Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Does baseball have a drinking problem?

We've been so consumed by the steroids/human growth hormone problem in baseball, that it's easy to overlook another problem that may be even more destructive: alcoholism.

Spring training is only a few weeks old, yet we have already seen several players busted for drinking and driving. Miguel Cabrera’s arrest has gotten the most attention because he is huge star and it was his second alcohol-related disturbance. But former New York Yankees outfielder Austin Kearns and Coco Crisp have also been identified as being arrested for DUI.

Does baseball have a drinking problem? According to the latest statistics, 17.6 million Americans out of about 311 million are alcoholics. We don’t know how many alcoholics there are in baseball, but given recent anecdotes the number probably is similar to the country as a whole.

In many ways, alcoholism is so much worse than steroids or HGH. With performance-enhancing drugs, the person is usually causing the most damage to himself. But as a person who has lived with alcoholism and drug abuse in the family while growing up, I know those conditions can have a devastating impact on everyone around that person, especially the children. Meanwhile, every time inebriated people get behind the wheel, they are risking not only their lives, but the lives of anyone unfortunate enough to share the same roads.

Whether baseball players like it or not, they are role models. For every Derek Jeter who embraces that responsibility and does everything he possibly can to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol, there are guys like Cabrera who continue to engage in destructive behavior. Commissioner Bud Selig firmly embraces guys like Jeter, who represents only the best in baseball. But now it’s past time for him to tackle the worst.

Selig needs to make coming up with an effective strategy to manage alcohol and drug addiction a top priority in the next round of baseball negotiations. Sure, the players’ union will balk and fight it as hard as they do against everything else, screaming about privacy. But if they truly had their players’ best interests at heart, they would work with the commissioner to try to come up with a program that focuses on the best treatments for their players, and ultimately punishment if that’s what’s needed.

These players are relatively young, healthy and successful in their careers. It’s not too late to help them deal with whatever issues are causing them to drink before they ruin their lives, or worse, hurt somebody in a way they can’t take back. Hopefully, baseball and the players’ union can intervene before tragedy strikes.

Thanks to shgmom56 via Wikipedia for the photo.

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