Dallas, TX – Pro baseball and basketball could take a lesson in leadership from Texas universities. As March Madness rages on, highlighting the pros of the future, we might ponder if pro basketball and baseball has any responsibility as role models for young people? Their unions have just weighed in on this question - and their answer is no. The pro basketball and baseball unions' position is that, when it comes to using drugs, they can get away with whatever they want.
College athletic departments and administrations - including SMU, Baylor and TCU here in Texas - recognize what the so-called pros refuse to do. That random drug testing isn't to find out if a player or student is using drugs; it's to deter drug use. And - here's the real news - it's the only thing that works. Education, seminars, parental attention - these are all good, but the availability of drugs is so widespread and peer pressure - including the desire to follow the pros - is so strong that the only thing that works is random drug tests.
If you missed it, the U.S. Senate has just finished hearings on illegal drug use in pro basketball and baseball. The trigger for the hearings is the discovery of designer steroid drugs designed to evade detection and supplied to athletes, including - allegedly - home run legend Barry Bonds. The players unions disgraced themselves. The head of the baseball players union, Donald Fehr, and the spokesman for the basketball players union, kept repeating that their contracts don't allow random drug testing. Of course, they demanded and got those contracts.
Two years ago, SMU instituted a drug testing policy, applying to all students, not just athletes. The university's statement said their intent was "to send a clear message that illegal drug use or possession will not be tolerated."
As the mother of a 16-year-old male, I can tell you there's hardly a concert, party or gathering where drugs aren't available - marijuana, cocaine, and a bunch of names I can hardly remember, and various levels, strengths, and combinations. For athletes, the pressure is worse because of the temptation to build strength and endurance - at least for the very short term. You can't tell them about the long term risks, because their time frame is only short term. If these things cause heart problems, well, it won't be this season.
Besides thanking SMU, Baylor and TCU, I have a message for the players unions. Our kids imitate your players. Talk to any teenage male athlete about the danger of drugs, and they tell you, "Well, the pros do it and they're OK."
The baseball union's program is a joke. Players are tested twice a year, within the same week, and any player who knows he's going to fail can get a reprieve. And you have to fail five tests before there's a penalty. The union's response was that any player can go to his physician and get a test. I'm serious. That's their official position. As if this were a test for prostate cancer that someone wants to get tested for. I repeat SMU's explanation - random tests send a message. They're only secondarily for detection. We want our teens to say "I can't smoke, snort, take it because my witch mother random tests me." So - message to the pros. Back me up. Institute random drug testing. It works.
For KERA - this is "Witch Mother," Merrie Spaeth.
Merrie Spaeth is a communications consultant in Dallas.