Steroid Policy and Language Policy (Baseball)
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed May 11 14:14:41 UTC 2005
Steroid Policy Hits Latin Americans
May 9, 2005
The majority of baseball players suspended for using illegal
performance-enhancing drugs this year are natives of Spanish-speaking
nations, spurring questions about steroid use in Latin America and leading
some teams to address the issue in overseas player development academies.
Three of the five major league players and 24 of the 47 minor league
players suspended this season were born in the Dominican Republic,
Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico or Cuba.
The rate of positive tests is higher than the overall percentage of Latin
American players -- 25.7% of opening-day rosters in the major leagues and
38.6% of players signed to minor league contracts this season. Sal
Artiaga, the Philadelphia Phillies director of Latin American operations,
worries the figures have led people to conclude steroid use is rampant in
"Now everybody's labeled Latinos, that all Latinos are on the stuff,"
Artiaga says. "And that upsets me." Artiaga, who supervised presentations
on steroid use during visits to the Phillies' player development academies
in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela last week, doesn't believe
steroids are an epidemic in those countries. But he says increased
education efforts are needed to overcome cultural factors at work in the
Drugs aren't as tightly controlled in Latin American countries as they are
in the USA, and steroids often are available without a prescription, so
there isn't as strong a stigma against steroid use. Unethical talent
scouts might be encouraging steroid use. And Spanish-speaking players
might have trouble determining whether an over-the-counter diet supplement
could cause a positive test. Are language barriers and cultural factors
putting Latin American players at a disadvantage?
"I think people should take that into consideration," says Lino Diaz, the
Cleveland Indians assistant director of player development and Latin
American operations. "There's a level of, let's call it non-awareness, or
a lack of an education. Before we start judging or blaming them for
things, we need to find out what's going on." This week, the Boston Herald
quoted Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, a native of the
Dominican Republic, as saying, "Think about a guy who can't really talk or
read. I'm not making excuses for those guys. But I think they would prefer
if someone talked to them (in Spanish). ... You might think everyone's got
the message, but they don't."
In an e-mailed statement, Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive
vice president of labor relations, acknowledged that "players who live
outside the United States may face an additional challenge in avoiding
banned substances because some countries are not as strict (as) the United
States in regulating performance-enhancing substances." Major League
Baseball has produced a Spanish-language version of a video designed to
educate players on its drug policies. Greg Bouris, a spokesman for the MLB
Players Association, says union chief Don Fehr brings former player Bobby
Bonilla, who is fluent in Spanish, to translate when Fehr speaks to
players at spring training.
At the team level, the Phillies and the Cleveland Indians recently held
steroid seminars at their Latin American player development academies, an
addition to the teams' broad cultural-assimilation programs designed to
prepare players for life in the USA.
Artiaga says the Phillies showed the MLB film to approximately 80 players
at academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, then had a trainer
available to answer questions. Artiaga says the sessions were "well
Diaz says the Indians brought in a doctor to give a 45-minute presentation
to about 50 players at their academy in the Dominican Republic. Diaz was
pleased that players asked specific questions about whether the products
they take are legal.
Such questions could indicate that Latin American players are becoming
more aware of the potential health risks of steroid use and the
controversy swirling in the major leagues.
Artiaga says Latin American players are "very vitamin-oriented" but they
might not see a moral boundary between Vitamin C tablets and steroids.
"We live in a regulated society," Artiaga says. "You and I grew up and
live it, so we accept it. These regulations do not apply as much in other
But Diaz says players took notice when two Dominican players, Lino Ortiz
and William Felix, died in 2001. The players are believed to have used
steroids and other medicines intended for use in farm animals. A New
York-based advocacy group, Hispanics Across America, has used their deaths
to urge MLB to do more to get steroids out of the game in Latin America.
Then there are the buscones, unsanctioned talent scouts who purport to
help players train and sign a contract. Says Diaz: "He tells you, 'Hey,
take these vitamins.' He's probably not going to ask, 'Hey, what's in
those vitamins?' I think we need to be sensitive to that."
The Indians administer blood tests to prospects to determine whether they
have hepatitis and other diseases before signing them. Baseball has
started random testing in the Dominican Summer League, and Diaz says the
next logical step might be to drug-test players before teams sign them.
Artiaga says none of this is indicative of a Latin American steroid
"Here, the impression that you get is like it's an epidemic," he says. "I
did not get any sense of that."
Source: (c) 2005 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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