Baseball ’roids report may demoralize unfairly

The release of a report by former Democratic Sen. George Mitchell on the use in Major League Baseball of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs certainly received plenty of attention.

Although the Mitchell investigation was conducted without benefit of subpoenas, cross-examination, any interaction between accuser and accused or sworn testimony, all the named players are likely to be considered guilty until proven innocent, at least in the court of public opinion.

Hold on.

There is little question that steroids, like all drugs, have side effects, including shrinking of the testicles and psychological impacts, that should make most people think twice.

They apparently can help to bulk up muscles and increase strength, but they don’t improve eye-hand coordination and other factors important to athletic performance.

Whether they are significantly more effective than legal supplements, personal trainers and intensive workouts is a controversial question.

It wasn’t until 1988 that Congress passed a law, strengthened in 1990, requiring a doctor’s prescription, and placing steroids on Schedule III (midrange for controlled substances). Numerous steroid precursors and derivatives were still legal under this law until 2004.

Despite widespread suspicions of steroid use, Major League Baseball had no testing program for steroids until 2003. That program triggered treatment and further testing, but no public announcement or penalty for a first-time test failure. A testing program involving suspensions was not begun until 2005.

Legally, until 2004 possession and use of steroids was a minor infraction that was seldom prosecuted except for large-scale distributors. As a private organization, Major League Baseball was free to institute stricter policies, but did not put in place a policy with teeth until 2004.

So does this report demonize people who didn’t do anything illegal or were effectively controlled by organized baseball until late in the game, in many cases long after their alleged use of steroids?

It’s too early to be sure, but the possibility is worth considering.