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How We Would Fight Steroids If We Really Meant It

Aaron Zelinsky, a student at Yale Law School, recently proposed an interesting three-prong anti-steroid strategy for Major League Baseball:

1) An independent laboratory stores urine and blood samples for all players, and tests these blood samples 10 years, 20 years, and 30 years later using the most up-to-date technology available.

2) Player salaries are paid over a 30-year interval.

3) A player’s remaining salary would be voided entirely if a drug test ever came back positive.

I’m not sure about points 2 and 3, but there is no question that point 1 is essential to any serious attempt to combat the use of illegal performance enhancers. The state-of-the-art in performance enhancement is the best set of techniques that cannot be detected using current technology. So, by definition, the most sophisticated dopers will evade detection, unless they are unlucky or make a mistake.

The threat of future improvements in testing technology is the most potent weapon available in this fight, because the user can never know for certain that the doping he does today won’t be simple to detect a decade from now. Retrospective testing of samples attributed to Lance Armstrong suggest that he used E.P.O., which was not detectable at the time. The circumstances surrounding this test were sort of murky (the identification of the sample as Armstrong’s was indirect, and it was also unclear why these samples were being tested in the first place), so the Tour de France champion didn’t pay the price he would have if formal testing at later intervals had been a standard policy.

The athletes most likely to be deterred by this sort of policy are the superstars who have the most to lose if their long-term legacy becomes tarnished. Presumably, it is doping by superstars that is of the greatest concern to fans.

Zelinsky has provided a measuring stick against which we can see how serious Major League Baseball, or any other sport, is about fighting illegal performance enhancers: if the league adopts a policy of storing blood and urine samples for future testing, it is serious. Otherwise, it is not serious.