Pubdate: Sun, 23 Feb 2003
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 2003 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Jeff Miller


MIAMI - A dead body.

Maybe that will shake alive the players.

A grieving mother.

Maybe that will silence the babbling Donald Fehr.

A vacant locker.

Maybe that will convince the empty Bud Selig.

It shouldn't take death, of course, shouldn't take a player going from 23 
years old one moment to as old as you can get the next. This is baseball -- 
just another silly sport -- not war. Lives need not be lost for the sake of 
the cause.

Our national pastime is on drugs, people. Coke, marijuana, speed. Steroids, 
booze, stimulants. Each is a part of this game, as sure as Cracker Jack. 
They just don't write songs about it because it's hard to make andro sound 
folksy or find a word that rhymes with amphetamines.

Few of us had heard of Steve Bechler while he was still alive. But in 
death, his name forever should be branded on baseball's conscience. He 
wasn't as famous as the NFL's Korey Stringer, but now he's just as dead and 
his final message is equally significant.

This game has to stop pretending its unnaturally swelled players are clean, 
that they are junkies only to the weight room. Baseball has to look itself 
in the mirror and realize God didn't intend for a man's biceps to balloon 
like that.

The first step in seeking help is admitting there's a problem, and so far 
the players, union officials and owners can agree only to admit nothing.

Sure, they have adopted a new policy against steroid use, a policy that 
will be eased in over time, allowing those players who do juice up to begin 
juicing down. In baseball, they call this collective bargaining. In real 
life, it's known as collective cheating.

The substance associated with Bechler's death is not illegal and can be 
purchased over the counter. You might have ephedrine in your bathroom or 
bloodstream right now. But the larger fact is that the NFL and NCAA are 
among the entities that have outlawed the substance, due in no small part 
to their athletes dying.

The owners attempted to have an ephedrine ban included in negotiations last 
year but the union refused, citing the players' privacy rights, rights 
Steve Bechler certainly valued and today takes to his grave.

Had the ban been in place, there's no way of knowing if Bechler would have 
adhered to it or still be alive. The decision to employ artificial 
assistance is that of the individual, the ultimate responsibility falling 
to each of us. He was the one, don't forget, who popped the pills.

Like all players, Bechler presumably received the 15-page pamphlet that 
details the dangers of supplements like ephedrine. Baseball says it 
distributes the information each spring training. At that point, the 
players are the ones accountable.

They are, however, influenced by the pressure to produce and by leadership, 
leadership that today is exposed to question and ridicule. There is 
suddenly substantial motivation to give meaning to a senseless death, not 
that baseball often does the right thing. All this starts with Selig and Fehr.

Although Selig no doubt believes he is protecting his precious game, his 
denials about drug use in the sport only do more damage.

Fehr, meanwhile, cares nothing about baseball or its image, only about the 
players and only then in terms of their finances. He has been a genius at 
padding their bank accounts but has done little to defend something without 
a price tag -- their flesh and blood. If there's no dollar sign there, Fehr 
doesn't seem to recognize the relevance.

More than one player this week has offered the absurd "this puts the game 
in perspective" line. That sentiment is sad but not as sad as the fact the 
game is so out of perspective in the first place.

Steve Bechler didn't have to die but now he has, so let's hope a lesson has 
been learned.
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