Baseball Prepares For Suspensions

ESPN reports that Major League Baseball is preparing to suspend at least 20 players for associating with a known dealer of banned substances. Dave Zirin, sportswriter with The Nation, discusses his proposal: instead of banning performance-enhancing drugs, legalize and regulate them.

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Major League Baseball is preparing to hand down suspensions to some of its marquee players according to a recent ESPN report. It's the result of information the league obtained through a man named Tony Bosch, who reportedly supplied banned substances to athletes through his company Biogenesis of America.

Dave Zirin is sports editor for The Nation, and he joins us. Hello.

DAVE ZIRIN: Hey. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

VIGELAND: For those who perhaps haven't been following the Biogenesis' story and may understandably think we're still talking about the BALCO scandal, catch us up on Tony Bosch.

ZIRIN: Sure. Tony Bosch is somebody who runs a rather off-the-grid outfit known as Biogenesis that's known for doing anti-aging therapy in South Florida, a place where you would imagine there would be quite a market for that.

VIGELAND: Indeed. Indeed.

ZIRIN: But what he has really been doing allegedly is supplying several dozen or perhaps even more Major League Baseball players with banned substances, and not only banned substances but masking agents to then beat the test that Major League Baseball puts down to try to catch players who are running a foul of the agreement to stop banned substances, performance-enhancing drugs in the sport.

VIGELAND: This is really a game of whack-a-mole...


VIGELAND: ...that you ban one substance, and all of the sudden, somebody's going to come up with something else.

ZIRIN: I would make the case that baseball incentivizes steroid use because the salary differentials between the Minor Leagues and the Major Leagues are so vast, and because Major League Baseball invest millions of dollars in the Dominican Republic where the poverty line is over 40 percent, and performance-enhancing drugs are legal and available over the counter in the Dominican Republic. And then once you get to the United States, there is a huge demand for ways to beat the test.

VIGELAND: Well, let's get to the players. Twenty of them named this week. You said there could be dozens.

ZIRIN: Oh, yeah.

VIGELAND: How significant is that?

ZIRIN: There's no way that Major League Baseball can win any of these if the Players Association - the union - puts up any kind of defense for the players. My sources and the sources of other people are saying that the Players Association might throw some of these guys to the wolves...


ZIRIN: ...because there has been a sort of sea change culturally among players to say, we need to uproot this stuff from the sport.

VIGELAND: You wrote about that you think that essentially, the solution of all these is to legalize performance-enhancing drugs. So please explain yourself.

ZIRIN: Well, first of all, my starting point is that the system is broken, that the problem with steroids and performance-enhancing drugs is not used, but it's abused. It's when they're taken in back rooms, it's when they're administered by nondoctors like Tony Bosch.

VIGELAND: Trainers. Yup.

ZIRIN: So then the question then becomes, how do you do it in a way that's actually safe and regulated and actually looks at some of these things for the positive effects that they have? Because the number one reason why players take these performance-enhancing drugs is to heal from injury over the course of 162 game season - people who should be the healthiest people.

Former athletes, usually by the time they hit 50, 60 years old, are an absolute mess from top to bottom. And I think if we're able to return this to a public health issue, you would actually create a safer system for athletes and, frankly, have healthier athletes once they retire.

VIGELAND: That's Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation. Dave, thanks for coming in.

ZIRIN: My privilege. Thank you.

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