How Players View Drug Testing

Yesterday, AJC Braves beat writer David O’Brien featured an interview with Chipper Jones and Tom Glavine about blood testing for human growth hormone in baseball. I don’t want to get sidetracked by the fact that it would be a total waste of resources to test for HGH, or that it would make more sense to allow it than to police it; instead, I want to focus on the player’s decision to submit to testing.

I believe that Chipper Jones echoes the sentiments of many major-league baseball players.

“I don’t care,” the third baseman said Tuesday. “I’m not on anything, so it doesn’t bother me. The only people I would say who would object would be people afraid of needles, or who are on something.”

A player who is clean has every reason to want testing, but users may favor testing as well. A substance that is performance-enhancing gives users an edge over non-users, which translates into higher salaries. Players face the choice of using to keep their edge or abstaining and settling for compensation less than equally-talented players who use. Thus, there is a strong incentive to use. In a world where all players use, the end result is that players are no better than one another, yet they incur the expense and health consequences of using. Therefore, it makes sense for players to want stringent testing to stamp out this behavior.

However, there is another side to this, and Chipper is well aware of it.

He added, “I’m sure the players association would have something to say about it.”

Jones was asked about the issue three days after Yankees star Derek Jeter said in a radio interview that he wouldn’t object to a blood test, since players already are required to have blood drawn for physicals during spring training.

“You’re talking about individual guys coming out and saying they wouldn’t mind,” Jones said. “I’m sure if [players union head] Don Fehr sat us down and listed the pros and cons, and what the majority of players thought, it might be different.”

Former union representative Tom Glavine elucidates the cons.

“I’m not going to say it’s never going to change, but I see it as a very thorny issue right now,” Glavine said. “There’s too many potential problems, too many question marks.

“It’s potentially opening up a big can of worms. There’s the potential for so many problems with the way that it’s handled, the way it’s stored.”

Glavine said he could envision a player’s career being ruined by blood sample being tampered with by someone with a vendetta.

“On a personal level, it scares me to think of somebody having my blood and the potential to tamper with it down the road,” Glavine said. “Your career could be ruined, and you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.”

Urine is urine and blood is blood. These substances yield more information than just the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Players are right to be suspicious about the motives of owners, players, and other associates. This is why I suggest handing over all testing and enforcement to the players. Here is my Op-Ed in the NY Times, and here is post with further explanation. I also discuss this in Chapter 9 of my book.

3 Responses “How Players View Drug Testing”

  1. Marc Schneider says:

    I think you are correct. People always say, especially with respect to criminal procedure issues, that you shouldn’t care if you have nothig to hide, meaning, presumably, that I should be fine with the government wants to eavesdrop on my phone calls. But it is a hassle to go through, potentially embarrassing and demeaning. However, I think the argument will ultimately be moot because Fehr will agree to testing to avoid Congress mandating something even more draconian.

  2. DodgerFan says:

    I see no reason why someone could tamper with a blood sample and not tamper with a urine sample. Similarly, I see nothing *more* demeaning about someone taking my urine than someone taking my blood. In fact, I would find it more demeaning for someone to watch me urinate (which is what happens) than for someone to take my blood. Finally, I see no difference with respect to privacy between blood and urine, although I suppose that blood might yield the presence of an STD. (On the other hand, a system could easily be set up whereby *only* certain substances/markers are tested for.)

    Finally, my guess is that almost every player gives blood to the team in the course of physicals and examinations.

    Once the players have decided to (1) give urine to the testing administrators, and (2) give blood to the team, I see no principled reason why they shouldn’t give blood to the testing program.

    This doesn’t speak to JC’s proposal. My point is simply that the vague statements made by the players don’t hold up to any scrutiny.

  3. Barton Lawless says:

    DodgerFan nails the real answer there, but maybe by accident. The solution to tampering is to have a double-retention system. The league should store samples, AND an independent third-party should keep samples. When there’s an issue, both need to be checked. If the two systems have no employees in common, it should be very very hard to tamper with.