The suspension of 13 Major League Baseball players, including New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, for involvement with an anti-aging clinic Biogenesis shed light once again on the extensive use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
The ruling also highlighted another alarming fact: a large number of Latino players are using drugs to gain a competitive advantage. With the exception of Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun, all of the players suspended were Latino. Since the MLB instituted its performance-enhancing drugs (PED) policy in 2005, 39 of the 67 players suspended for banned substances have been from a Latin American country, with 20 coming from the Dominican Republic alone.
Peer pressure, competitive edge, and a fixed culture in the sport are on the long and varied list of reasons for why players, Latino and non-Latino, use PEDS. These reasons hold true throughout Latin America, but are amplified by a lack of education about the dangers of PED use and absence of organization oversight into the use of these substances.
“Many of these kids have no idea how dangerous they are,” said Don Hooton Jr., the vice president of education for the anti-PED organization the Taylor Hooton Foundation. “The culture in places like the Dominican Republic is so…different than in the U.S. To young players, it’s a way to get out of their situation.” Sold in questionable pharmacies and health stores throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, many of the MLB’s banned substances are legal for over-the-counter sale in the region and many younger players are not aware that what they are taking could hinder their chances of making it to the Major Leagues.
Add to that a language barrier between Spanish and English, and there is a formula for much confusion. A lack of education to the dangers of PEDs and a language barrier can be partly to blame for younger athletes and minor league ballplayers using these substances, but the suspensions showed that veteran players are just as likely, and in some cases more likely to use steroids. Rodriguez has been in the MLB since 1994, Nelson Cruz has played pro ball since 2005 and the Detroit Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta entered the MLB in 2003.
In the cutthroat, win-at-all-costs world of professional sports, players dope for the most obvious reason: to gain a competitive edge. This isn’t the first major controversial use of performance enhancing drugs this year. Lance Armstrong faced a large backlash earlier this year when he admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he had used PEDs.
While the suspensions overwhelmingly targeted Latino players, experts were quick to point out that PED use in the MLB is much more omnipresent than just among athletes from Hispanic countries. Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds are just a few of the non-Latino players who have all been involved in scandals involving PED use.
Ray Negron, an advisor to the New York Yankees, said not to read too much into the announcement made from the suspensions and the apparent disparity in PED use. “I don’t think one group is using PEDs more than some other group,” Negron said. “Twelve guys do not constitute the 12 million kids around the world that want to play baseball professionally.”