Commentary: Let shame be A-Rod's punishment
By Jeffrey Toobin
Editor's note: Jeffrey Toobin is a CNN senior analyst and a staff
writer at The New Yorker. A former assistant U.S. attorney, Toobin is
the author of several critically acclaimed bestsellers, including "The
Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court" and "Too Close to
Call: The 36-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election."
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Congressional hearings rarely produce much news of
interest, or much good for the world, but the House Government Reform
Committee did a great service to baseball -- and the country -- on
March 17, 2005.
That was the day that several great stars of the recent era, including
Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, were forced to answer
questions about steroids.
McGwire hedged (he said he didn't want to talk about the past);
Palmeiro may have lied (he later tested positive); and the usually
talkative Sosa developed a sudden unfamiliarity with the English
language (he testified in Spanish).
But the public got to see the stars squirm, and made its own judgments
about the place of steroids in the game. To paraphrase Justice Louis
Brandeis (a Bostonian if not a Red Sox), sunlight was the best
Those hearings came to mind, of course, when si.com broke the news
that Alex Rodriquez, probably the greatest player now in the game,
tested positive for steroids in 2003. (Rodriguez admitted in an
interview with ESPN Monday, that he took performance-enhancing ***
while a member of the Texas Rangers for three years starting in 2001.)
VideoWatch Rodriguez admit to taking a 'banned substance' ?
The revelations about A-Rod prompted many of the same questions that
the hearing did nearly four years ago. Should he be punished? Stripped
of his records? Prosecuted? Expelled from baseball? These are hard
questions, but my answer is no; what he should be is exposed.
The reputations of McGuire, Sosa and Palmeiro have never recovered
from the exposure they received in 2005. The same will likely go for
A-Rod, who will play the rest of his career under the shadow of the
disclosure about him.
The problem with doing more to steroids users is that it risks an
endless cycle of litigation about the details of the testing program
and the list of prohibited ***.
Performance enhancing *** are endlessly evolving and the line
between the permissible and the prohibited is often far from clear. It
would be good to think that we could always identify and punish
offenders, but I'm sure that's pretty much impossible.
So why not establish a system that makes public any kind of drug test
that reveals a substance that is potentially performance-enhancing?
Let the issue be decided in the court of public opinion.
Players (especially A-Rod) care deeply about their public images, and
they may decide they don't want to risk their reputations and thus
steer clear of the juice.
Obviously, the most dangerous *** will always have to be prohibited,
but for all the others, the prospect of public exposure may deter more
athletes than the uncertain prospect of expulsion or other
It's tempting to continue to expand the list of prohibited *** and
possible punishments. This is especially true because it is the lesser
athletes -- the No-Rods -- who will always be most tempted to abuse
performance enhancers, and they are less likely to be deterred by
public exposure; all they want is to make it in the pros. But in our
litigation-happy society, the best strategy is not always the
*** will never disappear, but the power of public exposure -- and
the accompanying shame and ridicule -- has its place in the steroids
Ed Note: What could be more shameful than picking your ass in public ?