Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"General welfare," baseball, PEDs and Clemens

Over at Baseball Prospectus' Unfiltered Blog, Steven Goldman has the justification for Congress' steroid involvement resting in the "general welfare" clause of section 8 of the Constitution, "Powers of Congress." I'm sure that, if asked, that's what someone would say. I don't see a "general welfare" issue here, of course, though recognize that others may differ. But Goldman makes a point that I've seen elsewhere, and think needs to be addressed.
First, if PEDs do really affect the outcome of games and seasons (a debatable proposition at the least), and that is tolerated by Baseball, then baseball isn’t a sport, but verges on being a gigantic interstate confidence game perpetrated on the public. Second, the national health outlook is obviously a component of the general welfare.

As to the second point, I don't think that professional athletes use of performance-enhancing drugs has enough of an impact on the "national health impact" to justify Congressional action in a country where cigarettes are still legally sold, but that's just me. It's the first point which really concerns me, because I've seen other people make it, and I think that it's nonsense.

So let's consider if for a moment.

Thesis: If PEDs do really affect the outcome of games and seasons ... and that is tolerated by Baseball, then baseball isn’t a sport, but verges on being a gigantic interstate confidence game perpetrated on the public.


The Black Sox went to trial on that theory. Because they were involved in throwing games, the games were no longer "fair," as in, there was no longer the competitive athletic competition which was being advertised. Ticket purchasers had the assumption, and a reasonable expectation, of two teams doing their best to win. As that was not the case, the Series was, in fact, "a gigantic interstate confidence game perpetrated on the public."

In the case of PEDs, however, that is not the case. The "then" clause does not logically follow the "if" clause. "If PEDs do really affect the outcome of games and seasons ... and that is tolerated by Baseball," does not in any way call into question the game on the field as a competitive athletic contest which is what the public expects and is entitled to in exchange for its financial support. The "enhancement" of some players may have an impact on their performance, and may have some impact on the result, but the fundamental nature of the contest has not changed. The only way that this becomes an issue is if Baseball institutes rules or procedures preventing players on some teams from "enhancing" while allowing players on different teams to "enhance" with impunity. In an environment with no enforcement, as has largely been the case in baseball, there is no sytemic advantage to any team, and no affect on competitive balance. And, therefore, no case to be made that Major League Baseball "verges on being a gigantic interstate confidence game perpetrated on the public."

And no "general welfare" issues for Congress to address.


(Goldman's larger point, that there's no point whatsoever to Congress hectoring Mcnamee and Clemens, I agree with in toto.)

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