Alex Rodriguez is at the center of another controversy. This time, the injured slugger is linked to Biogenesis, a Miami-area clinic that is widely suspected of dispensing HGH and other banned substances. Stop the presses.
Although the report in the Miami NewTimes referenced several athletes in many different sports, the story has not surprisingly coalesced around one name: Arod. So, instead of framing the news in its proper context (i.e., the wide availability of performance enhancing drugs), the story has instead evolved into another Alex Rodriguez exposé.
Arod’s link to PEDs is an old story. Not only has the three-time MVP admitted to steroid use during his time in Texas, but since coming clean, there have been allegations linking him to questionable figures, such as Anthony Galea, a Canadian doctor convicted of distributing HGH. In fact, even Rodriguez’ association with Biogensis is a continuation of a New York Times article from last Saturday. Granted, the MiamiNT report is more extensive and includes notes that allegedly document HGH distribution to several athletes, but ultimately, it is a continuation of yet another allegation linking Rodriguez to the continued use of PEDs.
For all the reasons cited above, Rodriguez no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt. Those who use this latest implication of impropriety as the basis for branding him a cheat are well within their right. However, that doesn’t justify blowing the story out of proportion. All that we have learned from this latest revelation is Rodriguez may have used HGH or other banned substances from 2009 to last season. Even the third baseman’s most strident advocates probably aren’t surprised by that possibility. So, in order to give more meat to the story, two derivatives have emerged. The first revolves around a potential suspension and the second deals with the Yankees voiding Arod’s contract.
Although suspensions are possible in any case involving performance enhancing drugs, the CBA has a clear protocol for levying punishment in the absence of a positive test. As compelling as the MiamiNT’s evidence may be in the court of public opinion, nothing that was printed seems capable of holding up under legal scrutiny. If Arod, or the other major leaguers mentioned in the report, are eventually exposed to discipline, it will be because of additional evidence uncovered by MLB’s investigation of the allegations, which, according to the New York Times, was already underway before today’s article was published.
Even if MLB were to independently verify the accusations made in the MiamiNT report, and subsequently suspend Rodriguez for 50 games, the Yankees would likely not have any legal ground upon which to void the remaining five years of his contract. Once again, the CBA mandates specific penalties for PED use, which seem to prohibit teams from taking extra punitive measures. Sure, the Yankees might “try” to escape from their obligation, but absent extraordinary extenuating circumstances, such an attempt would be pointless (and perhaps even adverse)…just like all the speculation. It’s also worth noting that there have been scores of players suspended for positive PED tests, but not one has had a guaranteed major league contract voided on that basis.
If Rodriguez did use a banned substance months after making a public admission about prior use (and, it should be noted, that allegation has not been proven), he’ll rightly be branded a liar, hypocrite, and cheat. He’ll also be handed a 50-game suspension, which, like it or not, will then be followed by four more years of multi-million dollar checks. Even then, the story won’t have the implications many seem to think. With Arod not expected back until the second half, and the chances of him returning in a diminished state a real possibility, the Yankees might arguably be better off saving the approximately $10 million they wouldn’t have to pay him if he was suspended for 50 games. This is a different Alex Rodriguez who is now under a cloud of suspicion. His reputation is already tarnished and his skills are diminished. He won’t even be around the team to cause a distraction. From a purely baseball standpoint, the allegations leveled against Arod only threaten his already tenuous return this season.
Alex Rodriguez’ name attracts attention, which is why he has become the focal point of the story despite only residing on the periphery. Hidden beneath the Arod hysteria, the real news is the easy availability of PEDs and the widespread use across several sports that are implied by the allegations. Again, neither are surprising revelations, but the possibility that Biogensis was a “Balco-East”, and the implication that there are several more similar clinics throughout the country, underscore the uphill battle sports league face when combating performance enhancing drugs.
If Biogensis turns out to be another BALCO, the impact on the sports world will be significant. That’s why it does the story a disservice to make Alex Rodriguez the central figure. But, who then should the main focus? The answer is no one. Instead of focusing on who is selling and who is using, sports leagues would be better off concentrating their investigative efforts on the substances involved. As long as certain drugs are believed to enhance performance, athletes will take them. That’s why leagues should spend at least as much time trying to debunk the ones that don’t work as developing tests for the ones that do.
To his credit, Tim Elfrink, who authored the MiamiNT story, mentions the growing belief within the scientific community that HGH has little more than a placebo effect. However, by including the reference in the end of the long article, Elfrink buried the lead. Instead of being concerned about athletes getting an unfair advantage by using HGH, sports leagues should be more interested in helping its athletes avoid making potentially deadly mistakes. After all, if HGH is more likely to cause diabetes and cancer than improved performance, why are the health concerns taking a back seat to the integrity of statistics? Perhaps if sports leagues could convince their athletes that HGH provided no advantage, there wouldn’t be a need to investigate clinics like Biogensis in the first place? Those are the questions we should really be asking, not whether the Yankees can void Arod’s contract. Otherwise, we’re not really considering the subject with the seriousness it deserves, but instead, like the athletes themselves, just playing a game with little knowledge and deadly consequences.