Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has dropped a heavily weighted ball in his players' court.
Not waiting until the current drug-testing policies expire in 2006 and the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2008, Selig is asking the players to agree to a much stiffer policy, one that would demonstrate the league is serious about eliminating drug-affected players from the game.
Under rules that went into effect just this year, a player found with performance-enhancing substances in his body is suspended for 10 games on the first offense, 30 games on the second time, 60 on the third time, a year on the fourth and whatever the commissioner deems appropriate on the fifth.
With so many chances, a player intent on using drugs could gamble that he wouldn't get tested, but if he did, the penalty wouldn't be that harsh.
Selig's proposal, outlined in a letter to the players union that was obtained by The New York Times, is designed to eliminate any confusion over whether it is OK to use steroids and play in the major leagues.
For a first offense, a player would be suspended 50 games, 100 games for a second offense and banned permanently if caught a third time.
Selig also is proposing that random testing occur more frequently and that amphetamines be included among banned substances.
"It is time to put the whispers about amphetamine use to bed once and for all," Selig wrote. "To the extent that our culture has tolerated the use of these substances, the culture must change."
It's no coincidence that Selig's letter comes about six weeks after he and Donald Fehr, executive director of the players union, sat before members of Congress who were investigating steroid use. Last week, representatives of the National Football League and its players made a similar appearance in the U.S. House.
Professional sports have long played a significant role in lives of Americans. While the games are entertainment for spectators, they are big business for the players and owners. But the element of statistics in games makes integrity paramount.
We insist on businesses operating ethically and that their numbers represent the facts, not what management wishes they were.
It is hard to imagine players want to be part of an organization that coddles illegal drug users. For the union to reject Selig's proposal would send that message.