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Friday, August 03, 2007

The Barry Bonds dilemma

The tour is finished, and even though this year a breaking news (ok, doping!) story might emerge at any moment, we are going to turn to America for this post. Baseball fans or not, some of you may know that Barry Bonds (of BALCO infmay) will most certainly break baseball's most hallowed record any day now. Henry Aaron holds the record for the most number of home runs in the game at 755, but currently Bonds is at 754, and with over a month remaining in the 2007 season he is almost assured of being the new home run king.

This is such a charged topic that we could write a book on it, and in fact, two sports writers already did. In 2006 Mark Fainaru-Wana and Lance Williams published "Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports" (follow the link on the left to buy this book). It is a must read for those not only interested in baseball but other sports as well since many sports had "BALCO athletes" in them. So we will leave it to them to explain the intricate details of that story, and will focus rather on Bonds' record for now.

Reaction to Bonds is mixed in this country. To be sure, many many fans boo him and taunt him at ball parks across the country. He is greeted by crowds chanting, "Steroids! Steroids!" and "Cheater! Cheater!" Yet in the San Francisco area, where Bonds' team is from, people still line up at batting practice just to try to catch one of his practice home run balls. In addition, the commissioner of baseball has always tried to dodge Bonds, and until recently had been skipping Bonds' games while he creeped ever closer to the record. Apparently he has decided to be present during the record, although you get the feeling that he really wishes it was not Bonds to break the record.

Recently at his book launch in Chicago, Floyd Landis (“Positively False,” also on the left up there) was asked about Barry Bonds and what he thought of him breaking the record. Landis’ response was that during the years when Bonds was taking steroids, these drugs were not banned in Major League Baseball, and there was no testing policy. Therefore, shouldn’t we get off of Bonds’ back? Did he really do something against the rules? After all, he was not violating the rules of baseball as they were at that time.

This is a shocking response but probably illustrates the ambition of athletes like Bonds and Landis. For those athletes who possess such a will and desire to win, the ends justify the means. Although taking performance-enhancing drugs is morally and ethically wrong, and likely a health risk, providing it is not literally against the rules, then it must be ok to do it.

So the debate will rage on for many years as it does now, and that is first whether or not Bonds’ record, together with is single-season home run record, should have asterisks next to them in the record book, and second, should he be allowed into the hall of fame? Regardless of this debate, though, the one conclusion at which we can safely arrive is the drug testing policy in baseball, even today, is a joke. Here is what happens to repeat steroid offenders:

  1. First positive: 10 day suspension OR up to a $10,000 fine

  2. Second positive: 30-day suspension OR up to a $25,000 fine

  3. Third positive: 60-day suspension OR up to a $50,000 fine

  4. Fourth positive: One year suspension OR up to a $100,000 fine

  5. Any subsequent positive: “Any subsequent positive test result by a player shall result in the Commissioner imposing further discipline on the player. The level of discipline will be determined consistent with the concept of progressive discipline.”
We do not need to elaborate on this to explain why it is a joke when compared to the stringent and tough penalties that apply to all other international athletes, and the take home message here is that although now the spotlight is on cycling, it is not alone in its abuse of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. At least cyclists face a much tougher penalty system, although currently this does not seem like much of a deterrent.

Ross and Jonathan

See also:

Tom Verducci story on the record at SI.com

Results of poll on fans reactions to baseball and Bonds

Recent and very funny article about Bonds at 754

Baseball-reference.com - Fully searchable stats on all players

Jemele Hill's article on doping


Anonymous said...

Nice. criticize Floyd's opinion (your moral and ethical critique)and then utilize Amazon's associate program to make a few extra bucks off his notoriety. Looks like someone else here might have an ethical dilemmma; take advantage of the misfortunes/problems of others, aka the low road, or take the high road and maintain a clean ethical slate yourself...seems to me you chose the low road, Mr. bottom-feeder.

Here is a suggestion; at least don't play both sides of the fence with your book selections as advertised...choose to make money off one position or the other and let your commentary/opinion match.

If you must play both sides, then present reasoned opinions from each side...at least then you are taking the middle road, albeit a spineless one.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Thank you for your comments. You have not really responded to the article - did you even read it? I presume you are strongly in favour of Landis, which is fine - no where have we condemned him for his comments. And if you actually took time to read the blog, and some of the other posts, you will see that we do attempt to cover both sides of the story. We have our opinions, certainly, but our intention is to stimulate debate by presenting one side factually without ever attacking the other.

But your knee-jerk reaction is to attack people personally - what kind of a debate is that? Our aim with this blog is to stimulate debate. That is why we adopt a position in each article, but attempt to straddle a position slightly to the left or right of neutral. We don't wish to play only one side because that obstructs constructive debate, as you've so elegantly demonstrated.

It would be wonderful to be able to discuss your opinion on THIS matter - do you think that Bonds is the man for the record? Do you agree with the assertion that he was doing nothing illegal by taking drugs? That is our aim - the reference through Amazon to the books facilitates this, because we have in previous posts referred to the book, in order to give people the opportunity to read the story as comprehensively as possible.

It's unfortunate that you feel the way you do. We will take your suggestions seriously, but please, next time, stop to think before the red mist descends and you launch personal attacks in response to articles that are meant to stimulate debate. Yes, we have an opinion, and we put it across. But we have no desire to be divisive, which is the path you are suggesting. If that is spineless, well, we're sorry you won't visit again.

