Sunday, February 10, 2008

Going After the Rocket

Former Senator George Mitchell's report, all 409 pages, found here, is scathing in its indictment of baseball, particularly the Player's Association. Mitchell took nearly 18 months to compile his report, which was done at the behest of Commissioner Bud Selig, to investigate steroid use and performance enhancement in baseball. The report, which was released in December, named names, including pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

The fact that congressional hearings are being held on this issue - and that senators are spending time on whether professional athletes are using performance enhancements - and worrying about whether Roger (and his wife) used human growth hormone - is a bit like the emperor wearing no clothes. We have young men and women in Iraq, our energy security is at risk - and these senators are waxing forth on an issue which is completely trivial in the scope of pressing issues. Once our troops are back home, once the crisis in the Middle East has been cleaned up, once our economy is back on sound footing, once our reputation as a country has been resurrected, once the problem of kids dropping out of high school in precipitous numbers has been addressed, once the obesity and health issues which are crippling the next generation is faced head on, and once the issue of poverty in this country is actually acknowledged- only then should our leaders in Washington look to other such issues, such as steroid use, to solve.

Frankly - unless and until professional baseball and football have testing requirements as stringent and rigorous as Olympic athletes (and cyclists), enforcement and allegations of performance enhancement in professional sport is a joke. It is common fact that baseball never tested for performance enhancements until recently - and its current testing and penalty system is laughable. It is common fact that our heralded football players, who miraculously come back from devastating injuries within weeks, use enhancements. The only way to stop steroids in baseball (or any other professional sport), is to (a) fire coaches and trainers (for life) under whose watch it happens; (b) have a real testing protocol much like the one imposed on Olympic athletes; and (c) impose real penalties on team owners or sanction the entire team for material transgressions. If all of a sudden, a team could not go to the Super Bowl because 10 players were using - things would change in a heartbeat.

While Bud Selig attempted to assuage public concerns about the asterisk which may or may not be placed next to the name of Barry Bonds by hiring George Mitchell to prepare his report - George Mitchell spent 18 months of wasted time on a self-evident report. Of course professional athletes use substances to keep them in the game. Especially those athletes in professional leagues which have little or no real testing protocol.

George Mitchell, who helped broker peace between Ireland and Britain, should have been using his time during the last 18 months for something more important.

Perhaps working on peace in the Middle East.