The baseball world was rocked at its core last night when it was announced that Ryan Braun was being suspended for the remainder of the season for his involvement with the now defunct Biogenesis clinic in Miami. The clinic was found to be providing 20 players with performance enhancing drugs.
This marks a significant stepping stone in baseball’s efforts to clean up the game, however there are still 19 others involved in Biogenesis alone. The war on steroids continues to rage on, but is it a battle that can be won, or will it suffer the same drawn out failure of the War on Drugs?
The War On Drugs has been raging in the United States of America for the past 40 plus years, and has not in any way come close to accomplishing its goal. Drugs have not been kept off the street, rather the number of people incarcerated for drug related crimes have increased nearly every year. Furthermore those trafficking the substances have developed into huge, sometimes multi-national, organizations with massive amounts of power.
Corruption and cost have become the hallmarks of the War On Drugs. The estimated cost for the four decades of failed efforts to prevent drugs from finding their way to American streets has crossed the $1 trillion mark according to drugpolicy.org. Huge portions of the population sit in jail for minor drug offenses while overdoses and drug-related disease continue to rise due to the War On Drugs forcing the drug world to the underground.
So how does this relate to Major League Baseball and the rest of the sporting world’s war on steroids to prevent performance enhancing drugs from plaguing their competition?
The use of performance enhancing drugs has been a part of the sporting world as long as sports have existed. Dating back to the Ancient Greeks who used cocaine and caffeine to excel at endurance competitions. Throughout the course of time athletes have used any means possible to get a step ahead of the rest of the field.
Since steroid use gained the world’s attention after Ben Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids in the 1988 Olympic games, competitions have sought to catch players who are gaining an unfair advantage from the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Baseball’s war on steroids has become perhaps the most well known. They have long tested players and suspended a large number of its athletes after positive tests for various substances. Ryan Braun has become the most recent superstar to miss significant time as a result of his connection to performance enhancing drugs.
While players continue to be suspended, more continue to use. Performance enhancing drugs continue to evolve and avoid positive test results. The demand for the drugs is high enough that clinics such as Biogenesis are willing to illegally distribute the drugs because of the high profits they can earn. Ryan Braun alone owed the clinic $30,000 when the investigation began.
Suspending players without pay for huge portions of a season as often as they do may make it seem like the MLB is winning the war on steroids, but in reality the opposite is true. The game is no cleaner now than it was in the beginning of the steroid era when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were putting up video game numbers in the mid-90s. The only difference now is that more and more fans are not able to watch the player whose jersey they are wearing.
If the MLB was serious about deterring its athletes from using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs, it would ban players from the game for a first offense. If athletes put their career on the line every time they juiced, perhaps they would think twice about doing so.
That being said when there is an opportunity to gain an advantage over the competition, someone will take it. That’s part of human nature, especially for the most competitive group of our society. The problem will always exist.
People feel good when a superstar like Ryan Braun is caught and suspended, it makes the league look like it is winning the war on steroids. The same feeling can be found when a major drug ring is broken up. However that does not mean that the problem was solved, drugs continue to be used in both cases.
So Ryan Braun is suspended, however he still has his massive contract and essentially will sit out of a meaningless 65 games for a Brewer team with no chance at the post season. When next year starts up again, he will have his massive contract and once again be the star of the team.
An entire generation of youth sports fans has grown up in steroid era of baseball. It is the only version of the game they know. Busting one player means nothing in terms of ending that war, countless others will continue to, or start using performance enhancing drugs. The war on steroids, much like the War On Drugs, is doomed to failure.
A long, drawn out battle will be raged, however steroids will always be a part of sports, although the time probably is not right for it now, openly acknowledging steroid use will someday become the norm. It is the only way we will be able to enjoy the sports we love so dearly, and cheer for our favorite players week in and week out. The current policy has taken many of those enjoyable moments away from us, and eventually fans will grow sick of it if nothing changes.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express