball players face a Catch-22 on demands from their union. On the one hand they want the drug cheaters exposed and punished, if not ousted altogether. There are fewer than one thousand major league jobs and earning one and keeping it is brutally competitive and entirely performance driven. Players pumped up from PEDs literally threaten the jobs of those who choose to play by the rules. Conversely, players need the assurance of reasonable rights to privacy, and due process in any and all disciplinary actions. It is likely that right now the rank and file better understand, or at least are more responsive to, the former—it’s an emotional issue. But union leadership, distinctly in the tradition of Marvin Miller, understood that without the latter the owners via the Commissioner’s office could and would run roughshod over them—for a case in point witness Goodell’s NFL. The MLBPA has long maintained solidarity on nearly every issue, mostly falling in lock step with leadership’s propositions. That has served them well, especially when comparing their negotiated outcomes to the other sport unions. Nevertheless, PEDS policy may come to be the divisive issue. More importantly is the Commissioner’s push toward increasingly hard line policies motivated by a desire to split and bust the union? That’s what Miller thought—he viewed the drug testing frenzy as a “witch hunt” (H/T Edge of Sports).

Nonetheless, if the players want a “clean”  game they have the right to it and what constitutes banned substances should be at their collective discretion and really no one else’s. One should not feel pressured to imbibe to get or hold a job, especially when the substance is potentially dangerous and life threatening. Indeed, when it comes to banned substances, isn’t safety the only legitimate concern for what is and is not allowed? The problem is, with few exceptions, there is no clear and known line between the safe and unsafe. Substance policy at all levels instead follows a ridiculous pattern of taxonomy: if the substance is like medicine and heals one back to normal… no problem. However, if the junk is like a drug that makes a person better than normal, or to feel that way, it must be outlawed. No matter that a single substance, anabolic steroids or marijuana for example, can do both depending on the situation. But even if it could be known with certainty what substances should be, or need not be banned, the enforcement process becomes the worst sort of quandary. Nowhere are privacy rights and due process in more jeopardy than with drug testing. Yet, without testing the proscriptions have no teeth at all. On what side then does an athlete come down?  If  your career and livelihood are at stake it’s a dilemma, and one that can be exploited. Why is the hysteria over Biogenesis so baseball specific, when athletes from other sports were implicated too? As a union busting strategy, it fits all too well a familiar pattern of divide and conquer.  An unpopular antihero emerges to be the public face of the scandal, the other fingered desperados fit nicely along a vulnerable racial and ethnic divide—from Biogenesis all but two found culpable are Dominican. As Dave Zirin points out, it is white US-born players who are the most aggressively outspoken regarding their disapproval of PEDS. 

Perhaps Selig’s hardline is all about his legacy and reversing his image from being remembered as the  “steroid Commissioner” to the righteous savior of the game from drugs. But seriously, this is a man who seems to care nothing for his public image in any other context.  Every move he has made as Commissioner has been motivated by shifting the wealth of others his way, and that’s exactly what will result from a diminished union.

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