Congress: Stay out of sports

?The use of performance enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports ... sends the wrong message: that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character?. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now,? said President Bush in the State of the Union Address this year. That is right, the State of the Union Address, the big poppa speech where the apathetic members of this country pretend to care about the political goings on of the last year as they are neatly summed up for us in a couple of hours. The speech that addresses the most significant aspects of our country that politicians are grappling with, such as the Iraq situation or other real issues, visited the touchy subject of steroid use in baseball. And I?m a little peeved.
Now, I agree with the president that performance-enhancing drugs set a bad example for kids on the playground looking to succeed in sports, but will the politicians please just shut up? Shortly after Bush?s attack on steroids, Senator John McCain headlined a committee of congressmen that summoned forth baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Player Union head Don Fehr to the halls of Congress to be lambasted for the no-testing policy that has come into question over the off-season.
McCain and Senator Joe Biden of Delaware warned that unless Selig and Fehr reneged on the collective bargaining agreement and began testing for steroids, the U.S. Congress itself would take action. All of this was, of course, spurred by recent allegations that BALCO representatives provided such big name ball players as Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and the great Barry Bonds with steroids over the last few seasons.
To me, this is just baseball?s annual ?make the sport look bad before the season so we can appreciate the game more? push. Last year we hated baseball because of contraction during the preseason, but loved it so when the Cubbies and Red Sox came agonizingly close to ending their respective curses in the postseason.
This year, when the Cubs are hoisting the World Series trophy, we?ll forget all about this steroid nonsense, or at least until some other out of line Congressman starts popping off to show his/her constituency that he?s an honest person who shuns those who use clandestine methods to gain that extra punch.
This action by McCain and Biden is nothing more than a sad publicity stunt, and it tarnishes baseball more than steroid use because it calls baseball?s ability to monitor itself into question.
Within this issue there are two items: (1) Baseball players using steroids and (2) Congress getting involved. The first is potentially a big-ticket affair, but I seriously doubt it. All of a sudden the size difference between Bonds in Pittsburgh and Bonds in San Francisco is more talked about than Britney?s ?maturation? shortly after she achieved stardom. Unnatural bulk sported by the San Fran Slugger, and all the cheaters on the Yankees, has suddenly become an issue when allegations start a-flying that those certain hitters have in fact been juicing up. But you know what? This is not a new issue. Mark McGuire was using steroids, Canseco and Caminiti have both admitted to using when they were successful, and pitchers have been whining for years about hitters getting better thanks to the substances in question.
That is why I believe this will all blow right over once the game is actually played. Bonds and Giambi may get booed, and rightfully so, but they will not be banned from baseball. Barry?s records will come with a caveat only for those who really don?t like him, but will land in Canton. The old school players will grumble and complain that back when men were men this little brouhaha would?ve been avoided because no one was a cheater, but few will listen and fewer will care. Baseball may even fold to the whims of those who have no business calling it to question, and initiate steroid testing, but not much will change. Baseball will remain baseball despite the controversy, and that is why we may loathe it now, but will religiously remain mesmerized by it during the regular season and playoffs.
The second side of this issue is that of political involvement, and frankly it really chaps my ass when I turn on Sportscenter every day and see more of this nonsense. McCain and Biden, and even Bush (who hasn?t said much since the State of the Union), need to pay attention to the legitimate problems this country is facing, and cheating in baseball ain?t one of ?em.
Baseball?s fans will react if they think the integrity of the game needs to come into question. They did following the ?94 strike, and baseball fought its way back into our hearts.
If baseball has truly sinned here, then Selig, Fehr, and those whom they represent will come together and fix the problem. But do we need Congress? McCain flexed his muscle when he threatened Selig, ?Your failure to commit to addressing this issue straight on and immediately will motivate this committee to search for legislative remedies,? yet I don?t know how much the fans of the game want his help. I know I don?t. Let baseball take care of it. Change is in the air, if not now then certainly by the time the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated.
The MLB Player?s Union is the strongest in all of sports, but even it is breaking down from the inside with players demanding drug testing to shut people up. The natural course of an issue as public and touchy as this one is simple: the game and the records are called out publicly, some specific players are called out publicly, players go on record as not wanting steroids, eventually steroid testing is initiated but not until all those who were juicing have stopped, play continues after the foul ball.
With such a promising season to look forward to on the field, off the field rumblings will be ignored when the first pitch is tossed by the very man who chastised the game in his State of the Union; at least we know he won?t be calling BALCO for help getting it across the plate.