The world of professional sports has gotten exceptionally more complicated over the last decade. Baseball, under pressure from Congress, began pushing for steroid testing, culminating in the 2003 “Survey Test”. That test, which was agreed upon by the MLBPA, was designed to be confidential (although the results have been part of an ongoing legal battle between Federal investigators and the league and union for the players), and used to determine if drug testing would become actively part of MLB’s landscape. More than 5 percent of the players test positive for steroids, drug testing would begin across the league. The threshold was broken, and drug testing has been part of MLB ever since.
But, minor league drug testing has been in place since 2001. Without the roadblocks of the MLBPA in place, baseball has been able to move forward with testing far more stringent than MLB’s version, with a wider array of banned substances that players are tested for.
That list, based in part on what WADA has banned, has expanded over time. While the news that MLB has begun testing for hGH, the recent addition of Methylhexaneamine has resulted in 8 suspensions since the end of July (see the complete listing of drug suspensions in Major and Minor League Baseball). The substance was added to WADA’s banned list during MLB’s off-season last year, and the league began informing players about adding the substance to the banned list in Spring Training.
The newly added substance prompted Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus to bring up Methylhexaneamine in two separate columns this week (see Under the Knife 997 and 998).
Carroll addresses Methylhexaneamine from two perspectives. The first of which is the readily available nature of the newly banned substance, and how there is a conflict of interest at play with one of MLB’s owners. The second perspective is whether minor league players are informed about the banned substance. Both issues are highly legitimate questions. As written in Monday’s “997” column by Carroll:
In fact, it is this very availability and popularity that has caused the problems for these minor leaguers. Bodybuilding.com is the largest Internet retailer of supplements (and owned by Liberty Media, which also owns the Atlanta Braves). On the front page of its site, Bodybuilding.com offers a product called USP Jack3d. They've nominated it for "supplement of the year," which gives you some idea how well it is selling. On the page for the product, you can see methylhexanamine listed as an ingredient, something that the maker of Jack3d doesn't do on the bottle. Instead, USPlabs lists it under a more technical name, 1,3-dimethylamylamine. This is key and used for another USPLabs product, OxyElite Pro, as well.
Players taking a supplement called "Jack3d" have to realize that they're treading on shaky ground. They have resources, both at the team and league levels, to make sure that supplements are clear of banned substances. But then again, are the teams and leagues, especially at the minor-league level, making these resources as known and available as they should? Are players given open and honest advice by athletics trainers and strength and conditioning coaches?
Since I had recently written about the minor league drug policy for FanGraphs and contacted the league about how players are informed for it, the latter issue of “making these resources known and available” is aggressively done so by the league. Here’s the steps the league takes to try and educate players at both the Major and Minor League levels to help them avoid testing positive in any drug tests:
SELECT READ MORE TO SEE MLB'S DRUG EDUCATION EFFORTS FOR THE PLAYERS, PLUS HOW THE BRAVES' OWNERSHIP OF BODYBUILDER.COM IS A CONFLICT OF INTEREST
1. The 2010 Minor League Drug Program (in English and Spanish), that applies to all non 40-man rosters, including those players in the D.R. (Dominican Republic)
2. A memo to Clubs regarding nutritional supplements that describes the protocol for supplement inquiries by players.
3. A memo to players (in English and Spanish) regarding nutritional supplements that Clubs were required to distribute on Club letterhead to all players at spring training and at D.R. academies. The Commissioner’s Office confirmed that all players received a copy of this memorandum.
4. A wallet card (in English and Spanish) that was distributed by Drug Free Sport to every minor league player in spring training and at the D.R academies.
5. The 7th and current edition of the non-exclusive warning list of potentially contaminated nutritional supplements (in English and Spanish) that is “prominently displayed” in every minor league home and visitors Clubhouse, and at every D.R. academy. A copy of this warning list, along with the list of NSF Certified for Sport supplements (see the NSF list and read the 2009 interview with Edward Wyszumiala, General Manager of NSF International), was also distributed to the top 200 prospects who were subject to the Prospect Drug Testing Program.
6. Minor League Drug Program poster (in English and Spanish) are “prominently displayed” in every minor league home and visitors Clubhouse, and at every D.R. academy.
7. Minor League Drug Program supplement posters (in English and Spanish) are “prominently displayed” in every minor league home and visitors Clubhouse, and at every D.R. academy. The supplement poster contains a link to the NSF website, which provides links to the certified supplement list, articles and a number of other educational resources for players.