Ross and Jonathan

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Thank you for visiting our blog, Anonymous.

While we understand your point about being "bottom feeders," I would hardly say we are taking advantage of anyone's misfortunes.

First, if you would have clicked in our site meter, you would see that we receive only about 100-150 visits a day. In addition, not one person has yet to buy a book via the Associates program. Needless to say, this is hardly a money making operation for anyone.

Second, by encouraging people to buy Landis' book we are actually doing him some good as more book sales means more money for him.

Third, we encourage people to read books like Landis' or David Walsh's new book specifically so that they can see both sides of the story. No debate is complete without all of the information, and in fact when one has only half the info, it ceases to be a debate.

Finally, athletes like Landis and Bonds (and many others) possess an immense will to win. That is why they do what they do. This does not make them bad or unethical individuals, and no where did we ever state that wanting to win qualifies one as unethical. Rather, Landis' comments provide insight into the mind of a professional athlete.

Because for certain athletes the will to win is so strong, this might mean they apply different ethics than the rest of us weekend warriors who sit so safely in our office jobs, secure with our salary regardless of our performance. It is easy for us to lambast them for doping---our salaries and jobs are not on the line if we do not "win" at our job.

So the interesting phenomena is that when some individuals attempt to reach the pinnacle of their profession, they might see things a bit differently that the rest of us, especially when their livelyhood (and salaries) depend on how well they perform. This likely applies as much to sports as it does to the corporate world, and is likely the reason why many athletes seemingly express zero remorse when caught doping. They see it as a necessary step to take in the quest for success, and not as an ethical dilemma at all.

Anonymous said...

hi there

I was amazed to see the tone of this first comment from anonymous - dude, what sort of way to debate and argue is that? You come out and accuse people of some of the worst things possible, without even considering any other options. You betray a real lack of reason and logic. I thought the post was very neutral, put across the key point very well - you just read "Landis" and "shocking" and suddenly you adopt the "world police" attitude and come out attacking, because anyone who's nasty to good old Floyd must get the abuse. I'm a Landis fan, think he's great, and a lot of things get written that I think are wrong. But this is not one of them. You missed the point entirely.

What a joke - you're the bottom feeder...

Floyd Landis fan

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Due to a technical issue, this initial comment was not posted. Here is the text from Ben as it appeared in our inbox:

Ben to me

show details Aug 3 (2 days ago)

Ben has left a new comment on your post "The Barry Bonds Dilemma":

Hi Ross and Jonathan
Very interesting article. Can't believe the penalties for positive tests are so low. It is probably worth their while to dope, because the fine is nothing compared to their salries and endorsement contracts. Do they honestly think this will clean up the sport, or are they carefully avoiding the problem?
Thanks again for the interesting articles.

Posted by Ben to The Science of Sport at 03 August 2007 09:38

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Ben,

Thanks for the comment on this post, and apologies that it did not appear when you posted it.

I would say the real reason it is worth their while is that the testing frequency is so low, and there is such a small likelyhood that they will be caught. I am not 100% sure, but I do not think they test as aggressively as the UCI or IAAF.

A few years ago before they introduced ANY testing, the players union was negotiating with the league on the proposed testing program. The initial proposal was too aggressive for the players liking, which is why it is so lax now. The union carries significant power when it comes to agreeing to labor terms with the league, as demonstrated by this issue.

In the end, the agreement was that during Spring training or the first week of the season (cannot recall which time period it was), the league would perform testing. If more then 5% or so of tests were positive, then the testing program as it is now would kick in. If less than that value were positive, then no testing would be implemented. (NOTE: I am unsure of the exact value for the number of positives).

Obviously we know the result of those initial tests since there is a testing program now, but what is really interesting is that you never really hear about positive tests during the season. So that leaves us to believe that:

1) the testing program is super lax and infrequent;

2) it is not random testing and so the players know when they will be testing and can cycle off the steroids, or;

3) the league is getting positive tests but not reporting them and not taking action because they feel it is not a problem.

The NFL is quite similar with their testing policy in that a player has to to be a serious repeat offender before he is suspended for an entire season, and eventually banned from the league.

On 8/3/07, Ben wrote:

Ben has left a new comment on your post "The Barry Bonds Dilemma":

Hi Ross and Jonathan
Very interesting article. Can't believe the penalties for positive tests are so low. It is probably worth their while to dope, because the fine is nothing compared to their salries and endorsement contracts. Do they honestly think this will clean up the sport, or are they carefully avoiding the problem?
Thanks again for the interesting articles.

Posted by Ben to The Science of Sport at 03 August 2007 09:38

madhu said...

Very interesting article, even I am thinking that the fine is very low. The thing is I tried detox drinks and capsules which are available and passed a drug test . It worked for me. But any tips on avoiding relapse.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Martin,

Thanks for your comments and interest in our blog.

As you may know the government has taken steps in America to group steroids into the same class as other drugs commonly abused by adolescents. This is a good first step although there is still so much work to be done.

Re preventing a relapse, if you feel you are at risk for abusing these substances or feel that you are already abusing them, you should seek professional help immediately. Addiction is an extremely complicated problem, both from a physiological AND psychological standpoint, and one can only benefit from professional help.

The best way to "detox" from any drug use is to stop using that substance. In time it and all its metabolites will eventually leave your body.

Good luck.