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MLB Annual Drug Report Says 122 Players Use PEDs (But are Not Cheaters)

(Image: Gary Porter)

Last week, Ryan Braun made his first unscripted remarks to the press following his suspension and the revelation he had lied about PED use.  Very little new information came out of it, and it seems clear Braun is unwilling to provide the juicy details most fans and pundits have been hoping for.  Braun’s lack of candor prompted expressions of dissatisfaction from the likes of JSOnline editorialists, and a substantial number of Brewers fans still say they’re through with Braun – one-third of respondents to this poll indicated “No, Absolutely Not” will they forgive him.

It’s up to every fan’s individual judgment if they want to support Braun now that he’s an admitted cheater.  In making these (perhaps hasty) judgments, it may be worth reexamining how arbitrary and elastic the idea of cheating really is.

Two days after Braun’s press conference, MLB and the MLB Players Association issued the annual report on the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.  Two points from the report exemplify the muddled definition MLB has established for cheating as far as using PEDs.  First, eight tests that found banned stimulants – Adderall and Methylhexaneamine – resulted in discipline.  Second, 119 players also used stimulants, but were not disciplined because they were granted exemptions for Attention Deficit Disorder.

Under MLB’s drug policy, eight players who used stimulants are cheaters, but the other 119 players using the same substances are not.  Add to that three other players who have exemptions for hypogonadism – for which the treatment is testosterone replacement therapy – and the total number of non-cheating PED users in MLB is 122.

Surely, those 122 players would say their use of PEDs is legitimate because they have a doctor’s note.  But the reality is that the medical judgment of someone who writes prescriptions for a professional athlete is not beyond criticism.  Plenty of observers have noticed that MLB players are diagnosed with ADD at a much higher rate than the population at large:

The average age of a Major League Baseball player is around 27 years of age. It is estimated that 4.4 percent, or 10 million, US adults aged 18 to 44 have ADD/ADHD, far below the 14 percent average that MLB players are said to have a condition that should allow them to use banned substances that have stimulant properties.

Perhaps all those players really need stimulants for legitimate medical reasons, and wouldn’t be helped by anything else.  It’s just suspicious that the number of ADD exemptions in baseball has jumped dramatically since amphetamines were banned in 2006, when only 28 players received such exemptions:

In 2012, MLB tightened the rules so that the league could investigate a player's need for an ADD prescription rather than just accept the prescription of an independent physician.

Nonetheless, the number of exemptions generally continued to rise, albeit slowly: 106 in 2008, 108 in 2009, 105 in 2010 and 2011, 116 in 2012, and 119 this year.

Even though Bud Selig has been a conspicuous drug warrior during his tenure as MLB commissioner, his administration has been relatively blasé about ADD exemptions.  One year ago, MLB’s then-VP of Labor Relations Rob Manfred (currently COO) said it was “ridiculous” to compare MLB players’ rate of ADD diagnoses with the general public, and that “The incidents for Adderall use we see are not out of line with what you would expect with people in this age group.”

That’s the same Rob Manfred who has been leading MLB’s charge against Alex Rodriguez, and who was the first to condemn the arbitration process that overturned Braun’s original suspension in 2011.  But as recently as one year ago, Manfred didn’t seem particularly troubled by the high rate of stimulant use by players.

That seems capricious, inconsistent, and it underscores how convoluted our thinking is when it comes to PED use by professional athletes.  Even MLB officials who otherwise go to extraordinary lengths to find and punish some PED users are happy to look the other way for other PED users.  One player who uses PEDs is a cheater and deserves discipline.  Another player who uses the very same PEDs is not a cheater…and Manfred might even come to that player’s defense in the media.

Obviously, none of these findings change the fact that Braun used PEDs and lied about it.  But if the question is about accepting an apology from a stranger who happens to be a well-known professional athlete, maybe it’s not so bad to forgive him for cheating when the definition of “cheating” is highly variable.