Following the revelation that Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi used steroids, some government officials began demanding that major league baseball adopt a stricter steroid policy. While much ink has been devoted to the impact of steroids on the game of baseball, too little attention has been paid to whether or not the government should have any role in determining the leagues steroid policy.
Senator John McCain is leading the call for a stricter steroid policy for baseball saying, Major league baseball players and owners should meet immediately to enact the standards that apply to the minor leagues, and if they dont, I will have to introduce legislation that says professional sports will have minimum standards for testing. Hes threatened that, Ill give them until January, and then Ill introduce legislation. McCain argues the government has the legal authority to intervene based on the interstate commerce clause in the constitution, though the Supreme Court has sometimes ruled otherwise. Regardless of legal standing, the question of whether or not the government should have a role needs to be examined.
Major league baseball is a businessa private enterprise that sells its product to baseballs fansthe consumers. A privately owned organization should be able to adopt any rules it chooses free from government interference. The current league rules are the outcome of a bargaining process between the players union and the owners. Owners profits and players salaries are both ultimately affected by fan demand. If baseball adopts rules that fans dislike, it will have a negative impact on revenue. The profit motive gives baseball the incentive it needs to adopt the type of steroid policy that fans desire.
Is there fan outrage that demands a new steroid policy? Senator McCain thinks so. He said, I would hope that the players would recognize its in their interest to act so that they regain some legitimacy. There are many fans disturbed. A recent ESPN.com poll found that 93 percent of fans felt steroid use taints the game but that same poll gives us reason to believe that the recent steroid stories havent changed fans opinions.
More than 80 percent of the fans polled said that the recent revelations about Bonds didnt change their opinion of him because they always thought he used steroids and only 10 percent of fans were surprised or shocked by Giambis testimony. If the recent BALCO revelations have not changed fan opinion, then there cant be too much fan demand for a new steroid policy, particularly since major league baseball set an all time attendance record last season.
While fan demand may not have changed, many fans have long felt the game would be better off without steroids. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig favors a stronger anti-drug policy. A 2002 USA Today poll found that 78 percent of major league players said they were in favor of serious testing. If fans dont like steroids, the commissioner wants a tougher policy and many players are in favor of serious testing, then what is the hold up? The Government.
The players association is afraid players who fail a steroid test will be liable to government prosecution. The fears are well founded. The 2003 tests coded each specimen and player with a number so individuals would remain anonymous unless the two lists were combined. This year federal agents executed search warrants to seize both the coded list of players and the specimens. Given these federal actions the players union is rightly concerned that any testing by major league baseball might lead to the government violating players civil rights.
Baseball is a business that responds to consumer demands. Senator McCain should have no more influence over what policies the organization adopts than any other fan. The senator is free to attend games or not. There should be no special role for government in determining what type of policy gets adopted. The governments only role should be to commit to not using major league players private test results for public prosecution.
Benjamin Powell is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, Director of the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University, and former President of the Association of Private Enterprise Education. Dr. Powell received his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has been assistant professor of economics at San Jose State University, a fellow with the Mercatus Center's Global Prosperity Initiative, and a visiting research fellow with the American Institute for Economic Research. Benjamin is also the editor of Housing America: Building out of Crisis.
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