Hitting Sports Cheats in Their Wallets

A reader named Christopher Rumney writes in with an interesting idea for how to discourage illicit performance-enhancing drugs in pro sports. Perhaps something like this has already been proposed, but I’ve not heard of it, and it’s certainly an interesting idea — although any players’ union in its right mind would likely rather blow itself up than submit.

Remove 10 percent of an athlete’s salary and place it in an interest-bearing escrow account. If the athlete tests positive for steroids during his career, he loses out on all money paid into that account during his playing days. He would involuntarily make a large anonymous donation to a youth anti-steroid program. If he stays clean, or doesn’t get caught, he gets a large lump-sum payment when he retires — exactly the time when he is most likely thinking about long-term financial security.

I suppose that the reason athletes take steroids is to get a larger contract or extend their careers. This would create a nice balance between any potential rewards of steroid use and potential pitfalls of entering retirement without a nest egg.

Such a program would also increase the danger of taking a banned, but currently unrecognized, form of performance-enhancing drug. Excluding players from Hall of Fame consideration lacks teeth, and criminal prosecutions are over the top. Something in between is needed.

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  1. patrick says:

    What if they pull a Favre?

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  2. Rebelle says:

    “If he stays clean, or doesn’t get caught…” is an unfortunate statement that speaks to the problem with steroid use and other unethical activities. This idea as an excellent one; it also gives those athletes using steroids incentive to continue doing so and find better ways to keep their shenanigans under wraps.

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  3. Mattk says:

    “I suppose that the reason athletes take steroids is to get a larger contract or extend their careers.”

    I think you’re off here. I suppose that big-leaguers are pursuing non-economic rewards–fame, glory, the satisfaction that comes from meeting peer/fan/manager expectations. Minor leaguers likely dope to make the bigs and gain economic rewards, but they wouldn’t respond to your 10% solution in any case.

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  4. Scot B. says:

    If it’s that large, and that public, it wouldn’t be anonymous.

    And wouldn’t it just drive salaries up 10%?

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  5. Doggie says:

    Seems to me this would be like buying permission to use drugs. For a top earner, what’s 10%? With product endorsements coming in from enhanced performance, the 10% loss would be minimal.

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  6. Tariq F says:

    Nice idea, but if people feel that they need drugs to be competitive I’m not sure if 10% is enough penalty to refrain.

    After all, the top salaries and endorsements arguably go to the few top medal winners whose names are widely known (Bolt, Phelps and on). If they felt that without the drugs their salaries would decrease by more than 10% (and in many cases it would) it would still be worth their while to cheat. After all, even the risk of a possible worst-case 90% of $100 is better than taking no drugs and getting a guaranteed 100% of $10.

    But of course as you mention the player’s unions etc would see no benefit from it and decline. For example a clean athlete will on one hand want this because it cleans up the sport and discourages those against whom he competes to cheat, but on the other hand it also involves a penalty on him in the form of slicing off 10% of his salary to be managed separately (and while long-term savings make financial sense people want to make that decision for themselves rather than cede control of their assets).

    A much more interesting idea would be if the 10% penalized to those who were caught cheating were to accrue to a fund that pays eventual pensions/benefits to those athletes that stayed clean throughout their careers. That way, the clean athletes (who let’s hopefully assume represent over 50%) have a strong and clear financial incentive to push this plan through since they put 10% into a pot but now expect to get more back with a handsome return – and all at the expense of cheaters.

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  7. Andy says:

    Definitely a great idea, and of course the union would block it.

    The problem with this is it isn’t painful enough on the player. I think it was Buster Olney on an ESPN blog that ran some numbers on Manny, pointing out his play for roughly 10 years now could all be PED enhanced and for that he’s recieved roughly $120-150 million. What is a hallmark juicer worth without the stuff? Maybe $120million, but quite possibly only $30 million. Olney seemed most frustrated that by suspending Manny for 50 games and causing him to lose $8 million, akin to your plan here, any player considering cheating can look at these numbers and decide “it’s worth it, even if i do get caught.”

    Those with the banned for life attitude, and not even for $ reasons, have it right I think.

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  8. Paul says:

    I agree with ‘doggie’, if that is his real name. I dont see this as being severe enough of a negative reinforcement for the athlete to stay off the roids.

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