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Melky and the MLB drug-testing programme

by Matt Smith

The ‘What would Melky do?’ suggestions flooding into the Baseball on 5 Live studio on Sunday were an apt response to the latest bizarre twist in the Melky Cabrera drug ban saga.

You would struggle to find a player’s potential free agent market take as big a tumble as Melky Cabrera’s has over the last couple of weeks. He appeared to be on his way to a huge pay day, having by far the best year of his career this season ahead of his impending free agency.

Getting banned for 50 games due to failing a drugs test has cut his season short and there will be a lingering suspicion that he was only having such a good season because of his drug use (whether accurate or not, no one can really say for sure).

When you then add on the so-ridiculous-it’s-comical attempt by an associate to plant fake evidence on a website in an attempt to get him off the charge, the ‘buyer beware’ sticker grows even larger.

There’s little doubt he’ll find a new team (the A’s even gave Manny Ramirez a Minor League deal this offseason, after all) however he may well have to accept a one-year deal and to rebuild his stock for another shot at free agency the following offseason.

The affair has made me reconsider my stance on part of the drug-testing procedure.

When reflecting on the Ryan Braun case back in February, I felt that the players’ privacy should be respected as part of the appeals process as the system is already heavily leaned towards the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ starting point.

I still maintain that view on the basis that it is what all parties have signed up to in the current system; however what happened in the Melky Cabrera case shows why there could be a public interest in exposing such cases and why there should be greater transparency introduced to the drug-testing process.

If somebody is of the dastardly mind to want to use drugs in a way to ‘beat the system’ then it stands to reason that they’ll do whatever they can to get off the charge, even if that means using further underhand practices.

To my knowledge, MLB and the Players Association do not disclose any details of cases where players have tested positive and were subsequently able to see the potential ban quashed.

Take Joey Votto as an example. There’s no reason to suspect him of having taken drugs other than the fact that he’s a fantastic ballplayer, but for all we know he might have produced a positive test in the past year and wriggled his way out of it.

Major Leaguers have the money in the bank, not to mention lucrative contracts to gain in the future, to fund hot-shot lawyers or – if so calculatedly minded – to spend on elaborate methods to try to conceal their liability. If you were already in trouble and the risk was a slightly more tarnished reputation at getting found out against not ruining a potential $200m+ contract extension, why wouldn’t you try your luck.

It might have sounded far-fetched before, but now we know an associate of Cabrera’s spent $10k on an existing website in an attempt to make it look like the product had been bought legitimately, who knows what other tricks can be, and maybe have already been, pulled.

To even suggest such a scenario in relation to Votto could be seen as grossly unfair - just because we don’t know that he hasn’t failed an initial test doesn’t mean he has - and that’s why there should be more transparency.

We should know how many times he and every other player has been tested over the course of the year and whether any further investigations were needed in any case. That way Votto has a public clean record he can point to if anyone doubts his innocence (remember not so long ago when Jose Bautista stated the number of times he had been tested and had his honesty about this questioned).

If in time we found that the clean record was the result of designer steroids or dodging the testers, as Victor Conte would claim, then we would have evidence available to put the effectiveness of the drug-testing programme under the microscope.

As it is we have a system that, far from protecting the privacy of the innocent, appears to give drug users a chance to circumvent the system and leaves the rest suffering the insinuation of cheating with no effective way to counter it.

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1 comment

Joe Cooter August 24, 2012 - 11:36 pm

I am not going to question whether or not Melky is guilty. I do not know enough about the science involved to know one way or another. I do not feel I know enough about the effects of PED’s to judge one way or another.

With that having been said, I feel that in wake of Lance Armstrong’s announcement to boycott proceedings by USADA and not contest their allegations, I must speak out. I must speak out because I have legitimet concerns and I would like to share them with JOHN Q. PUBLIC.

The one thing I can say about Melky is that he had an appeals process and was given an opportunity to state his case. Just like Ryan Bruan was given his chance to state his case back in February. IF USADA had had its way, niether would have the opportunity to contest the validity of a test. Neither would have had an opportunity to challenge the findings of the testers. The drug test would be considered valid not matter how poorly test procedures were handled. Believe me that is not a good thing.

Back if February, when Ryan Braun won his case against Major League Baseball. USADA had an opportunity to show at least some concern for due process and respect for testing proceedure. It ended up doing niether. It denouced the the decision by an independant arbitor and tried to argue that all testing procedures were followed even after the Arbitor ruled that testing proceedures were not followed. It seemed that USADA was more upset that Bruan was able to appeal the results that they were with any potential flaws in the testing procedure. They view was all tests were perfect and no flaws exisited so why bother with due process since anyone who tested was automatically guilty.

I have always found that this view was somewhat flaw for a number of reason. Not the least of which is the fact that false positives due happen. I do not believe that a man, or woman’s reputaion should be ruined simply on the basis of a false positive. There has to be a way to protect the innocent from the damage that is done by false positives. Yet somehow, USADA and their parent organization WADA fail to grasp the dangers that accusing someone on the basis of a false positive can have to those athletes who are clean. If they are aware of the dangers then it seems that they don’t care. Either way, it is a problem.

WADA and USADA seem to be obsessed with “catching the drug cheats” and “punishing the bad guys.” They have become so convinced of the moral certainty of their position and that what they are doing is right, that they simply do not care how they go about thier business. or whetehr or not they respect other peoples rights or not. In that regards

Sadly, there are many people in the media who support USADA and their methods. These are people who have brandished all people who take drugs as “cheater” whether they have are actually using it for a legitimate medical reason or not. This has created an atmosphere where competitors can not get proper treatment before competing.

Just last month one of the finalists at Wimbledon came down with a severe respritory infection and could not get propert treatment for it. If she had, she would have been suspended for using “performance enhancing drugs/” For some strange reason, WADA considers over the counter cold medications illicit when their use is simply to treat the common cold. This competitor ended up losing to Serena Williams is straight set. I wonder how she would have done had she been allowed to get proper medical attention in stead of having to forgo it in fear of a drug suspension?

This case is is the result of the peranoia that they sports world obviously has about the effects of performance enhancing drugs. It is a fear that is at least partially based in reality but always partialy created by media types who did not understand how these chemicals worked and made no effort to understand whether or not they actually did what they claimed they did. To paraprases the late Edward R. Murrow, USADA didn’t creat this fear, they merely exploited it.

We have seen this all before. WE saw it in the fifties when a power hungry senator from the state of Wisconsin tried to label people in the US Government, who disagreed with him Communists. WE saw this in Salem when members of the church tried to label people who disagreed with them Witches. WE saw this in Rome when Nero blamed the christians for the burning of Rome, when he himself started the fire. WE have seen this tale over and over again. I wonder will we ever learn our lesson?

I can understand Lance Armstrongs decision not to participate in USADA “process.” I myself would not want to participate in a proceding where I would be found guilty whether or not their was actually evididence to convict me. I wouldn’t find that proceeding very just and no sane person would ever consider that proceeding fair. Nevertheless USADA still feels inclined to engage in that kind of “justice.”

I do not know whether or Not Melky is guilty. I do not know if Lance Armstrong is guilty. I rather suspect that if he did take testosterone or other related substances then it would have been for medicinal purposes and not for competative reasons. The reason I say this is becasue treatment for Testicular cancer involves the removal of certain male body parts thus rendering the patient a Eunuch. When that happens a persons testosteron levels drop precipitously.If Armstrong did take them it was because he had to take it to replace the testosteron lost due to cancer surgury. I can very well understand him doing that. It’s too bad, USADA doesn’t want to understand that.


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