Baseball inquiry just a power grab

A few years ago, during a summertime business trip to New York City, I was invited to attend a baseball game at the old Yankee Stadium. It was the first time I had visited this venerated sports venue. The weather was stifling hot and the game forgettable, but there was a certain charm to the stadium itself; after all, this was the “house that Babe built.” Little did I know then that now, just a couple of years later, one of the highest-paid stars of that hot summer afternoon — Alex Rodriguez — would be embroiled in a scandal that would make Babe Ruth’s notorious and well-known boozing and womanizing pale in comparison. I have never been — and probably never will be — a fan of the New York Yankees or of their many highly paid prima donnas. Moreover, it is easy to discount Rodriguez’s problems given the circumstances of his lifestyle — multi-million-dollar salary and bonuses, openly dating an aging Madonna while still married, admitting having previously employed performance-enhancing drugs to boost his on-field statistics. Still, there is much that is unseemly and unethical, if not downright wrong, about the manner in which the government is pursuing “A-Rod” and other stars of the sporting world.

Having witnessed for many years and from a number of vantage points the exercise of the formidable power by and available to the government, I suppose it shouldn’t really surprise me when instances of the abuse of that power manifest themselves.

But it does; particularly when the government employs underhanded means to gather evidence with which to “go after” a public figure like Rodriguez. In this instance, we now know that federal investigators in 2004 seized a lengthy list of baseball players who had submitted to a Major League Baseball test survey that was conducted under a guarantee the results would remain anonymous and not available for other purposes. Not wishing to let a contractual guarantee of anonymity between the players’ union and MLB management interfere with the government’s zeal to “clean up” baseball and punish those players stupid or arrogant enough to use drugs to boost their stats, the government has been fighting in federal appeals court to keep and use the questionably seized records in its investigations. Coincidentally, Rodriguez’s name as being on the list was recently leaked to the media.

Performance-enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids, clearly give the users an unfair advantage over those who rely only on their God-given and exercise-enhanced talents to excel. This is precisely why major league sports associations, including MLB, have outlawed the use of such drugs and made significant efforts — at least in recent years — to identify and discipline those who attempt to circumvent such prohibition.

This is how it should be — the organization that regulates and manages a sport decides what factors to allow and which to disallow, and then institutes procedures to discover and punish abuses.

The federal government, as usual, sees things differently. The feds take it on faith that policing what goes into the bodies of athletes trying to enhance their performance is the responsibility of the government in Washington, D.C. Based on this questionable presumption, federal and congressional investigators in recent years have delighted in pillorying sports celebrities notwithstanding the fact that the leagues themselves are addressing the problem.

It doesn’t appear to matter one whit whether it is the Republican or Democratic Party that wields the levers of power. The authorities always are looking to push the envelope to grab and use just as much power as they are able, even if it means grabbing records intended to remain anonymous and that were created for legitimate and lawful purposes (to enable MLB to accurately gauge drug usage among its players).

The resources the government continues to devote to these multi-year investigations of steroid usage by athletes is especially disturbing when you consider the shape of the nation’s economy, and the fact that this is due in part to what appears to have been major fraud on the part of many banking, mortgage and other financial investment big wigs.

Perhaps if the resources the feds insist on spending to satisfy their curiosity about how many overpaid professional sports figures have used performance-enhancing drugs were diverted to investigating and prosecuting the potentially massive fraud that has helped fuel the most serious economic problem our country has faced in decades, some legitimate and truly worthwhile prosecutions would result.

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