So now the question is, when does everyone else start catching up? Major League Baseball suspended four different pitchers in the past 2-plus weeks for use of a steroid called stanozolol. Popular among body builders, the drug reportedly helps athletes lose fat while maintaining lean body mass. Ervin Santana, David Rollins, Arodys Vizcaino and Jenrry Mejia all tested positive for the steroid under the new MLB anti-doping policy. The league also announced they will be investigating the repeated appearance of the drug, using the 2013 Biogenesis investigation as a model. Clearly, MLB has made major strides in its handling of steroid usage and cases showing an initiative to clean up the league.
Despite the obvious success MLB has seen since the implementation of the new system, other professional sporting leagues have yet to follow. The NFL has some basic steroid testing in place but not to the full extent possible. The NBA and NHL have relatively weak systems that do not pose much of a threat to players who are using these drugs. Each of them have clearly outlined systems but none of them are being enforced anywhere close to as heavily. Let’s go through some basic comparisons.
The NFL is probably next in line behind MLB but they are still fairly far behind. Players are subjected to random drug testing during the season. If a player were to test positive for steroids, HGH or stimulants, they would immediately receive a 4-game suspension. On a second offense, players are suspended for ten games and a third offense results in a minimum two-year ban from the league and all related activity. Players have to apply for reinstatement as well following the minimum two years. If a player tests positive for stimulants during the offseason, they are referred to the league substance abuse program. The NFL also does a relatively good job of enforcing the drug policy, with roughly 100 players suspended since 2010. The HGH testing is new for the league though, which shows they are still conscious that the policy can be tweaked and improved.
The NBA seems to have a solid program in place. NBA players are subjected to a reasonable number of tests per season with four random tests during the course of the league year. Players can even be tested on reasonable cause, determined by a third-party expert. However, the penalties are pretty minor with a first offense resulting in only a ten game suspension. A second offense means the player only earns a 25-game ban and a third offense results in a yearlong ban. A fourth offense would result in a permanent ban from the league. That is all well and good, except when you look at the numbers. The NBA has suspended exactly three players since 2010 for violating the NBA drug policy. That includes drugs of abuse and other illegal substances outside of steroids. Those numbers are not too high when you compare them to anywhere else.
Hockey, like basketball, has never really gripped the nation with a major drug scandal. The NHL does a fairly good job of testing as many players as possible. Each player is subjected to two unannounced drug tests per season and one of them must be a team-wide test. The number of tests is on the smaller side unfortunately but the punishment is better than the NBA and probably on par with the NFL. A first-time offender receives a 20 game suspension, a second offense results in a 60-game suspension and a third offense is a permanent suspension. Like the NFL, players can apply for reinstatement after the minimum two years are served. The league does not crack down too much on players. They have only suspended three players under the new performance enhancing drug policy, but it was only launched last year.
It is rare that I think baseball is truly way ahead of the curve when it comes to the major sports in the United States, but for steroid testing, it isn’t even close. Every year at the start of spring training, each player is subjected to a urine and blood test. The league then randomly chooses 3,200 urine and 260 blood tests of random players throughout the course of the season to catch those who begin doping following the spring training tests. The league also selects certain urine tests to undergo carbon isotope ratio mass spectrometry analysis. MLB, like the NBA allows reasonable cause testing, something the NFL and NHL have not yet implemented as far as I could find in the bylaws. MLB is also much harsher with its punishments. The league hands out an 80-game suspension following a first offense and a season-long suspension after a second offense. A third offense will result in a permanent ban with a minimum of two years required before a player can request reinstatement. MLB has suspended 19 players since May of 2012 and that doesn’t include 5 minor leaguers as well.
Overall, there is still clearly cheating in American sports due to performance enhancing drugs. Baseball has taken the right initiative with the intensive measures used in its testing. The key thing that MLB has that other sports desperately lack is the public shame that comes with steroid use. Dozens of players have been held out of the Hall of Fame due to their checkered past with steroids. It creates a major stigma for the player and MLB is continuing to enforce the image that steroids make you a cheater. The NFL does not do that, often refraining from using the word steroids, opting instead to refer to them as performance enhancing drugs. The idea is still the same, but the stigma that comes with being called a steroid user is just not there. The NBA’s and NHL’s rate of suspending players is a joke.
And none of this seems to be a problem for them. According to an article from ESPN, NBA general counsel, Rick Buchanan, was quoted saying, “We think we have a program that is as good as any other in pro sports.” That is the underlying issue. No one is putting enough pressure on these other leagues to make a change. Fans agonized over MLB’s faulty system until they made some major improvements, and now the league has easily the best anti-doping program of any American sport. We might all like to think that these leagues will strive for change on their own, but without a little push from their fans, there is no chance that the NBA, NFL or NHL make the necessary moves to truly fight steroid use in American sports.