Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Breaking Down the Mitchell Report

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Mitchell Report leading up to its release. I didn’t know much about George Mitchell (other than he was a former senator with ties to the Red Sox), but I knew plenty about our good friend Bud Selig. Mr. Selig’s track record in dealing with steroids has been less than stellar in the past, so my expectations for the report were fairly low. I don’t think many people were expecting a lot of new information or any big names to end up in the final draft; who had Mitchell been talking to with that kind of information? The inclusion of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, and others seemed to catch everyone off-guard and has been the main attraction thus far (more on that later).

On the New Drug Policy

I watched Mitchell’s press conference live and came away impressed with what was outlined by the lead author of the report. In his speech, Mitchell presented the keystones of the new drug policy he created for Major League Baseball. I’ve highlighted the ideas behind the proposed drug policy found in the report:

1.) The Commissioner’s Office should place a higher priority on investigations based on “non-testing” evidence. This means following up on those warning signs and rumors of use that were ignored by baseball executives, staff, and players in the past. These investigations could be discreet and anonymous, but the knowledge that a player could be reported by his peers for cheating may act as a strong deterrent to many would-be dopers. At the very least, illegal substances would be pushed out of Major League clubhouses, which is a positive step in preventing their use from spreading amongst players.

Mitchell suggested a Department of Investigations within MLB, the formation of an anonymous tip hotline, increased cooperation with law enforcement officials investigating illegal drug use, and an improvement of the communication of each MLB club’s drug policy to its players.

2.) MLB should improve their anti-doping educational programs. A better educational program on the damaging effects and risks of doping to a player’s health and career could prevent players on the brink from making a poor decision. Many players are tempted to cheat, but could also choose to forgo illegal substances if they were properly informed. The educational program would be expanded to reach young athletes outside of MLB, as well.

It is suggested that clubs present the risks of doping to their players during spring training through testimonials. MLB currently uses player and expert testimonials to discourage gambling by its players and could use a similar program for doping. In the report, Dr. Jay Hoffman (PED expert) proposes a program that provides players with effective alternatives to PED use through safe and legal supplements, nutrition, and training. Players may not always respond to the negative health warnings, since they may not know anyone who has experienced these effects first-hand. This stubborn attitude makes knowledge of other options important for young players. Ethical and moral consequences should also be paired with the potentially devastating effects PEDs may have on a player's reputation and career.

3.) MLB’s drug testing policy should be executed by an independent testing agency. The best way enforce a world-class drug testing policy is to hand over the administrative work and actual testing to a professional organization. Independent testing would also add an efficiency, legitimacy, and parity to the results that MLB has not had before. The program should also be transparent to the public in the form of reports and audits, while maintaining the players’ privacy.

It is recommended that the new policy be active year round and employ “best practices as they develop” to keep up with the constantly evolving market for illegal performance enhancing substances.

The above information can be found under the Recommendations section starting on page 285 of the Mitchell Report (pg. 333 of the PDF file).

As I said, I came away satisfied with the new drug policy Mitchell proposed. The primary elements of the policy are based on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) current code. WADA oversees the anti-doping policy administered for the Olympic Games and is viewed as the international standard for monitoring and preventing illegal substance use among athletes.

If the Commissioner’s Office and the Players’ Association can find a way to embrace Mitchell’s recommendations, baseball will have one of the premier anti-doping policies in professional sports. That would be quite a legacy for Bud Selig to leave behind and I think he is aware of how such a policy could dull his current public image as the Commissioner of the Steroid Era. The proposed policy would also place a definitive barrier in baseball history between the past era and the future.

I think the significance of the Mitchell Report has been understated thus far; people seem to forget who ordered the investigation in the first place. I know the release of the report is only the first step, but the fact that Selig has officially endorsed the report and stated on the public record that there is/was significant steroid use in baseball is a big deal. Selig may have been prodded by Congress and he still runs for cover every time a question about asterisks is tossed his way, but you can’t fix a problem without admitting it exists first. If you can buy the comparison, consider the Mitchell Report that first step towards baseball’s rehab.

