Steroids in the NFL? No biggie!


Brian Cushing.jpgHouston Texans linebacker and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing failed a performance-enhancing drug test last year. The offending substance: hGC, the female fertility drug that snagged Manny Ramirez last year.  Cushing tested positive back in September, but the news of all of this — and his suspension — is only hitting now.

Fellow Houston star Lance Berkman had some words to say about all of that yesterday:

I will say what will be interesting will be to see the reaction
because generally when that happens to a football player it is kind of
ho-hum. You write a story about it and he serves his four games and nobody
will ever say anything else about it. If that happens to a baseball
player, they want to strike him from the record book. It’s a totally
different reaction, and I’m not sure why that is, but I will be
following this just to see.

And it is a totally different reaction. Cushing is the third NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year to be suspended
for performance-enhancing substances in the last eight seasons, following Julius Peppers and Shawne Merriman.  The equivalent to this in baseball would be if Evan Longoria, Ryan Howard and Hanley Ramirez all tested positive for PEDs. If that had come to pass Congress would be involved, columnists would have their heart medication doubled and we would all be forced to think of the children under penalty of law.

In football? No big whoop.  No one wringing their hands over the NFL’s obvious PED problem. No one excoriating the league for having a testing and appeals procedure that allows for a five-month lag between the failed test and the appeal and another three month delay between the appeal and the decision, all of which allowed a known-PED user to play the games in which he won the Rookie of the Year award in the first place.

A Rookie of the Year award, it should be noted, that the writers just this afternoon decided
to allow Cushing to keep

despite the fact that he had tested positive for a banned substance
before the season started.  Why can he keep it?  According to multiple writers who voiced their views on it before the re-vote, it’s because other guys on PEDs have won the award in the past.

One of them — ESPN’s Adam Schefter — is basically serving as Cushing’s P.R. team.  He thinks that the fact that Cushing took a lie detector test and passed, he shouldn’t be suspended. This despite the facts that (a) lie detector tests are essentially useless; (b) this lie detector test was obviously set up by Cushing’s camp for P.R. purposes; and (c) unless the NFL itself is lying, Cushing lied during his lie detector test.

Schefter also suggests that maybe Cushing’s positive test was the result of flogging the bishop.  Can you imagine if, say, Peter Gammons offered the masturbation defense when Manny Ramirez tested positive?

Another ESPN guy — Mark Schelerth — thinks that Cushing shouldn’t lose his award because “we don’t know for certain” that he took a PED (note: really?). This despite the fact that the league has already completed its apparently exhaustive appeals process and suspended the guy.  “The banned substantces list is so long!” Schelerth basically says. “How is it possible that a player could know what he could or could not take!”  I mean, sure, Cushing went to USC so he probably has some sort of learning disability, but he makes a lot of money and can afford to hire someone to read the list for him.

Look, I’ve been called a PED apologist more times than I can count, but that’s because (a) I don’t think that guys who take PEDs should be demonized and shunned; and (b) I don’t think that attempting to re-write the record books is either possible or advisable. But I’ve never argued that the league shouldn’t suspend guys who test positive, and I’ve never trafficked in the world of apparently baseless excuses for what appears to be clear rules violations. This, however, appears to be par for the course among the NFL commentariat. Which is fine. Their sport, their problems, their opinions.

In light of them, however, I’d really prefer it if, next time baseball has a PED story, these people don’t come out of the woodwork talking about how awful baseball’s PED problems are.

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.