Did the government go too far in pursuing steroid users in Major League Baseball?
Three of baseball’s biggest stars (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz) have been outed in the past couple of seasons after investigators from the Federal government seized a list containing the names of players testing positive for steroids and other performance enhancers. These “leaks” have had something of a negative impact on the careers of these players, most notably Manny Ramirez who recently completely a 50 game suspension for his actions related to performance enhancing drugs. Those players who didn’t face these kinds of strict suspensions have felt the pain in other ways — loss of endorsements, a tarnish on their records, and negative reactions from former fans.
Unfortunately for those investigators, a Federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that the seizure of that list of 104 players who tested positive for doping was illegal. While this ruling can’t do anything for players who’ve already faced harsh penalties, it may protect the remaining 101 players on the list whose names haven’t been released.
The seizure of the list took place way back in 2004, meaning there’s been plenty of time for further leaks. We may still see the complete list of cheaters, or we may not. Either way, players whose identities are improperly leaked from the “dope list” may now have grounds for action, or at least a safety net against the announcement of their names.
Federal agents who raided a Long Beach company in 2004 did have the right to search for information about a specific list of 10 players — a search warrant that named 10 players whose drug test results they had the legal right to obtain. This search warrant was part of the Federal investigation into the actions of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, in Burlingame, California. Where these agents crossed the line, according to the San Francisco appeals court, was in their seizure of the complete list of 104 players who tested positive for steroids. These tests results are related to a drug test given in 2003.
The test was conducted by Major League Baseball, but the names were supposed to remain private and out of the public realm. In the past year or so, reports of the identities of various players have been leaked to the media. In a 9-2 ruling, a virtual judicial landslide, the San Francisco appeals court agrees that the Federal government should only have been allowed to go after the specific 10 players on their list.
A spreadsheet at Comprehensive Drug Testing, the company handling the test for baseball, contained the entire list of players and was seized, illegally, by the government. When the Federal agents saw the spreadsheet at CDT, the agents responded quickly, ordering and obtaining the necessary search warrants to take it with them. The agents went a step further, downloading the entire computer memory and taking it with them. This, says the appeals court, was where they broke the law.