Former Sen. George Mitchell on baseball, teen steroid use, blame and the report that caused a storm.
Card 1: Are you satisfied with your report on steroid use in major league baseball? (57:38-58:31)
George Mitchell: Well, I’m satisfied that we did what we were asked to do, which is to look into what happened and, as best we could, to describe what happened and why, and to make recommendations to prevent a recurrence of the problems that developed, and while we didn’t find out everything, there certainly are some players who were users illegally of performance enhancing substances, which I didn’t identify, and there were other distributors. Nonetheless, we found out enough to fairly and accurately describe what occurred, and most importantly, to make meaningful recommendations. And the clubs and the players have reached agreement on significant changes to the drug-testing program, which moves in the direction of the recommendations I’ve made, and I think will lead to further improvements in the future.
Card 2: What are the misconceptions of your report?
George Mitchell: I’m not aware of any public misperception. I think there are some people who disagree with what I said, and what I recommended, which was of course not only their right, but to be expected on a matter as controversial as the one with which we dealt.
Card 3: How does steroid use stack up against other issues?
George Mitchell: Oh, gosh, I don’t judge-- I don’t make assessments of that type, you know, I don’t rank issues in my own mind about what’s important, what’s not important. I was asked to do a job. I thought it was a significant one and I did it. To me, the central concern didn’t get as much attention as I’d hoped, and so I guess I can use this for whatever distribution this gets to make the point. It is right, and in my judgment, appropriate, to deal with the issue of illegal drug use to enhance performance by professional and other well-known athletes. But the more important issue is the influence on young people. As I said in my report, while obviously these can only be estimates, current estimates are that between two percent and six percent of high-school-aged young people in the United States use these illegal drugs. They use them illegally. And that’s a shocking figure. Now, it sounds small, but even the lower number means several hundred thousand, because there are many, many tens of millions of high-school-aged people in this country. And when you think about the fact that several hundred thousand of our children are using drugs that can be physically damaging and psychologically damaging, because remember, it’s in the teen years which all human beings go through substantial hormonal changes. And the use of these drugs in that circumstance creates a huge vulnerability to psychological damage, to physical damage and they’re our children. And I’ve got young kids and I think of it in those terms. People really ought to think about it in that context. The athlete who says, “I don’t want to be a role model.” Well, but it’s nothing you choose when you become a prominent, widely-publicized athlete, you become a role model to young people. They look up to them, they emulate them, they see what they do, they follow this very closely. That’s the part of it that I think deserves more attention.
Card 4: Do fans drive players to such a extreme comeptition?
George Mitchell: Well, I think that’s a tenuous and indirect causal relationship. Look, it’s financial, too. These young men are human beings and the sums of money that are paid are enormous, particularly for some of them who come from a very deprived backgrounds. It isn’t a choice between $100,000 a year job and a $200,000 a year job, it’s a choice between possibly unemployment, very difficult circumstances, and five or ten million dollars a year. And so, obviously, that’s a factor. I mean, it affects everybody else in life, why should it not affect athletes? I mean, you see, again, I think it’s a mistake to single out athletes, as though they’re different from the rest of the people. They’re different only in the level of skill and athletic ability that they have, but in other respects, they’re just like you and I, and whoever’s watching this broadcast. They make mistakes. We all make mistakes. You’ve made plenty of mistakes, even though you’re a young man. I’ve made more than you because I’ve been around longer than you, and so I think you have to view it in that context, and the most important thing to me is not to get involved now in trying to parse out blame. It’s, “How do you deal with the problem in the future?” One of the things I learned in Northern Ireland is that it’s important to know one’s past, but one shouldn’t live in it. You have to look to the future. You got to deal with the problem in the future, you got to prevent it from getting worse, and sometimes that means that you turn the page. And so, I don’t really spend any time, didn’t in my report, and don’t now, say, well, this guy’s 32 percent to blame, that group’s 28 percent to blame, and so forth and so on. Here’s the situation, it’s a problem, how do you solve it? To me, that’s the proper approach.