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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

MLB Must Act to Change Drug Policy

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Major League Baseball's drug policy is under scrutiny and baseball officials need to act soon to revise it. Our sports commentator says what was striking about congressional hearings on the matter was seeing players' union representatives opposing their own.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Time is running out for major-league baseball to come up with a drug-use policy that it can enforce. Commentator Frank Deford explains why it has taken so long for major-league baseball to realize that drugs are not acceptable in sports.

FRANK DEFORD:

Not often can we put Republicans and unions in the same pocket, but recent events show how such strange bedfellows have bunked together. Both the GOP and one union, the Major League Baseball Player's Association, have found themselves on the defensive under criticism and for much the same underlying reasons. Both the Republicans and the players have pretty much had their own way for a long time and had come to think that they're all blessed with all the right answers. Part of this, I believe, incorporates some modern new corollary to Lord Acton's celebrated axiom that `Absolute power corrupts absolutely.'

Now obviously in the world today, excepting such insular tyrannical places as North Korea or Zimbabwe or the Augusta National Golf Club, nobody is able any longer to accumulate absolute power, but in the current world, where image matters so, something more beguiling has developed to bestow a sense of omnipotence upon institutions. That is, when your adversary, your counterweight, loses stature in the eyes of the public, when then the columnists and the comedians pile on so that that rival of yours is portrayed as a figure of fun, then you assume, almost by default, a tacit impunity.

The Republicans couldn't have had things so much their own way if the Democrats hadn't come to be jollied at as foolish, rudderless, vapid dunderheads, and the players' union couldn't have achieved its reputation for being a saintly vessel of wisdom and justice had not it become fashionable to paint baseball management as a cartel of insensitive, selfish beelzebubs presided over by a perfectly goofy commissioner.

In the modern world, your rival goes down on the image teeter-totter, you constantly assume that you've gone up accordingly. Thus, we may update Lord Acton this way: `Power tends to corrupt and smug power corrupts smugly.' Only because Donald Fehr, the head of the players' union, and his courtiers and esquires have enjoyed years of adulation--only that can explain why they still fail to see that they are now simply wrong and all alone that drugs are just not tolerated in sport anymore.

For me, watching the congressional drug hearings the other day, what was so striking was not hearing Senator McCain roundly lecture Mr. Fehr, but seeing such noble union stalwarts as Henry Aaron and Robin Roberts prominently on display, there to express abject opposition to their dear own union. It had the air of Clark Clifford, Lyndon Johnson's old confidante, coming into his administration and telling the president that his old Vietnam policy had failed.

No, we don't need frontier justice, but all sports organizations should recognize by now that drugs are an absolute corruption of sport and harsh penalties are absolutely required.

MONTAGNE: Frank Deford's newest book is "The Old Ball Game," about baseball and America at the start of the 20th century. 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

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford