Let’s break down what we learned last Friday. First and foremost, it was uncovered that student-athletes at Duke University had taken performance-enhancing drugs during the summer of 2002, and others are rumored to be using them still.
Second, we discovered that one Duke baseball player attempted suicide. The combined effects of steroid withdrawal and the psychological abuse he said he suffered at the hands of head baseball coach Bill Hillier were likely part of the cause.
Finally, we heard allegations of Bill Hillier’s oppressive regime. Hillier may have even implicitly encouraged steroid use. Furthermore, we learned about Hillier’s questionable coaching practices, which players said included both emotional abuse and the unbearable physical strain he placed on his pitching staff.
That’s a pretty long list of dirty laundry.
And frankly, I expected a bigger fallout.
Apparently, no one is greatly perturbed by these findings. Sure, all the local media and a few random newspapers picked up the story, and The Chronicle has received a fair number of letters, but I have heard very few rumblings within the Duke community. Most importantly, the University has taken no recent public action against the baseball program.
So how can we explain the apathy?
First, I believe that most people already believed that college athletes were abusing steroids. We have long suspected that steroids were prevalent in the major leagues, so it was not a far stretch to assume that they would be used by aspiring professionals in the NCAA. A 2001 study by the NCAA proved this fact, stating that 2.3 percent of baseball players admitted to using anabolic steroids.
Second, the fact that this is college baseball greatly affects the situation. There are no sacred records at stake here. There is no race to 755 home runs. We do not care whether Duke baseball players will have asterisks next to their career statistics.
Third, no competitive balance is being disrupted, because Duke was never a competitive baseball team to begin with.
Fourth, much has happened in the three years since Aaron Kempster and Grant Stanley originally abused steroids. Since that time, the rumors that Blue Devils may still be taking steroids remain exactly that—rumors. Since the summer of 2002, Duke has increased its drug testing. Athletic Director Joe Alleva has stated that since then, no Blue Devil has been caught using steroids.
Fifth, the University had decided months ago that it would not renew Bill Hillier’s contract when it expires at the end of the year if the program did not improve significantly. With a month remaining in the regular season, there is little else that could be done to reprimand Hillier, the source of the program’s decrepit state.
So does this article deserve to be ignored? No, and I don’t think it will be. I am praying that the University is still studying the situation, and I hope that other media outlets will continue to investigate.
I think in the end this scandal will be more about student health than about sports. Duke baseball is an insignificant institution. The fact that a Duke athlete tried to cheat is unimportant.
What IS significant is that two former students put themselves in severe physical jeopardy by abusing steroids, and that one went so far as to attempt suicide. We have had similar problems with student health/safety, and the University’s outward reaction to these concerns has been equally sluggish.
And while I’m concerned by the slow response, I am resigned to the fact that change takes time.
So let’s wait and see what happens.
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