Send our Young Athletes A Positive Message
The question is not whether professional athletes should be allowed to take performance-enhancing drugs without sanction nor the severity of the punishments that should be meted out to those professionals who do take the steroids and growth hormones. The seminal question in all of this is what message we are sending to our young athletes who dote on those professionals and consider them the epitome of the sport. Do we tell our young men and women that taking the drugs is both illegal and dangerous and that nobody in their right mind would use the drugs? Or, do we tell them that the drugs are illegal, but the power structure will look the other way because, in sports, performance and winning is more important than anything else? The players bear the brunt of the guilt for taking the drugs, but there are others who are culpable as well: the team owners; and particularly the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the union that represents all of the players. The recent brouhaha over Yankee slugger Jason Giambi’s confession that he used both steroid and growth hormones over past years is a good example of who there is culpability at many levels. When the Yankees first purchased Giambi, there was talk of steroid use. He had bulked up considerably and had gone from a spray hitter to a slugger in the wink of an eye. Did the Yankee brass know that Giambi was using performance-enhancing drugs? The majority of Yankee fans would have told you that they believed he was involved in drug use. How could the brass not have known? As long as he was performing, hitting game-winning blasts, however, everything was cool. Last season, however, Giambi’s numbers slipped, perhaps due to a mystery illness brought on by steroid use and now the team reportedly wants its money back and to abrogate his contract. Even as bad as the owners are in this context, the MLBPA is worse. We understand that the union’s job is to protect the players, not the game, but union officials have their heads in the sand in an area where players can be badly hurt and even die. The union has been fighting random and regular drug tests for years. Should they continue to do so, the message to young players would be “break the rules all you want if you’re an athlete because you’re basically untouchable.” That is not a positive message for athletes. The owners and the union must begin working together to put a real drug-testing plan in place. Then players have to realize that taking performance-enhancing drugs is inimical to themselves, to the game, and to the youth who idolize them.