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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Crime, Punishment and Sports

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Baseball star Rafael Palmiero Thursday wraps up his 10-day suspension for steroids. Athletes in other sports — also charged with doping — such as cyclist Tyler Hamilton and 10th-ranked tennis player Guillermo Canas are facing suspensions in increments of years, not days.


Tomorrow, baseball star Rafael Palmeiro wraps up his suspension for steroids, 10 days. Athletes in other sports also charged with doping, such as cyclist Tyler Hamilton and tennis player Guillermo Canas, are facing suspensions in increments of years, not days and that disparity mystifies our commentator Frank Deford.


Something is terribly out of whack here. Tyler Hamilton, an American cyclist, tested positive for blood doping last year. Even as he appeals, he is in the process of serving a two-year suspension. Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids and is enduring a suspension of 10 days. The disparity in the penalties is simply ludicrous. Either the Olympic judgment, as meted out by the World Anti-Doping Agency, is too severe, or baseball law is a joke.

To be sure, Palmeiro has been disgraced, and in light of his sworn testimony before Congress, he's been exposed as a liar as well as a cheat. He's lost his chance to be voted into the Hall of Fame. But justice is not supposed to be about peripheral castigation. Do the crime, do the time. Ten days for an offense of this nature is asinine. Pete Rose was banished from the game for transgressions that were nowhere near as damaging to baseball.

The fact is that the players' union has its integrity on the line. If it does not go along with Commissioner Bud Selig and dramatically stiffen doping penalties, then it reveals itself not to be a support force for its honest members but an enabling agency for its culprits.

As a point of passing interest, too, it's worth noting that Hamilton, the cyclist, actually has a good case for acquittal. Blood doping means transfusing blood or blood products into your body; more red cells, more endurance. And Hamilton came up positive in a new test for blood doping after winning a gold medal at the Olympics last year. Then only a few weeks later, Hamilton tested positive again at a race in Spain.

But here's the rub: While the tests clearly showed that Hamilton had two different blood populations in his system, it can't prove how the second blood got there. But if not by transfusion, then how? Well, some esteemed doctors claim that as much as 50 percent, maybe even all of us, are chimeric. That means that we have traces of other blood in our system that have been there since the womb. This second blood either comes from the mother, or from what is known as a vanishing twin, that is, a second embryo that was conceived but failed much to develop.

Unfortunately for Palmeiro, he can't claim that it was his evil vanishing twin who took the steroids. He's just very luck that his sentence is only 1.4 percent of what Hamilton or any other Olympic athlete must serve for the same first offense.

Too much of our discussion about baseball's druggies is devoted to the past. Can we excise the records of those who are so transparently guilty of steroid use? Can we bestow asterisks? No, we can't. We can't rewrite history. Get over it. Instead, what we can do is deal with the present and the future, and the prime thing on that agenda is to force the baseball union to own up to its responsibilities and properly punish the bad guys.

INSKEEP: Those are the comments of Frank Deford, the angry young man at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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