Why is some performance enhancement OK but not others?


Dan LeBatard offers the most intelligent and mature take on PEDs in sports I’ve seen in ages. He asks us to take a step back and ask ourselves why it is we are so hung up on a certain, narrow kind of performance enhancement in sports when we never question it — indeed, we openly praise it — when athletes do insane things to their bodies, all in the name of staying on the field? Often things that could cause massive harm.

Stuff like Ronnie Lott cutting his finger off. Lomas Brown playing with a catheter. Players having ligaments taken from cadavers and inserted into their own bodies. Drug therapies and medical procedures that are wholly unnecessary for a normal quality of life but are accepted in the name of athletic performance. We are totally fine with these. We are not totally fine with others:

We are OK with Kirk Gibson hitting one of the most famous home runs ever on one steroid (cortisone), but we slam the Hall of Fame door on the face of everybody else who might have used the anabolic kind. Granted, cortisone is not a banned performance enhancer, but it certainly enhanced Gibson’s performance, which wouldn’t have been possible without it. Lost in the shouting of “Cheater!” and “Fraud!” from a pill-popping America is how often athletes have to go through the pharmacy for the healing properties of hormones — not just to hit home runs but because what they do for a daily living really hurts.

It is not enough to draw some line and say “well, [drug/procedure X] is banned and [drug/procedure Y] is not banned.” It makes people who like to pour crap on banned PED users feel better, but it’s a most pedantic distinction. Why are some procedures and drugs banned and others not? Why do we allow some sorts of performance enhancement or enabling but not others? If it’s OK for Kirk Gibson to take a drug that allowed him to take the field when he otherwise could not have, why do we not allow other players to take other drugs that allow them to take the field when they otherwise can’t?

More broadly, as fans and observers, why do we seem to care so much and get so annoyed at certain sorts of seemingly unnatural acts undertaken by athletes but don’t care a bit — or, alternatively, fully expect — so many others?

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.