The agreement by Milwaukee Brewer former National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun to agree to a negotiated penalty of a 65 game suspension for violation of the steroid policy is discouraging at many levels. It seemed only yesterday that Braun stood in front of cameras and promised the public and his fans that he was completely innocent of such charges and it was all a miscarriage of justice. He followed in the footsteps of such iconic figures as Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones, who vehemently denied repeatedly that they had used performance enhancing substances. This continues the pattern of shattering public trust in the credibility of athletes. Young people look to them as role models and they have been exposed as liars.
They have also been exposed as cheaters. Steroids alter the evenness of the playing field and give the violators an unfair advantage in enhanced performance. It brings into question all individual and team accomplishments. Baseball was arguably complicit in this process in the aftermath of the 1994 strike. Attendance had dropped precipitously as had television viewership, sponsorship and memorabilia sales in the wake of fan resentment of the specter of millionaires fighting billionaires leading to the cancellation of games. What brought MLB back was the home run race frenzy generated by the competition between St. Louis first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago outfielder Sammy Sosa, who both were allegedly helped by use of banned substances. As power levels and offense surged throughout the League it brought fans back. Barry Bonds pursuit of the record further stimulated excitement. Arguably this era saved baseball. And who among ownership, management, coaches, trainers, players, and agents did not know what was happening?
In January of 2004, MLB announced a new drug policy which included random, offseason testing and 10 day suspension for first use, 30 days for second, 60 days for third-time offenders and one year for fourth-timers -- all without pay. The next year they stiffened the penalties -- 50 games for first offense, 100 for second and a lifetime ban for third. There have been 35 total suspensions and four repeat offenders. A new outbreak of use has been exposed from Tony Bosch's Biogenesis program in Miami that allegedly lists Braun and players like Alex Rodriguez among many others.
This use sends a destructive message to every young athlete trying to get bigger, stronger and faster at the high schoo- level. It also impacts the weight lifting non-athlete culture that exists on many campuses. If that is what gifted athletes use, and it works, it stimulates a younger generation. What I learned in the years of steroid use in the NFL is that steroids have a devastating effect on the emotional and physical health of users. Aside from damage to organs and potential cancers, they create an emotional roller coaster. Athletes move from hyper-aggression, "roid rage", to depression. Athletes coming off repeated cycles have killed themselves because of this mood altering effect. Deceased 49er Coach Bill Walsh, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon and I testified before the State Assembly and Senate in California a while back urging education and legislation to address the problem at the high school level.
Major League Baseball needs to renew it's diligence in monitoring use to remove this scourge.