The Sport of Naming Names
By A.D. Freudenheim  

20 March 2005

It must have been intentionally tongue-in-cheek on the part of The New York Times, a slick bit of historical humor for those readers who bothered to notice. Perhaps it was a jibe at the fans and anti-drug freaks taking the story too seriously. And it shared screen space with that other, big national story, one that Congress would shortly take up from the Florida State House of Representatives – and which had its own joke in it, since no legislative bill could, on its own, keep Terry Schiavo alive. It’s all just fun and games, isn’t it?

Actually, it’s all just one big distraction, not only for the Times but most other media, too – and the benefits of that distraction are reaped by everyone from President Bush (sidestepping everything from foreign policy to Social Security) to Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay (sidestepping an ethics investigation, over and over again). I cannot think of a story with less national relevance or import than that of steroid use among professional baseball players. These are grown men who make millions of dollars a year for the sole purpose of providing entertainment to others. If they, as adults, want to ruin their health by taking drugs that shrink one’s testicles, can cause harm to the heart, brain, or liver, or affect other parts of one’s health and welfare, then stopping them seems like a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. That said, if they are to be stopped, this is a matter for law enforcement, to arrest those who possess or use these illegal substances and force them to submit to punishment under our judicial system.

This is not a Congressional issue. If Congress wants to help America and the sport of professional baseball by holding hearings on important subjects, it might want to revisit why this one sport – this one business out of the spectrum of American industries – has been granted an anti-trust exemption, making it a federally-certified U.S. monopoly. More than 20 years after the break-up of Ma Bell, America’s telephone monopoly; deregulation of the airline industry; changes to banking and securities law to allow freer interstate commerce and trading; even growth and diversity in the realm of computer systems... After a nearly endless number of changes to our nation’s business environment, Major League Baseball remains an absurd and anachronistic government-endorsed monopoly.

More to the point, this monopoly benefits a very few number of people, disproportionately – while costing average Americans money. Team owners, their managers, and many players make lots of money, while too often city and county taxpayers get suckered into paying for new stadiums and the related transportation, maintenance, and other systems that specifically benefit private corporations, i.e., the baseball team owners. This is not analogous to your town ensuring that the road in front of your store is well-maintained. This is analogous to: your town renting you a plot of land for your store at an under-market rate; then paying for the construction costs for your store; and building the road out to your store from the center of town. All at no cost to you. Sounds like a great deal, but when was the last time that happened to you?

Ticket prices go up based on the team owners’ need for revenue and the perceived value of the team (which is, in turn, driven in part by how much money they can pay to attract millionaire players from other teams). When baseball team owners decide that a community has not given enough to support their privately-held corporation, they may try to move their team to another city – leaving the (publicly-financed) stadium empty, and putting all the people who sold peanuts and crackerjack during games out of business. Then, in order to attract a new team (since they already invested your tax dollars in a stadium), your city government might decide to offer tax breaks to a different baseball team owner if s/he brings their team to town – thus further costing you, Joe Citizen, money that goes into the already-full pockets of the team owners and players. AND even if you, Joe Citizen, thought that bringing a new team to town was a good idea, you like baseball and miss having a local team ... even then, that government-sanctioned monopoly known as Major League Baseball retains the right to veto the move. After which decision your city has no recourse, since Major League Baseball is explicitly authorized to make such decisions, bar none. (It all sounds so un-American and anti-competitive, doesn’t it?)

So, whether the Times was being trying to be tongue-in-cheek or not, there is something distinctly un-funny about this headline and its reference to the “naming names” of the McCarthy era, when a Senator terrorized the United States and, mimicking his nemesis, Joe Stalin, tried to force people to rat out their friends and colleagues. Mark McGwire was right to decline to say who, to his knowledge, used steroids – but it was wrong of Congress to be asking the question in the first place.


That said, the only thing more ridiculous than Congressional investigations into the steroid use of baseball players are Republican Congressional contortions to intervene in the case of Terry Schiavo. This case has been heard by several state courts, an appeal has been turned down more than once by the U.S. Supreme Court, and previous attempts by Florida state legislators and Governor Jeb Bush to override the state court’s decisions have all been declared unconstitutional or illegal for a variety of substantive reasons. These include crafting legislation aimed to address the situation of one specific person (Terry Schiavo), a whole new level of absurdity in the construction of our nation’s laws.

When the “end” of judicial wrangling was reached on Friday, 18 March, and the decision by Judge Greer to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube was hours from being implemented, the Republicans of the U.S. Congress jumped into the fray. In so doing, the GOP, and Messrs. DeLay, Frist, et al:

A. Proved what hypocrites they are. Gentlemen, whatever happened to your belief in states’ rights? There is no legitimate Federal interest here. But think of the precedent you have set!

B. Coined a new term: “legislative activism”. Republicans like to rally around the idea that (liberal) judges use their benches to make decisions that do not follow the law. In this case, however, a conservative state court judge followed the law, which left Republican Congressmen in the position of being activists, swooping in from outside to “fix” the situation. Paternalism at its best!

C. Again: created for themselves and the country a terrific distraction, effectively used to whip people into a frenzy that helps them ignore the more substantive and challenging issues that face our country.

The case of Terry Schiavo is tragic, for her, her husband, and her family. Each life is precious, and I do not know what the right decision is in this specific situation.[1] The wrong decision, however, is clear: to politicize Schiavo’s fate, and to do so under a cloud of arrogance about “right” and “wrong” from a group of individuals with weak moral and Constitutional territory under foot.

[1] For me, the choice would be clear: remove my feeding tube if I am brain dead. Not everyone feels that way, and in any case, the individual situation that applies here is more complicated than a mere he said/she said dynamic about what Terry Schiavo would ultimately have wanted.   Copyright 2005, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
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