Do you think MLBPA is interested in addressing the steroid issue?
I know the union has been severely criticized for not being as cooperative as some would like. It would be easy for players associations to give in to the pressure to randomly test athletes without any restrictions and without cause. But it would be a disservice to their members. An owner can use drug testing to rid his team of unwanted contracts. What owner wouldn't want to tear up a long-term, guaranteed contract of an unproductive player? So just keep testing him. At some point he will probably take an over-the-counter cold remedy containing a banned substance.
Do you think the Mitchell Report will serve its purpose?
It's too early to tell. I am all for increased awareness about the steroid issue. Any effort to look back at the last decade or so should be done with the hope that it would help us move forward. There are certainly some good ideas put forward in the Mitchell Report, but there's really no magic solution to correct the problem. We can focus on integrity and health issues -- and for the vast majority those two reasons are reason enough to avoid performance enhancing drugs. But it's certainly not going to compel all, particularly those who calculate the potential economic rewards of taking steroids as being greater that the perceived risks (and costs) of getting caught.
Do you think it was right for Sen. George Mitchell to name names?
I was disappointed that the Mitchell Report put forward 85 current and former MLB players. Attorney David Cornwell, appearing on ESPN, commented that Mitchell, in his press conference, spoke about the importance of proper drug testing, mentioning integrity, independence and confidentiality, and how we need scientific evidence, not hearsay, to prove steroid use. Yet, the basis for the most damaging accusations in the Mitchell Report is all hearsay.
Is there common ground between the owners and players?
Steroids has become a lightening-rod issue in not just baseball, but also in Congress, the media and the courts. Still, players cannot simply cower to pressure by owners and others. Too much is at stake to put careers in the balance on the basis of circumstantial evidence (canceled checks, unsworn testimony, etc.). Professional leagues are working to root out steroid users. Players associations have the same goal, but at the same time, want to preserve athletes’ privacy and prevent owners from using drug testing as a weapon against players.
What about the larger issue of steroids in our society and the influence pro athletes have on kids?
The pressure to compete at all levels, from high school to college to the pros, encourages athletes -- and coaches, parents, administrators, etc. -- to do things that fall somewhere between pushing the envelop to outright cheating. As I've said many times, that for every dollar invested in sports (by parents, by athletic departments, by boosters, by professional franchises), there's an expectation of a reasonable return on that investment. Athletes are competitive by nature. They know if they do not get the job done, they will be penalized (loss of starting position, scholarship, roster spot, lower salary, etc.). And then there is the opposite for a job well done, which is exactly why cheating in society, not just sports, is prevalent.
What did you write in your book, Money Players, on the issue of steroids?
From Chapter 17, page 128:
What is rarely talked about is the impact of athletes who use steroids on those who don’t. Think about a course you took in which the professor graded on a curve. The breakdown might have been something like this:
A: 20%; B: 20%; C: 50%; D: 5%; F: 5%
Your grade is based not solely on your work, but on your work compared to the work of other students in the class. Professional teams “grade” athletes in a similar manner, but with salaries instead of letters. The highest-graded players get the A contracts. Then the B contracts and so on. Get an F and you’re out
of the league.
In the class, each student who cheats to get a higher grade pushes another student down to a lower grade. The same can happen in sports. Athletes who enhance their performance by cheating with steroids can push you down to a lower-level contract or worse. How would you feel if you were cut from a team and the last roster spot went to someone who was taking steroids? It’s in your enlightened self-interest not only to avoid steroids, but to work with your players association to get them out of the game.