On the Players Named

Just to be clear, I do not feel any pity for the large majority of players named in the report (Brian Roberts is one of the few that causes me to question his inclusion; ed. until he admitted to actually using steroids on Tuesday). What they (allegedly) did was wrong and often illegal and they knew better going in. Every player named in the report also had the opportunity to talk with Mitchell and his people well before any information was publicly released; most declined. Therefore, I don’t really give a damn what Roger Clemens and his lawyer have to say. With allegations this serious, why didn’t he discuss the matter with Mitchell beforehand? Did he think he would never get caught? Clemens is certainly entitled to try and clear his name, but I’d like to know where he was during the investigation. Other players have also attempted to backtrack on past statements or actions to counter their inclusion in the Mitchell Report.

That said, I think the media has been irresponsible in their handling of the players named in the report. During his initial press conference, Mitchell emphasized (perhaps more than any other point) that the players named in the report should not be the focus of his work. Mitchell pleaded with the public and the press to keep the names in context and focus on the most important part of the report: the new anti-doping policies. The amount of coverage devoted to the policy recommendations has made up just a fraction of the overall coverage surrounding the Mitchell Report (and that’s being generous).

It’s unfortunate no one is heeding Mitchell’s advice to move forward and stop dredging the past. I understand the public’s fascination with the players named, but I feel like they’re missing the point. Mitchell included the names to achieve full disclosure with his report. He stated one of his early goals was to be as open and honest as possible with the information presented to him and he would have fallen short by withholding the player’s names. The names also act as evidence to reinforce the purported activities of the Steroid Era. Attaching actual names to these acts gives leverage to those who must negotiate with the Player’s Association in the future and provides a degree of closure to the investigation.

There’s a good chance that the media would have dug up the names anyway, so at least this way Mitchell was able to offer the players involved a chance to set the record straight before publication. I can’t emphasize this fact enough; every player involved had a chance to speak with Mitchell well before the report was published. They declined.

If the number of players using PEDs was actually in the 50-70% range, it would have been impossible to name even half of those players. Does it make any difference who was named? Would certain people still be outraged if super-stars like Clemens and Pettitte were excluded from the list? They may be the whipping boys right now, but someone had to take the fall. The risk of getting caught was there for everyone; some guys just got unlucky.

The fact that they were discovered and named in the report does not change the fact that what they did was wrong. The circumstances of discovery do not change the crime. I almost feel like the individual names listed are irrelevant; they would have served the same purpose no matter what players happened to be caught at the end of the day. PED use was rampant in baseball, from elite players like Clemens and Tejada to bench players that no one has given a second thought to. It’s interesting to think what the report’s impact may have been if it just listed mediocre, no-name players.

Mitchell encouraged the Commissioner to forego discipline of players who used PEDs before baseball had a punishable drug policy in place. Mitchell placed a stern emphasis on baseball moving forward by heeding his policy recommendations. Even the law states an employer can not discipline an employee for past infractions if the rule did not exist at the time.

Selig chose to ignore Mitchell’s advice as soon as he took the podium. Selig made it very clear that he would be taking action against active players who were named in the report. I feel the best way for baseball to respond to the Mitchell Report would be to embrace the anti-doping policy outlined and continue to distance itself from the past. The damage has already been done to the players’ reputations; dragging out the process through disciplinary action would be a poor choice at this point.


Tribe pitcher Paul Byrd met with MLB officials on Monday to discuss his HGH use. Byrd's use of HGH was apparently under a prescription for a pre-existing medical condition and was known to the Indians before they activated Byrd's contract option for 2008. MLB has given Byrd a chance to talk before an official decision is made, due to his openness on the issue and medical records. Tribe fans should know the final decision on Byrd soon.

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