On Tuesday, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported that Major League Baseball is preparing to suspend nearly two dozen players connected to Tony Bosch’s Biogenesis clinic. Bosch is suspected of supplying these players with various prohibited performance-enhancing substances. There are major stars, like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, and Nelson Cruz, on the list of players facing possible suspensions. (I remain hopeful that no Red Sox players show up on this list. I also admit to a healthy scoop of schadenfreude with A-Rod.)
Whenever a big doping scandal erupts, there are two issues that need to be distinguished.
The first issue is the theoretical debate about the justification for the prohibition of PEDs. The academic literature is replete with discussions about the ultimate justifiability of these bans, and if so, on what grounds. Personally, I am skeptical of most of the arguments supporting PED bans: mostly on the grounds that they often fail to be consistent or exhaustive. Though as a philosopher, this is the issue I am most interested in, I am not so concerned with these questions here.
The second issue is that given that there are bans, how ought we to evaluate those who get caught? In one respect, this seems easy. We ought to condemn players who knowingly violate the rules of their sport. That said, I do think there are important questions about the fairness and reliability of the current system of testing. Is it effectively administrated? If not, this could mean that the system favors some athletes, allowing them to get away with PED use while others cannot. Is it reliable in screening out false positives? It can be ruinous to a player’s reputation to be falsely accused of PED use: once tainted, it is nearly impossible to get out of that shadow. Due process is important: for a player’s reputation, legacy, and earnings. But it is also essential for fans to know that the system is fair and that the game is being played on an even field.
But even with these questions about fairness and process, players know the rules. They know what substances are prohibited. Players that seek an edge beyond what is allowed by the rules are in the wrong.
There might not be well-grounded reasons to ban many of these substances, but there also aren’t good reasons to prevent leagues—participation in which is voluntary—from implementing such bans (any more than preventing them from banning aluminum bats). So while I may not think that many of these banned substances ought to be banned, they are banned and these players have, through the CBA, agreed to these rules. For them to violate these rules is a violation of their integrity and honesty. For this, we ought to condemn them.