Major League Baseball players don't have to accept Commissioner Bud Selig's recent suggestion of a stricter antidoping policy. But they should.
According to its contract, the players' union is under no obligation to change its rules until December 2008. But the current rules, which just took effect in March, are as soft as cotton candy.
Mr. Selig knows that. Members of Congress, who are considering a law to legislate uniform drug testing in pro sports, know it. Baseball fans know it. And in their heart of hearts, the players must, too.
For the first time, players this year face limited automatic suspension for steroid use. But the policy's a single, when it should be a homer. If a player tests positive, he's slapped with a mere 10-day ban. He then gets a slew of second chances: With further offenses, the suspension increases to 30 days, then 60, then a year, and on the fifth abuse, the commissioner can impose a ban of his choice.
Selig wants to institute much tougher penalties: a 50-game ban for the first offense; then it's 100 games. Third time, you're out for life. He also seeks to ban amphetamines and increase random testing.
Drug-enhanced sport ruins the integrity of the game, sets users against non-users, and tells kids it's OK to cheat. It's such a serious issue that Congress is looking at doping in more than a half-dozen sports.
"There oughta be a law," is an oft-heard cry, but in this case, there already is one. It's illegal to use most steroids without a prescription.
Still, the threat of a new law is having a positive effect. Just before appearing before Congress last week, the NFL announced it will triple off-season drug tests. And the Selig move comes just six weeks after baseball's testy hearings.
Technically, the players don't have to heed Selig. But they may some day have to heed Congress. Why invite the long arm of government into sport, when they can do the right thing now?