Recently, the sports world has been rocked by allegations of widespread steroid use by Major League Baseball players. Two former MVPs, Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti, have made headlines by asserting that not only did they use steroids themselves, but that anywhere from 50% (Caminiti's claim) to 85% (Canseco's figures) of current major league players also use performance-enhancing drugs.
Caminiti's remarks were printed in a Sports Illustrated cover-story expose, while Canseco is meeting with publishers to name names in a tell-all book.
The Wall Street Journal (June 7) wrote, "These disclosures threaten to widen what is becoming one of the more troubling scandals to hit baseball in years."
Faced with these allegations, it was interesting to see from which angle the media most often approached the story. Would the journalists address the cause or effect of steroid use? Would it be the harmful effects on the players' health?
Interestingly enough, the coverage most often criticized steroid use as cheating. Nearly half of the stories analyzed by Media Watch approached the story from an ethical angle. Steven Ungerlider, a prominent author on steroid use, told the Chicago Tribune (June 11), "It's unethical. It violates the level playing field."
A number of stories advocated the creation of a steroid-testing policy in MLB, while noting that the players' union has long fought this as an invasion of privacy. But there were many voices suggesting that a drug-testing policy would help to answer the questions that everyone is asking.
Current home run record holder Barry Bonds, about whom suspicions have been aired, told CBS television (June 7) that, although he shared concerns for players' privacy, "There should be testing in baseball."
Newsday (June 9) portrayed the MLB players' union as the villain in the saga, writing, "More players would be speaking in favor of testing for steroids if they didn't feel so indebted to the union for its role in soaring player salaries ... Union leaders ... seem to have many players under their thumbs."
Several stories addressed the harmful health effects of steroids - listing among them heart disease, prostate problems, infertility, acne, and hair loss. But as the San Francisco Chronicle (June 10) observed, many players see money and fame as powerful incentives that are worth the gamble. The newspaper told of a minor league player who said, "If I get on the juice, I'll make $30 million. If not, I'll be out of baseball in two years."
Finally, there was concern that the records and statistics that are so prized by fans are tainted by the use of steroids. A long-retired Red Sox pitcher told the Boston Herald (June 9), "It's unfair to Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron and all the people who set the records in the early years ... There's no question that if they find out the record breakers were using (steroids), something should be done."
While there is some debate that steroid use is nowhere near as rampant as has been suggested, the media appears to be covering the story under the thought that where there's smoke there's fire. And so baseball's dirty little secret is out. Investigative reporters will undoubtedly be dredging up more material in the coming weeks. Congress has already called for a hearings on the matter. MLB and the players' union had better develop a plan quickly to prevent further tarnish to the image of America's pastime.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.