Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Drugs and Baseball

At last, the first high-profile player to have tested positive for steroids in baseball has been caught. Rafael Palmeiro, who less than a month ago was receiving the plaudits for becoming the latest member of the elite 3,000-hits club, is now banned and labelled, officially, as a drug cheat. Hopefully this will have an effect on whether he gets voted into the Hall of Fame; then again, given that countless other players have most likely been injecting themselves with cocktails of steroids for years with impunity, it probably seems a little harsh.

Palmeiro has, however, been undeniably stupid. He's at the end of his career; allegations have already been made against him as regards drug-taking; he absolutely denied taking steroids before a congressional hearing in March. This Question and Answer says pretty much what I think on the matter. While there are drug rules, every player is totally responsible for what he puts in his own body, whether recommended to him by anyone else or not.

As for the question on the efficacy of the penalty - well, I'm sceptical about the value of drugs laws, to be quite honest. It seems to me improbable that the testers are keeping up with science; both in the development of new drugs, and in terms of masking agents beating the test. While those factors remain the case, I wonder whether drug laws are actually desirable at all. Certainly from a competitive point of view, there isn't much justification, for it is only the honest who get punished (the real issue is in whether it encourages children to use drugs when medically it is inadvisable).

What I do know is this, however - whilst there are rules against drugs, they should have some sort of stiff penalty. Palmeiro's ban amounts to little more than a week and a half off baseball. As pointed out in the linked article above, another player was banned for nearly three weeks for pushing a cameraman to the ground. That's mad. Both players have damaged the image of the game; Palmeiro has deliberately tried to gain an unfair competitive advantage over the honest. He should be banned for months at least. Otherwise it makes a mockery of the whole system - a slap on the wrist. Because Palmeiro is the only high-profile player to have been caught so far. It was said at the start that "naming and shaming" would be punishment enough. Rubbish. Only hardcore baseball fans would remember names like Alex Sanchez and Rafael Betancourt. Yet they were trying to cheat their way to succes. A slap on the wrist isn't good enough. If drugs are to be banned from sport, make the punishments have some teeth.