Following the investigations on Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire for the use of performance enhancing drugs, the ethics of how the media reports on alleged crimes committed by baseball players needs to be further explored. The majority of professional sports face the potential threat of their athletes using steroids, but Major League Baseball has become generally known for rampant steroid use across the league. How did this happen? Since 1988, steroids have found their way into baseball and while some of the most prominent players in the league have out right denied the use of performance enhancing drugs such as David Ortiz and Barry Bonds, a few have come out and claimed that the majority of the league is actually “juiced up”.
In 2012, relief pitcher Eric Gagne, said that “It was sufficient to ruin my health, tarnish my reputation and throw a shadow over the extraordinary performances of my career… I was intimately aware of the clubhouse in which I lived. I would say that 80 percent of the Dodgers players were consuming them.” Jose Canseco, who played for the Oakland Athletics at the time, wrote in his book, Juiced, that he and McGwire would apply steroids via a syringe through the buttocks. Because of how some players in recent history have tried to save face after having their careers tarnished from PED accusations, it has led many fans within the sport and beyond to believe it’s a very casual performance for a major league ball-player.
After legendary seasons by players like McGwire, Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Jason Giambi, baseball reached a new high in viewership nationwide. The game also saw a transition from the classic style of good defense and aggressive baserunning to how many players in the lineup can drive the ball over the fence. By 2002, a lot of the mystery surrounding the transition came out when the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) came under fire for providing anabolic steroids to many high profile baseball players.
According to Dan Deluliis, “Out of 1,438 survey tests administered, MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced that five to seven percent of these tests were positive, a total of 104 positive tests. The names linked to these 104 positive tests were leaked to the media, most recently in February 2009. The names included the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, former player Sammy Sosa, the Boston Red Sox David Ortiz and Los Angeles Dodgers’ Manny Ramirez.” It has been discovered that Selig, as the commissioner of MLB, felt the need to get steroids out of the sport, no matter what the fans may otherwise prefer. Selig has never considered other disputes from fans such as time-clocks and a limited amount of pitcher-mount visits. But when it comes to performance enhancing drugs and home-runs, there really was no opportunity for him to budge. This is precisely why Selig began to enforce such a harsh drug-testing regimen. This actually also had an impact on other professional American sports leagues, such as the National Football League. In the current climate, the NFL has the credentials to test any player as much as 10 times per month for any substance even beyond performance enhancement.
Victor Conte is the main producer of BALCO as a sporting supplement organization that became truly involved with professionally organized sports in 1996. From this, several high profile baseball players were discovered to have taken PED’s. This organization was then investigated by former United States Senator, George J. Mitchell, in what has become famously known as The Mitchell Report. High-status players like Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmero, and Mark McGwire were called to testify in front of Congress for their use of PED’s. This was a major story on ESPN and while the network was lambasting these players for their actions, they would not at any capacity clarify that this is still an ongoing issue. Of course, no one wants baseball players to rely on steroids which in turn encourages high school and college athletes to partake as well. However, in this dark era of MLB, more than half of players were taking PED’s. The difference is that only the most powerful of performers were the one’s being investigated and targeted by the media.
The Mitchell Report is a 409 page report that investigated all athletes in MLB that were accused of using PED’s in the league. This is a concern because the player’s association actually did not consent to having the information evolved from the investigation exposed to the public. At a certain point, it becomes clear that players actions, no matter how heinous they may be, are not in any capacity able to be kept confidential. At this time, it wasn’t clear what kind of steroids or performance enhancing drugs were illegal, so it’s reasonable to assume that these players were doing what they could to keep their positions.
It is an unfortunate reality that when these baseball players were put in front of congress and became a top story for ESPN for several weeks, that the general public questioned the legitimacy of Major League Baseball. Once it became known through media that the majority of professional players were using steroids, players became analyzed in an unfairly fashion just because they performed better than they had in previous years. The main issue lies within the power that sports media has ethically when covering athletes. Sure, they have a huge responsibility to identify and call out actions that are unordinary and potentially harmful by athletes that can detriment the sport. However, to use that leverage of analyzer to accuse players across the board about who may be doing what is a slanderous act against all athletes. When players who dedicate their lives to their craft and to be blindly accused by network analysts for taking performance enhancing drugs does have a certain effect on that specific player’s reputation throughout the public.