There is no law preventing Peter Ueberroth from instituting mandatory drug testing in baseball.
But there ought to be.
It's right and reasonable to eliminate drug abuse from baseball. But it's wrong and dangerous to try and do so without sufficient respect for a person's fundamental right to privacy.
Public safety is not at issue here. These are not policemen, or firemen, or air traffic controllers -- people who we must insist be drug-free because they're charged with protective responsibilities. These are people earning their living off a game.
Baseball wants you to believe that this is just about "the integrity of the game"; a way to prevent baseball suffering a scandal similar to what recently has been alleged at Tulane: that a conspiracy to shave points was linked to athletes using illegal drugs.
But mandatory drug testing is about more than the integrity of the game; it also is about individual freedom and civil liberties, issues which far outweigh the integrity of any game.
You don't have to question Ueberroth's sincerity on the issue of drug abuse to be appalled by the Orwellian prospect of the rounding up of thousands of bat boys, ticket sellers, secretaries, owners, and -- if they agree to it -- major league players, and placing them in a holding cell to administer urinalysis.
Where's the lab -- Salem?
If the government tried to institute such unilateral drug testing, it would immediately be challenged on the grounds that it violated the Fourth Amendment guarantees against search without reasonable cause and due process protections. But baseball, as a private corporation, isn't constitutionally responsible.
You might find it easy to demand that a $750,000-a-year outfielder hitting .215 submit to a drug test. How else to explain his poor performance?
But what if, suddenly, your boss demanded you take a drug test? Or a lie detector test? Not because he specifically suspected you, of course, but there had been some things stolen from the office and statistically no one could be above suspicion. How would you dance to that music?
Norma Rollins, acting director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said yesterday that "a reasonable search has to be based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause regarding an individual. What you have here is a general search: thousands will be searched, although there is no reason to believe that any one of them has committed an illegal act. You're forcing, coercing people to accept an intrusive act. It's not justifiable. But it's not illegal because it's being done by a private employer -- not the government. I'm not saying he has the right; I'm saying there's no law to prevent it."
Why would Ueberroth, whose public career thus far has been characterized by compassion for the individual athlete and appreciation for the beneficial value of good public relations, engage in such risky business?
The two major problems facing baseball in terms of public approval are high salaries and drug abuse. Polls indicate that fans can accept the high salaries, but burn at the thought that players care more about getting high than winning games. Yesterday Ueberroth said he expected bad news from a federal grand jury, seated in Pittsburgh, investigating drugs in baseball: "I think they're going to be able to prove some things that are damaging to the game." It would not be unreasonable to suppose that Ueberroth's mandatory drug testing policy may be a form of preemptive strike to cut the expected losses and turn the tide of public opinion.
"The integrity of the game may be a phrase that is overused, but it is very important to the game of baseball," Chuck Adams, one of Ueberroth's assistants, said, "There can't be any questions as far as fans are concerned. Unfortunately, if a player goes into a slump you hear whispers that it's drug related."
By requiring drug testing for everyone in baseball -- including the owners -- the commissioner has staked out the moral high ground, and gone, like Ronald Reagan often does, directly to the people for support.
Who stands on the other side?
Major league players: exempt from mandatory drug testing because of their collective bargaining agreement, and historically opposed to mandatory testing.
No one seriously believes that Ueberroth is looking to bust a bunch of drug-addled bat boys. It is the players' full cooperation he wants, so together they can move forward in a joint public relations campaign against drug abuse. With this move he has isolated the players, and is attempting to shame them onto the high ground. The risk they run is obvious: if they don't agree to drug testing, they might be publicly perceived as users. Fans won't drive to Dodger Stadium to watch civil libertarians.
A lot of people -- players, secretaries and management personnel included -- are going to take this test fearing that if they don't, their jobs will be gone.
This is coercion; it should be vigorously resisted.
When Adams was asked why anyone should voluntarily take this drug test, he said, "If someone has nothing to hide, why not take the test?"
The answer is clear: because one of the founding principles of our legal system is that you are innocent until proven guilty -- not the reverse.
Ira Glasser, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said yesterday that the strategy reminded him of an old Southern song that went: "If you hang 'em all, you'll get the guilty."
Somewhere down the road I expect to see a newspaper story about the results of this drug testing. The headline will say something like: Tests Show Baseball 95 Percent Drug Free; Ueberroth Says, "We'll Help Others." The story will explain that baseball is committed to cleanliness and compassion, and will end with a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." The integrity of the game will be intact and wholesome, family values restored.
Ueberroth came to this position out of genuine concern that drug abuse is a menace to society, and that baseball -- as a cultural touchstone for youth -- should be a leader in the fight against it. He seems willing to risk the criticism for his means because he thinks the ends are worth it.
My problem isn't with Ueberroth's intention, but with the moral cost of his policy.