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Eventually, this column will outline the first action Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig must take in response to former Sen. George Mitchell’s report on the widespread use of illegal steroids and other performance-enhancing substances in the sport.
But first we need to note a truth that has always been self-evident, even at the lying, cheating core of the scandal: At the moment of truth, when each player was getting his first illegal injection or salve massage, he knew that his act could mean his own asterisk.
From the future Hall of Famer seeking greater glories to the journeyman seeking a few more paydays, each player who put contraband into his body figured that, at worst, he was just putting his posterity on the line. But that was wrong. The players were never the ultimate victims. Back on page 11, the report’s summary briefly noted the scandal’s overarching victim:
“It’s important to devote attention to the Major League Baseball players who illegally used performance-enhancing substances. It’s at least as important, perhaps even more so, to be concerned about the reality that hundreds of thousands of our children are using them. Every American, not just baseball fans, ought to be shocked into action by that disturbing truth.”
That is the succinct listing of the victims of this scandal — America’s kids who want to be athletes and are emulating their sports heroes, the ones who have bulked up on federally controlled substances that cannot be used without a legal prescription from a law-abiding physician, and have done the same.
With that in mind, here are talking points for Selig’s first real action-oriented response to the report: “Sen. Mitchell’s independent investigation report merits prompt action by Major League Baseball. As commissioner, I will be proposing a series of responses that will include penalties and punishments, and will stress prescriptions for a more honest and honorable future. As Sen. Mitchell’s report stated, ‘For more than a decade there has been widespread illegal use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances by players in Major League Baseball, in violation of federal law and baseball policy.’ And also, ‘The response by baseball was slow to develop and was initially ineffective, but it gained momentum after the adoption of a mandatory random drug testing program in 2002.’ He is right. Baseball was slow and ineffective in its initial response.
“My first act is to levy a fine of $100,000 on baseball’s commissioner. I should have done more, and done it faster and more effectively, and I will pay that fine. The fine money will go to a foundation that Major League Baseball will establish this week that will fund worthwhile charitable programs for underprivileged youths. Also, Sen. Mitchell notes that baseball owners focused more on economic goals than the gravity of this scandal and failed to move decisively; so as commissioner I am fining each team $1 million, to be paid to this new charitable foundation.
“Sen. Mitchell’s report stated that the Major League Players’ Association was ‘uncooperative’ to the point of urging players not to talk to the senator or his investigators. I understand the association’s concerns about protecting players’ privacy and legal rights. But we also need to move to a new era. While I have no way of enforcing a fine levied on the association, as an act of good faith I am asking the association to contribute $100,000 to this foundation.
“Now we turn to the players, both those who are paid millions of dollars and those who earn considerably less. What they owe America’s young fans is to be proper role models, not as models who show that lying pays. What we all owe the sport is a better, cleaner future. All players mentioned in the report — and all others unmentioned but who also committed misdeeds — have until the start of spring training to publicly tell the truth to the fans about substances they used. Come clean and then be clean — and there will be no further fines or punishments, and baseball will work with authorities to ensure an end to any legal focus on past substance misdeeds.
“Sen. Mitchell urged no punishment for the players and a focus on the future, not the past. Based upon the candor and positive response of the players involved, in the spring of 2008 we will review whether a need remains for subsequent actions on the part of Major League Baseball.”
Baseball — from its leaders and owners to its players — has one last at-bat to show that its decades of slow-motion response have not turned the sport into our national past time.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)