Drug-Enhanced Baseball, Hoosier Basketball and March Madness

March 10, 2008

Of Drug-Enhanced Baseball,
Hoosier Basketball and March Madness

by John Bingham

So even our beloved American pastime is teeming with drug-enhanced players. Is anyone really that surprised? The real question is how could the problem spread to this degree? A complete dereliction of duty by responsible authorities created a corrupt environment.

This is not to excuse the cheaters. Each individual is responsible for his own actions. Nonetheless, enablers and encouragers should bear their share of the guilt.

Economic theory indicates that an appropriate level of government activity is needed to support a functioning free market system. Douglass North was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work emphasizing how institutions matter to economic outcomes. Some markets need only the foundational protections against fraud and coercion. Others require additional measures to protect against inherent incentives that would generate harmful results. Without proper safeguards and actual enforcement, corruption arises and cheating pays. In a significantly flawed system, to “work hard and play by the rules” is to severely disadvantage oneself.

A fair game requires more than just impartial umpires on the field. Players must come to the field with abilities that have been developed within commonly accepted, healthy parameters. Major League Baseball, for example, has the ethical obligation to establish and enforce those parameters. Instead, years of neglect and denial have enabled cheaters to reap ever-increasing fame and fortune, turning the dopers into heroes while the noble play the fool. Meanwhile, unconscionably, the players’ union (designed to protect players’ interests) routinely opposes effective enforcement measures — harming the honest in favor of the corrupt. The message from all in authority has been work hard to play the rules to your advantage.

Does it matter what they do? It’s just a game, right?

No, it’s much more than just a game. It’s the corruption of the culture. Whether it was to gain an advantage or just to try to keep up with the competition, many players have harmed themselves and influenced others in their pursuit of the next level. Meanwhile, all players have become suspects to cynical eyes. And beyond the game, the next generation receives a powerful message that cheaters win and winning justifies the means.

This phenomenon is not isolated to the world of sports.

The raging debate concerning illegal immigration features the same fundamental problems. How have we gotten to the point of having 12 million illegal immigrants in the country? How did businesses employing these illegals develop such a calloused attitude toward breaking the law? How could it fester until whole industries and communities were transformed by the influx? Years of governmental neglect and enabling behavior have brought us to our current condition. In response to what can no longer be ignored, many politicians have become eager to appease and accommodate cheaters rather than come to the rescue of those who would play by the rules. Ethical employers can’t compete; lower-skilled American workers lose opportunities in affected industries; innovation is stifled; and prospective legal immigrants continue to struggle with bureaucratic impediments.

Meanwhile, the hypocrites of Capital Hill try to grandstand for the cameras by parading Baseball’s big names through a round of condemnation.

In stark contrast, the NCAA maintains an aggressive posture regarding recruiting violations in college athletics. Kelvin Sampson’s mid-season resignation from highly ranked Indiana University underscores the strong influence of that governing body due to its enforcement credibility. One may quibble with some of its rules, but such efforts discourage cheating and protect the endearing image of March Madness.

Moving forward, will major-league baseball enact true accountability or attempt further window-dressing? That remains to be seen. Last year’s “comprehensive” immigration legislation was met with well-deserved skepticism. The American people are showing a weariness of Lucy’s repeated promises to hold the football. Our long-term health cannot afford new versions of half-measures.

There comes a point at which the fundamental, common sense notion of right and wrong rises up to demand correction — seeking to restore the integrity of the system so that those who “work hard and play by the rules” can rise to the top. The turbulence caused by such a restoration of integrity will be significant. It will require the energy and perseverance of true moral conviction.

Yet without it, why play by the rules?

Jon Bingham is a lecturer in economics at Indiana University Southeast. He wrote this for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation.


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