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The Mind-Forg'd Manacles In every
2003-02-27 15:57
by Mike Carminati

The Mind-Forg'd Manacles

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

-William Blake

It was announced today that baseball will ban ephedera use in its minor-league system. ESPN touts this as the first step towards a universal ban. However, it should be pointed out that baseball has been using drug testing with its minor-leaguers for years.

Donald Fehr of the players' union says that the union will wait for the toxicology reports on Steve Bechler's death. It is already saying that its players should not be prohibited from taking legal, over-the-counter drugs.

Mark Kreidler of ESPN disagrees. He judiciously opines:

You know what baseball already knows? This much exactly: Athletes cheat. Not all of them cheat -- not even most of them, maybe -- and even the cheaters don't cheat 365 days a year. But athletes cheat.

They will do just about anything to gain an edge, and if that includes the ingestion or injection of questionable or outright dangerous substances, so be it. And if those substances are legal, so much the better -- but it's not the No. 1 concern...

It [baseball] already knows, in this very particular case, that players have taken, are taking and will take the legal, over-the-counter substance ephedra and abuse it wildly.

What the union's many critics do not understand is that the underlining assumption that the players are cheaters adds to the players' apprehension. Yes, some players "cheat" but do they "abuse [drugs] wildly", and do "anything to gain an edge"? Ken Caminiti admitted to steroid use. Others acknowledge its use. However, when Caminiti and Jose Canseco claim, with only anecdotal proof, that steroid use is so widespread to be the rule rather than the exception, the media are ready to accept it as gospel-players "abuse it wildly."

That said, the union should act on ephedera testing and it should have acted more quickly on steroid testing. But I disagree with Kriedler that the issue is about cheaters. The issue, my friends, is about power. The union has the power to say "No" and doesn't want to cede that power. Why would they when they can't trust the owners anyway?

Besides the issues of power and trust, the union has to ensure that it is protecting its members' rights. This is the difficult issue. If the union caves in to pressure because of over-the-counter drug like ephedera, what about prescription medication and illegal substances, not to mention other over-the-counter drugs.

Should some of those substances (especially the illegal ones) be monitored? Sure, the union would probably agree to that. But who decides which? And what are the repercussions and penalties?

The union is correct not to cede too much power too quickly. They have an obligation to their constituents. However, the power that they wield is theirs at the fans' behest. If the fans decide not to come to the ballpark or watch on TV, then the union has power over a bunch of unemployed superstars. The union has to remember that P.R. is an important part of their obligation to the players. Without a favorable public image, the players as a union would have as little power as the Richie Phillips-led umpires.

Again, it's not so simple an issue as the media portrays it, but negotiations are never easy about easy solutions. For a union that had once seemed morally and intellectually superior to the owners in the woebegone days of Marvin Miller, they have apparently lost the capacity to lose some battles to win the war-something for which Miller was famous. They don't seem to remember what the war is and have lost sight of it as each new issue appears. After being fleeced by the owners in the last negotiations, the union now looks more disorganized and misdirected than the Democratic party.

The "war" for the players' union is to get the best working and living conditions for its constituency, the players. That means ensuring that they receive salaries commensurate with their talents, that they have a healthy working environment, and that they don't die from over-the-counter drugs. When the union treats a drug-related death like a complaint about player accommodations or lost per-diem checks, it is not doing its players a favor. So, Donald Fehr, take the required time to make a decision, but when you make it, be certain it is the right one. Otherwise, you may not be making decisions for the players for much longer.

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