Steroids: why does the NFL get a free pass?

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Headline to a column written in the Philadelphia Daily News: “NFL seems to have better handle on steroid problem than MLB.”

The keyword is “seems.” According to the article, steroid use was de rigueur in the NFL back in the 80s in a way that it has never been alleged to be in baseball. Ex-lineman Brian Baldinger:

“I remember the first day of training camp, going into Player X’s
dorm room when the vets showed up,” says Baldinger, who played 11 NFL
seasons for the Cowboys, Eagles and Indianapolis Colts. “A brown bag
was dumped out on the bed full of syringes and you name it. And you
just kind of grabbed what you needed.

“It wasn’t like it is now, with baseball players saying, ‘Let’s get
the playing field even.’ Back then, it was understood that X-amount of
players, mostly linemen, that’s what they did [use steroids]. It wasn’t
looked at as a competitive advantage.”

In light of that culture the NFL, to its credit, instituted steroids
testing in the 1980s. And it has had some success. According to the
article, anonymous post-retirement surveys by a medical journal
indicated a 20.3% rate of steroid use among respondents in the 1980s
and a 12.7% rate currently. While it’s not unreasonable to assume that
the actual usage rate is higher simply because human nature does not
easily allow people to admit bad stuff, let’s just say that 12.7% is

So rates are lower, but is that any basis to claim — as the people
quoted in this article claim — that the NFL’s testing regime
represents success? 12.7% of current NFL rosters equals roughly 215
players. In the past four years, however, a total of 43
players have been suspended for violating the NFL’s PED policy, or
about 10 a year. I’ll spare you the math, but trust me when I tell you
that 10 a year is somewhat less than 12.7%.

Yet despite this — and despite the fact that the no one has ever
provided any data suggesting that as many as 12.7% of baseball players
are using PEDs at any given time in the testing era — football is held
up as having its PED house in better order than baseball. And that’s
before you apply the same “look how big those dudes are” logic to
football that is so often applied to baseball.

I won’t claim that baseball’s testing regime is perfect — it’s
actually less comprehensive on paper than the NFL’s — but I find it
incredible that the NFL is given a virtual free pass when it comes to
steroids while baseball’s drug problems are continually dragged out for
public ridicule and abuse.

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.