The suspension of 13 Major League Baseball players – including New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez – for involvement with the South Florida anti-aging clinic Biogenesis cast light once again on the rampant use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in America’s pastime.
The MLB’s ruling also highlighted another disturbing fact: that a disproportionate number of Latino players are using PEDs to gain a competitive advantage.
With the exception of Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun, all of the players suspended Monday were Latino. Since the MLB instituted its PED policy in 2005, 39 of the 67 players suspended for banned substances have been from Latin America – with 20 coming from the baseball hotbed of the Dominican Republic alone.
The list of reasons for why players – Latino and non-Latino alike – use PEDS is long and varied: peer pressure, competitive edge, and an ingrained culture in the sport. 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.
12 guys do not constitute the 12 million kids around the world that want to play baseball professionally.
- Ray Negron, New York Yankees' advisor
“Many of these kids have no idea how dangerous they are,” Don Hooton Jr., the vice president of education for the anti-PED organization the Taylor Hooton Foundation, told Fox News Latino. “The culture in places like the Dominican Republic is so much 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 on top of that a language barrier between Spanish and English, and there is a recipe for much confusion.
“If I get caught doing something, I have no excuse because I understand the language," Solomón Torres, a former MLB pitcher for Pittsburgh Pirates, told ESPN. "But part of the (confusion for other players) might be in the terminology of different drugs or any substance that is banned."
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 Monday’s suspensions showed that veteran players are just as likely – and in some cases more likely – to use steroids. The beleaguered Rodriguez has been in the MLB since 1994, the 2011 ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz has played pro ball since 2005 and the Detroit Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta entered the MLB in 2003.
“It’s easy to understand why a kid from the Dominican Republic who is 16, has little education and is on the bottom rung of the minor leagues would take these drugs and get caught,” said Rob Ruck, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of “The Tropic of Baseball: Baseball in the Dominican Republic.” “For professionals, it’s a little more difficult.”
So why would these MLB veterans with storied careers and multi-million dollar paychecks feel the need to cheat?
In the cutthroat, win-at-all-costs world of professional sports, players dope for the most obvious reason: to gain a competitive edge.
“They want to get better,” said Richard Lustberg, a sports psychologist and the host of Psychology of Sports on PBS told Fox News Latino. “You look at these kinds of guys, from A-Rod to Lance Armstrong, and all of them have an incredible talent, so it just speaks to where their mindset is.”
While Monday’s suspensions overwhelmingly targeted Latino players, experts were quick to point out that PED use in the MLB is much more ubiquitous than just among athletes from Hispanic countries or backgrounds. Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire and, maybe most famously, Barry Bonds are just a few of the non-Latino players who have all been embroiled in scandals involving PED use.
“I think its way to small of a sample size to make any accurate judgment,” Lustberg said of Monday’s suspensions. “This is a much broader story than just Latinos.”
Ray Negron, an advisor to the New York Yankees, said not to read too much into Monday’s announcement 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.”
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.