Thursday, March 17, 2005

Congress and Baseball

As I write this post, I am struggling to think of a day when I was less proud of our government than today. While our soldiers are still in Iraq and while our citizens are concerned about Social Security, one congressional committee dedicated an entire day to investigating the use of steroids in baseball. This was one of the most egregious examples of petty grandstanding that I have ever seen.

Congress brought in the mothers of young athletes who died as a result of steroid use. Then they trotted in a collection of current and former players to grill them for a bit. Last, but certainly not least, Congress brought in representatives of the business side of baseball, including Bud Selig and Don Fehr.

Some Representatives insisted that the purpose of the hearings was to address the growing public safety issue of steroid use. The thinking of those individuals is that baseball's weak drug policy has greatly contributed to the supposed rise in 'roid use amongst teen athletes. Other representatives stated that the purpose of the hearings was to preserve the integrity of America's pasttime. What?!?! Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember preserving the integrity of baseball being listed anywhere amongst the Congressional duties laid out in Article 1 of the Constitution.

Since I was working, the only part of the hearings that I really got to watch was the third panel of witnesses which included Bud Selig and Don Fehr. Selig is the Commissioner of Baseball. Fehr is the head of the Players Association (the union). Before this day, I really did not like Fehr. The idea of a union for multi-million dollar athletes just kind of makes me mad. I didn't have much use for Bud Selig, either, after he ended the 2002 All-Star game in a tie. But, at the end of all this nonesense, I had a great respect for both of them. While self-important congressmen continually misprounounced their names, both men remained calm and respectful as they explained time and again that the current drug policy in baseball is the best thing they could come up with through collective bargaining.

My condemnation of these hearings should not be interpreted as a disinterest in the issue of steroids in baseball. I hate the idea that some players are using illegal drugs to slant competition in their favor. I feel sad that the era of baseball during which I grew up will be forever tainted by this cloud. And I feel betrayed to know that Mark McGuire probably cheated his way through that magical summer of '98. And yet, I don't feel like any of this is really Congress' business.

The steroids in question are illegal. They are federally controlled substances. It is against the law to use them -- or, at the very least, to sell them. If the federal government wants to stamp out these substances, it has the power to do that. It is the government's responsibility to enforce the law, not Mr. Selig's and not Mr. Fehr's. There are certainly plenty of reasons (most of them being dollars) why Major League Baseball has an interest in getting rid of steroids on their own. But, if Congress wants to end the use of steroids in baseball, then all they need to do is lean on the Department of Justice to start enforcing existing laws with gusto. This is not the responsibility of Major League Baseball.