One of the biggest and most controversial stories of the offseason and beyond is the failed drug test of Brewers’ superstar outfielder Ryan Braun and the backlash from his first ever victory over MLB’s drug policy. Facing a 50 game suspension, Braun and his legal team went all out, convincing an arbitrator that irregularities occurred in the processing of Braun’s sample sufficient to cast doubt on the accuracy of the test. Opinions abound as to whether Braun “got off on a technicality” or ” beat the system”. Others more favorably inclined toward Braun see the arbitrator’s decision as a vindication of the superstar. Whatever your opinion on the matter may be, the issue is supercharged with emotion and outrage. What many people see as “cheating” may or may not be, depending on your view of things.
This issue was brought home to Cardinals’ fans this week when it was announced that minor league catching prospect Cody Stanley has been suspended for 50 games for failing a drug test under MLB’s Minor League Joint Drug and Prevention Treatment Program. Stanley tested positive for two substances, Methylhexaneamine, a stimulant, and Tamoxifen, a prescription estrogen blocker, most notably used in the treatment of breast cancer. Stanley spoke out about his suspension in this article, published yesterday, acknowledging the positive test but denying that he took the banned substances knowingly. Stanley states that he purchased an energy drink online, but was not aware that it contained banned substances. Ballplayers know that when it comes to ingesting any dietary supplement, it is caveat emptor as far as MLB’s drug policy is concerned. Not knowing a supplement contains banned substances is not a defense. If in fact Stanley ingested the banned substances unknowingly through the energy drink, he has only himself to blame. As an aside, selling a commercial product containing Tamoxifen, a regulated prescription medication, smells highly illegal to me. It is not my area of legal expertise, but I have to assume any online business subject to US laws that sold such a product would be under the jurisdiction of the FDA and some penalties should apply if investigated and caught violating the law.
Events like these invariably reinvigorate the debate over PEDs use in athletics. Is the use of PEDs “cheating”?Many would argue yes, because the use of these substances gives the user an unfair advantage over other players who don’t use. Some would argue that the use of substances to enhance performance in a competitive industry like sports is just another way for an athlete to stay ahead in the game, much like weight training and a beneficial diet program. Those that don’t see the use of PEDs as cheating often will cite individual player responsibility for their own health and well being and the limited money making potential inherent in athletics, given declining performance due to age and wear and tear on the body.
Should we as a society care about these issues? Aside from the issue of cheating there is no question that the health effects of the use of PEDs by athletes is a concern. Is it a concern that society should get involved in or is it the individual choice of the athlete? If you are of a libertarian bent, you are likely to come down on the side of the latter. But is it really a choice? The pressure to excel in sports, especially on the professional level, is great. If PEDs were not banned, isn’t it reasonable to expect that most athletes would feel the need to use in order to keep up with or better the other guy?. In other words, isn’t there an intrinsic duress involved? Banning the use of these substances keeps the pressure away. In addition, there is the question of whether society has an interest in protecting the health of athletes. Freedom of choice is a vital right in our society, but when it comes to issues of products that are harmful to our health, society has taken the initiative in taking action to protect that health, in the form of laws and regulations. Examples are laws mandating the use of seat belts in cars and motorcycle helmets for cyclists. Yes, these laws have their detractors, but we as a society have decided that the benefits to protecting the health and well being of the individual outweigh the loss of freedom of choice. Given the pressure involved in the use of PEDs shouldn’t society take a stand to protect athletes? Not being of a libertarian bent, I would answer that question in the affirmative. However you may feel about the issue, there is no question that the debate will rage on and it is a conversation worth having.
Whether it is the question of cheating or protecting the health of athletes or some additional reasons, or all of the above, MLB has decided to have rules banning the use of these substances. Ryan Braun may have violated those rules. Cody Stanley certainly did and will suffer the consequences. As in all issues of life, our actions have consequences. Whether we accept these consequences and learn from them IS our choice.