Senate Steroid Sham

03.8.2005 | Tim Marchman | Sports

Last week, the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform announced it will be holding a hearing on steroids and baseball on March 17. The great spirit of bipartisanship glowed in the press release announcing the hearings, as Chairman Tom Davis and Ranking Minority Member Henry Waxman alike were quoted saying asinine things.

“We can help kids understand that steroids aren’t cool,” said Rep. Davis, as if the plague of performance-enhancing drugs in sports were the result of kids mainlining testosterone for the same reasons they listen to G-Unit.

“Steroid use in America is a significant problem,” said Rep. Waxman, apparently confusing steroids with crystal meth. “I believe this hearing will help us learn more about how pervasive it is.”

Interestingly, given that a stated aim of the hearing is to expose the pervasiveness of steroid use in America, the appended list of invited witnesses consisted of four baseball executives and seven star ballplayers - Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Thomas.

There are no doctors to be found on the list, though; no journalists and no historians; no representatives from the World Anti-Doping Agency, and no civil libertarians. Essentially, no one who might credibly claim special expertise on the issues of whether steroids are a problem in America - and if so how widespread a problem they are - was invited to give testimony before the Congress.

Even the baseball invitees are notably lacking in expertise. Baseball, after all, is a lot more than the major leagues, and the major leagues are a lot more than Hall of Fame-caliber players and top executives. Where, one wonders, are the trainers, who are probably in as good a position as anyone to say how widespread steroid use is, and what its consequences are? Where are the fringe journeymen like Derrick Turnbow, who have actually tested positive for steroids? Perhaps they have something to say about the pressure players are under to take drugs to compete.

Where are the minor-league ballplayers? Where, for that matter, given Rep. Davis’s Helen Lovejoy-like concern for the children, are the parents and Little League coaches?

Looking over the list of invitees and the statements from Reps. Davis and Waxman, there really isn’t any conclusion to come to other than that this hearing is a hastily assembled farce.

Whether this is so because of ignorance or cynicism I can’t say, but in the end it really doesn’t matter. The hearing is sure to do no good for anyone at all, save perhaps politicians who will get to come out boldly against 7-year-olds pressuring one another to cycle onto a combination of human growth hormone and Durabolin.

Opponents of steroid use both in baseball and at large will see their cause trivialized, deprived of the credible weight of actual expert testimony. Those who feel the issue is all a lot of hot air won’t even have their ideas addressed, save perhaps by lunatic steroid-advocate Jose Canseco, though they will have a prime opportunity to embarrass themselves by comparing the Committee on Government Reform to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

This is all a shame because, despite what some claim, the federal government has legitimate interests in baseball. It subsidizes the game by allowing municipal bonds for the construction of baseball stadiums to be issued tax free, forgoing hundreds of millions in revenues, and thus has every right to inquire into the shoddy way the game is run.

For my tax dollar, though, I’d prefer that the Congress investigate steroid use in baseball in a credible fashion. And before it did so, I’d like it to investigate a number of more pressing matters.

Last year, for example, reports surfaced about the horrible conditions in Dominican baseball academies owned by major league teams. In a book called “Stealing Lives,” Arturo J. Marcano Guevera and David P. Fidler reported that employees of some teams had held guns to the heads of foreign nationals, teenagers who were taken out of school and held like slaves in filthy hovels. Might Commissioner Bud Selig have something to say about this?

How about the massive fraud perpetuated on the public when owners blackmail cities into building them shiny new stadiums? Racial discrimination within the game? The continuing situation involving the Washington Nationals?

A rational person might say any of these issues are more or less important than steroid use. But none of them are so sensational as the prospect of Mark McGwire, bulging at the seams of his suit, stonily issuing noncommittal answers while a heroic representative makes thundering denunciations and rousing speeches about the children - or so likely to attract attention to gutless politicians.



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