The following is a guest Op/Ed. - Maury Brown, President, Business of Sports Network
Major League Baseball’s recent act of contrition to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was in stark contrast to their familiar displays of hubris and defiance. Usually, a trip to Capitol Hill by Major League Baseball and the Players Association was met by a hostile audience who had a difficult time concealing their overt disdain for a sport that has been plagued with scandal, deceit and cowardice for the better part of two decades. They have ardently criticized baseball and its inability to address a raging epidemic that has unfortunately engulfed America’s national pastime. For some, the congressional hearings were a sincere effort to purify a game that is so deeply woven into the fabric of our American society. For others, it was an opportunity to grandstand and embarrass baseball’s leadership. On numerous occasions, various members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee demonstrated undeniable ignorance with various mispronunciations and inaccurate references to statistical accomplishments and teams.
Major League Baseball and the Players Association used this forum as an opportunity to admit failure in combating the prevalent usage of Human Growth Hormone, anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs during the period in question. Both organizations are equally culpable for what has transpired. However, the diction and tone of Commissioner Selig’s words reflected an immense amount of remorse from a man who is finally willing to repent for his indiscretions. Be that as it may, Bud Selig’s legacy as baseball’s commissioner will forever be tarnished due to his regime’s procrastination in eradicating the sport of Deca Durabolin, Winstrol and Amphetamines. Senator Mitchell’s report is a permanent reminder to Bud Selig much in the same manner that the scarlet letter was to Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s literary masterpiece. In some way, both represent disgrace, punishment and reconciliation. Instead of voluntarily reading the classical works of Bill James, Leonard Koppett, and Roger Kahn, the baseball aficionado is compelled to obtain an encompassing education in the United States Constitution and due process. If baseball is a social institution with enormous social responsibilities, why has the sport been consumed with a proliferation of vices for almost twenty years? (Select Read More to see the rest of this article)
Commissioner Selig’s atonement for his sport’s sins won over two normally hostile and combative audiences: the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Major League Baseball owners. Within days of his appearance on Capitol Hill, Commissioner Selig was rewarded by the owners with a unanimous contract extension through the 2012 season. In recent weeks, several media outlets have spent an inordinate amount of time dissecting Bud Selig’s overall performance as commissioner and his contributions to the business of baseball. Without hesitation, ardent supporters of Bud Selig will immediately identify the luxury tax, revenue sharing, and inter league as three of his crowning achievements. Others will commend the commissioner on his efforts to internationalize the sport and the usage of advanced media as another vehicle for substantial revenue generation. Certain critics have questioned the timing of the extension and wondered out loud if Bud Selig still deserved to be baseball’s commissioner after years of mishandling the second biggest scandal since the Chicago “Black Sox” of 1919. Bud Selig will forever be a commissioner of the owners and for the owners. Even though the atrocities of steroid abuse have polluted the sanctity of the game for many years, the current ownership groups in Major League Baseball will forever trust Bud Selig and will lean on him for guidance and support. There is no denying that Bud Selig instituted fiscal policies and strategies that forever changed baseball’s business. However, he will best be remembered for one fatal flaw instead of a lifetime’s worth of accomplishments. Five decades of meritorious service to the game of baseball has ultimately been undone by one act of denial.
To many, baseball is an organized religion. The sport’s lineage embodies mythical and romantic qualities that are endearing and aesthetically pleasing. The game is deeply rooted in history, rituals and traditions. If one were to chronicle Bud Selig’s evolution into the sport’s commissioner, it would quickly become apparent that he was a devout disciple from adolescence. However, his deep infatuation and reverence for baseball’s illustrious history was also his Achilles’ heel. Bud Selig’s inability to efficiently address the performance enhancing drugs controversy originated from his paternal instincts to protect the sport’s history through avoidance and ignorance. Much to his embarrassment, Bud Selig’s name will forever be affixed to an era of prolific offensive production fueled by rampant substance abuse. The validity and integrity of the game’s most hallowed records has been eternally compromised. The purity and awe that surrounds certain statistical accomplishments in baseball has been replaced with cynicism and mockery.
As a man of intelligence and fortitude, Bud Selig is well aware of his legacy as baseball’s commissioner. In order to rectify previous indiscretions, Major League Baseball and the Players Association have implemented stringent testing policies and strategies that have been met with varying degrees of success. Educational programs and working relationships with reputable organizations such as the Partnership for a Drug Free America are essential in baseball’s attempt to eliminate performance enhancing drugs from its culture. While Major League Baseball’s recent efforts are noteworthy, there are still several obstacles that the sport has to overcome. One of the flaws in Major League Baseball’s drug testing policy is that only urine samples are used to detect the usage of performance enhancing substances. It has become common knowledge that Human Growth Hormone is not detectable in a urine sample. As we have witnessed, Human Growth Hormone has become an epidemic which is now synonymous with some of the biggest names in the sport. The persistence of the United States government has fueled speculations that Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Miguel Tejada haven’t been forthright in chronicling their relationships with performance enhancing substances.
Even though Major League Baseball received a passing grade at their last Capitol Hill appearance, there are still inherent obstacles that need immediate attention. Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr and Commissioner Selig have philosophical differences when it comes to the topic of blood testing for Human Growth Hormone. The commissioner has adamantly stated that Major League Baseball would support the scientifically valid testing of Human Growth Hormone in either urine or blood samples. Also, Major League Baseball has publicly supported Congressman Stephen Lynch’s (D-Massachusetts) amendment to the Controlled Substances Act where human growth hormone would be classified as a Schedule III anabolic steroid and hormone. However, it is of the opinion of many that Donald Fehr will never support blood testing for performance enhancing substances. As a union leader, he understands the employment consequences that could occur from a test of this nature. A blood test of any kind is an invasion of privacy, but it is a necessary evil in the current culture that has permeated throughout baseball.
In the coming weeks, Washington, D.C. will once again play host to the media onslaught that will ascend upon Capitol Hill. However, the tone of these proceedings will not be conciliatory in nature. The integrity and legacy of one of the sport’s greatest pitchers will be vociferously challenged by a panel of elected government officials looking for any evidence of perjury. Let’s hope that this time, certain government officials do their due diligence and know how to pronounce “Clemens,” “Pettitte,” and “McNamee.”
Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr. is a clinical assistant professor of sports management at the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. He is a contributor to the Business of Sports Network.