8. The instructions and 3 screen shots (content, question, and answer) from the online education program that all minor league players were required to complete in spring training. The online education program, which covers 10 drug program-related topics, is available for all players at www.drugfreesport.com/rec. The online education program allows the Commissioner’s Office to track who has completed the tutorial, allows players to go back and review the contents/questions, and provides downloadable versions of the Program, the warning list, and the posters. The Drug Free Sport website (where the online education program is located) also provides links to a number of other educational resources for players regarding drug testing and supplements.
9. The memo to all minor league players (in English and Spanish) regarding amendments to the Minor League Drug Program. The Commissioner’s Office confirmed that all players at all minor league affiliates and D.R. academies received a copy of this memorandum.
In addition, the following educational programs were conducted in 2010:
1. Drug Free Sport conducted live education presentations during spring training at all 30 spring training sites and at all D.R. academies during the Dominica Summer League season. Posters and wallet cards were distributed at these presentations, and the online education program was explained.
2. The Commissioner’s Office, the Players Association, and Tim Maxey (the Joint Strength and Conditioning Coordinator) presented on the drug program and nutritional supplements at the U.S. Rookie Career Development Program in Landsdowne, VA and at the Latin America Rookie Career Development Program in Boca Chica, D.R. Copies of materials were distributed to attendees at both Programs.
3. Raymond Blais presents on the drug program and supplements twice a year at each D.R. academy, and meets individually with every newly signed player in the D.R.. Raymond provides his contact information to all D.R. players he meets as a resource for questions. Raymond has also presented this year at a number of “independent trainer” academies in the D.R. and has met with a “certified” group of D.R. physicians.
4. Dr. Green, MLB’s medical director, traveled to all spring training locations in Arizona to meet with players, Club physicians, athletic trainers, and strength and conditioning coaches to provide updates and information on the drug programs.
5. Tim Maxey travelled to all 30 spring training sites and a number of Clubs throughout the season to meet with Major and Minor League players, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches to provide information on nutrition and supplements. Tim’s contact information has been provided to all Clubs and players as a resource on these topics.
Liberty Media, Bodybuilding.com, and a Conflict of Interest
The issue of Liberty Media and Bodybuilding.com is something, in many senses, far more serious.
Liberty Media bought the Braves in May of 2007 as part of the massive purchase of Time Warner. Less than a year later, Liberty purchased the controlling stake in Bodybuilding.com for $100 million. By the end of 2009, however, Bodybuilding.com was under fire after the FDA raided its Idaho business after a two-year investigation that found the website was selling substances that later tested positive for steroids. The FDA investigation prompted Liberty, through Bodybuilder.com to recall 65 products. And, as Carroll points out, the Liberty owned website sells, or has sold, products that are on MLB’s banned list at either the Major League or Minor League level.
All of which begs the question, isn’t there a conflict of interest here, and why isn’t the league doing something about it?
In talking with the league, they said that they have asked Bodybuilding.com to remove substances that are on its banned list off the website, and they have done so in the past. But, there is a conflict of interest with one of MLB’s club owners dealing with a company that has banned substances, and that issue continues to linger. The problem is, of course, that just because some of the products sold on Bodybuilding.com might contain banned substances in their products, doesn’t mean they are illegal (something different than the situation that occurred in 2009 with Bodybuilding.com).
The league clearly needs to address the conflict of interest that Liberty has placed itself in, and one could speculate that some other actions could come about from the league, but in what form that would take would be is hard to say.
The one thing that is certain is players should go by the “let the buyer beware” motto. That was the case with J.C. Romero, and with a “zero tolerance” drug policy, players will need focus on the educational information that the league provides. It’s obvious that a product with “Jack3d” in the name should probably be avoided.
How MLB sorts out the issue with a massive corporation (Liberty Media) that owns a site that sells products that are on the league’s banned list is something that will likely be done in the background through channels with little fanfare. But, clearly, if the league wishes to continue to portray itself as getting tough on PEDs, pressure is going to have to be applied to Liberty. Having one of its owners dealing with banned substances doesn’t exactly help push forward that agenda. Clearly, the word "hypocrisy" will be on everyone's lips.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
Follow Maury Brown on Twitter
Follow The Biz of Baseball on Twitter
Follow the Business of Sports Network on Facebook