J.C. Romero, pictured here, and Sergio Mitre
were both suspended 50 games for testing
positive for a banned substance by not using
a league certified nutritional supplement
Two Major League pitchers have been suspended for the first 50 games of the 2009 season for violating MLB’s drug policy. Unfortunately for them, they’re as much victims as perpetrators.
J.C. Romero of the Philadelphia Phillies and Sergio Mitre of the Yankees both tested positive for a banned substance under baseball’s strict liability drug program. In each instance, the player purchased a supplement at a GNC store which included a substance not listed as an ingredient on the label. While both players accepted full responsibility for their actions, public information suggests they aren’t the only guilty parties.
Start with the U.S. Congress. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of supplement manufacturers, federal legislation limits the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to regulate the supplement industry. One glaring omission prevents the FDA from regulating the ingredients in supplements. Manufacturers aren’t even required to test their products to determine their safety, or lack thereof.
Major League Baseball is far from blameless in this matter. According to a report by ESPN’s Peter Gammons, the National Center for Drug Free Sport notified MLB in July of last year that there were questions about the supplement Romero had purchased. MLB never relayed those concerns to the players association (Romero was tested randomly on Aug. 26 and Sept. 19; those tests proved positive). Unfortunately for Romero, MLB’s incompetence is not a defense to a no-fault drug program.
MLB does show players a DVD during spring training warning them of the dangers of OTC supplements. Players are also provided with a Web site and a toll-free number they can call to find out information regarding specific supplements. In addition, MLB gives players a list of 12 manufacturers who have submitted products that MLB has had tested and approved.
All well and good, but because those manufacturers are self-regulated, what guarantee exists that those products will remain free of banned substances? Shouldn’t it be incumbent on MLB to advise players to avoid any and all supplements in the current environment?
Romero and Mitre acknowledged that players bear the primary responsibility for their own health and for the substances they ingest. Fair enough. That’s the position we should take with an adult population. But players aren’t your normal adults, if they can be considered adults at all. Overgrown kids would be a more accurate description of the majority of players in all sports. They need direction, advice, and protection in clear, concise language, such as “Do this,” and “Don’t do that.”
In my view, the MLBPA bears the brunt of the responsibility in this matter. The primary responsibility of a union is the safety of its members, not higher salaries, more meal money, or extra elbow room on cross-country flights. Instead of badgering free-agent players and their agents to accept the highest offers, the union would better serve its membership by spending its time – and the players’ dues – on safety issues. And topping the list is what players put into their bodies.
On the eve of his suspension, Romero released a statement saying the players’ association sent a letter to the players on Nov. 21 that stated in part, “We have previously told you there is no reason to believe a supplement (the one purchased by Romero) bought at a U.S. based retail store could cause you to test positive under our Drug Program. That is no longer true.” The letter amounts to an admission that the union was asleep at the wheel on the supplement issue.
Of course, this is the same union that turned a blind eye to the steroid era and was drawn kicking and screaming into a drug testing program with the owners. It’s the same attitude that made a mockery of baseball statistics – and players’ health - for at least two decades. But the union doesn’t care about the game’s traditions or integrity, let alone the health of its members. The union’s only concern is that players be paid as much as the market will bear. Money has always been more important to the union than the players’ physical well being.
But the connection between health and money may not be lost on Romero. Thanks to the incompetence of the union, his suspension will cost him $1.25 million in salary.
Jordan Kobritz is a regular contributor to the Business of Sports Network
. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. Jordan can be reached at \n