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By Zach Arnold | August 14, 2014
On Tuesday’s edition of Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio, host Mike Greenberg presented a list of five sports which he thinks could bring the most Return On Investment if they were a stock. One of the sports on that list is Mixed Martial Arts.
One of the sports not on his list? Major League Baseball.
Greenberg dished out a list of four suggestions things he would do as MLB Commissioner to help improve interest in baseball. One of those suggestions sounds like advice you would have heard from MMA promoters a few years ago on the issue of doping.
“Make LESS, not more of a big deal about PEDs.
“Baseball has the toughest testing program in all of sports. Stand on that. Stand on that and stop talking about it so much. We get it.
“[Dallas Cowboys player] Orlando Scandrick has been suspended four games [for using Molly].
“The point of it is, baseball… some of it through its own action, has contributed to the subject of PEDs being an overwhelming subject in baseball. We’ve got a testing policy. We’ve got a penalty policy. Let’s move on. Guy gets popped. He’s popped. He’s gone. Let’s go. Let’s not talk about it all the time. Let’s not make a big deal about it all the time. Let’s instruct our players and others not to make such a big deal out of it.
“When a guy gets suspended for 50 games and he comes back and signs a big contract somewhere else, let’s not have a lengthy national debate about it.
“We get it. We had a steroid problem. We’ve addressed it. We’ve addressed it more than all the other leagues have addressed it combined. Let’s get on with our day.”
I’m heavily conflicted about this advice.
Greenberg’s position is that the steroid obsession is largely a media creation and that fans don’t care all that much about doping in sports. Which, in turn, means that as power numbers decrease each year in baseball due to guys getting caught doping that national interest in baseball is in decline.
The regional interest vs. national interest in baseball argument can wait another day.
The premise of Greenberg’s argument is rather cynical. But is it right? If you want freedom from doping, the price is eternal vigilance. The problem with arguing that MLB’s drug testing policy is the toughest in sport is that it’s not the toughest drug testing policy in sports. The reason the Biogenesis scandal involving Tony Bosch and his strip mall joint blew up was because of the fact that Alex Rodriguez got caught. And many baseball players who were allegedly Biogenesis clients didn’t get caught by MLB’s drug tests but rather through documentation that journalists and law enforcement officials discovered.
As long as you are going to fight doping in your sport, it is going to be a permanent headline. In baseball, doping carries more significance because it’s a stats-oriented sport. It also impacts performance greatly. Americans also have cognitive dissonance on doping. The more physical the sport, such as American football and MMA, the more forgiving the public seems to be.
What UFC discovered is that hardcore fans do care about doping and, predictably, the testosterone experiment blew up horribly in their face. It ensnared a lot of top names in their industry. The fact that UFC is now broadcasting Athletic Commission hearings on their subscription Fight Pass site tells you all you need to know about the level of fan interest in crime & punishment on the doping front.
The UFC tried Mike Greenberg’s approach on doping years ago. They threw every buzzword and catchphrase at the press. They insisted that “the Government” tested them and that MMA drug testing was super tough. It wasn’t until somewhat random drug testing was implemented before we really saw that the standard drug testing in MMA wasn’t catching the cheaters. As we’re seeing right now in both MMA and MLB, the cheaters are largely sloppy in their usage of drugs. They deserve to get busted and rightfully so.
Mike Greenberg has a large media platform and a lot of important people in the sports industry listen to his opinions. MMA fans have already been down this road before when it came to promoters putting their head in the sand about doping. It backfired. If guys are going to cheat, expose them. MLB deserves some credit… and some blame, tactically-speaking, for stepping up their efforts in going after the cheaters. Whether it’s through their drug testing system or by filing civil suits against the Tony Boschs of the world, Rob Manfred and company went after the ripe targets.
If steroids and home runs is the only way baseball can survive, then the sport has much larger problems to address than doping. In combat sports, doping directly impacts the health & safety of the competitors. The push to go after the users has to be more aggressive. Fans are sophisticated enough to understand what the stakes involved are.