Over the past couple of decades, Major League Baseball made a great many mistakes. For years it mishandled and mismanaged the issue of drug use, only recently trying to atone for those oversights by taking a harder line against performance enhancement.
On Thursday, that atonement took an unprecedented step forward when MLB unveiled its plan to test minor league players for Human Growth Hormone (HGH).
Why is this a big deal?
By mandating the policy, baseball became the first major American sport to engage in blood-based testing. Not only will this help reduce and possibly eliminated HGH use at the minor league level, it also opens the door for the major leagues to follow suit in the near future.
The stumbling block standing in the way of that change in the players’ union. The MLBPA has long resisted blood-testing; it was challenging enough to work any type of drug tests into the collective bargaining agreement. While the union finally acquiesced to urine-testing, it has stood firm when it comes to blood draws. Said union executive director Michael Wiener,
“The union’s position on HGH testing remains unchanged. When a test is available that is scientifically validated and can be administered safely and without interfering with the players’ ability to compete, it will be considered.”
While it’s true that blood tests for HGH and other substances have been less than reliable over the years, improving testing methods should help ensure that HGH users are caught with more regularity. And the union’s filibustering has never had much legitimacy. The players should want to prevent cheating as much as the leagues do.
With the policy now in place for all organizations, current thought is that the MLBPA will eventually be pressured into giving up its objections. That gives the move both short-term and long-term benefits, and MLB should be praised for taking such an effective step.
The immediate upside is that minor-leaguers will now be subject to random blood-based drug tests designed to detect HGH, which should help curtail, or at least discourage, PED use among younger athletes. That will have a trickle-down effect, impacting college and high-school players seeking to have a career in the sport.
It will also trickle up, so to speak; as the current crop of minor-leaguers progress into the majors, there will likely be fewer PED-abusers left among them. The key will be to force action at the major league level to ensure that players start clean and stay clean.
The decision cannot erase MLB’s previous inattention to the drug problem, and it certainly doesn’t get commissioner Bud Selig off the hook for his failure to act 15 or 20 years ago. But it does represent important progress.
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