As you may have heard, the players union and MLB agreed on mandatory drug testing for illegal steroids starting next year. I know that with all of the bad press resulting from the Caminiti and Canseco steriod-use admissions, MLB, the players, and the fans want to clear the air on this issue. That's fine, but they should make sure that whatever proposal they implement will be effective. From what I've read about steroids, and I am by no means an expert, their proposal is woefully insufficient.
First, the "players would be subjected to one or more unannounced tests in 2003 to determine the level of steroid use." From what I've read, steroids can only be traced within hours of introduction to the body. Checking someone once a year for steroids is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Second, what happens to the an individual who tests positive? "The union did not say what penalties, if any, would be levied against players who test positive for steroids." Why not? Is it established but is not being made public? They had better have the penalties laid out before someone actually tests positive. There are reportedly a good percentage of false positives (positive results even though the substance has not been consumed by the individual) with the steroid tests, just like with almost any test. Does an individual have an opportunity to prove that his positive result was a false positive? How would that work given the small window available for testing? If an individual tests positive, claims that it was a false positive, and is re-tested, that process could take a matter of days if not weeks. Given that steroid use is undetectable in hours, the player would, if he were using the substance, know to stop after the first test and make sure that he passed the follow-up.
Third, how will the tests be conducted? Who is conducting these tests and can they be trusted? Will the samples be coded so that the players' names are not displayed directly on th tests, adding another level of security? Who in the team's organization and at MLB will know the results? How would penalize the player if necessry, the team, MLB as a whol, or the players union? Will it be public? When will the tests be administered, at once for all players or for an entire team, or on an individual basis? Who establishes the schedule? There will be "one or more" tests, who will have the "or more"? Is it just players who failed or suspicious players (i.e., ones who have recently bulked up) and who determines the "or more"-ness? What are the repercussions if the information gets leaked to the press?
Fourth, steroids are illegal. Aren't there legal ramifications? Is a player even obligated to comply with the testing just because the union agreed to it? Is it really within their purview? Does he have a right to turn down the test? Does MLB have the authority to administer the test? Does MLB have to get the authorities involved? Is MLB legally culpable if a player fails the test and the authorities are not involved, and then that player later dies or his health is compromised due to steroid use?
Finally, "[i]f more than 5 percent of the tests were positive in either survey, players would be randomly tested for two years." Setting a threshold for something like this is dangerous. It is a political football that can be easily manipulated by the paarameters of the test. If the owners want to reach this 5% threshold, they may tend to test players more likely to test positive and not test those who are likely to test negative (i.e., middle infielders). The rules of the test must be established, must be fair to all players, and must be followed before a threshold like this can be instituted.
I am just like everyone else. I want to be able to trust that when my team wins or, more likely, loses, it is due to one set of players using the talents and abilities to the fullest to defeat another set of players. I don't want to wonder if anyone's performance was compromised or unduly improved due to a bet he has placed, an illegal piece of equipment, a substance on the ball, or a substance in or on the ballplayers body. But if that means compromising the players rights and in the process creating a test that cannot truly be trusted, how does that reassure me? I know that this a popular bandwagon to jump on right now. I just hope that in the rush to look proactive, all of the issues have been well though out. And knowing the way baseball does things, I kind of tend to doubt it. Take a look at football--how effective are their steroid tests?