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Drugs and the Fall Of ’96 MVP Caminiti

By Yong-yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

Troubling years finally came to a troubling end when Ken Caminiti died of a heart attack at the age of 41 on Sunday afternoon. The reason for the heart attack is yet unknown, but an autopsy is being conducted to find the cause.

Caminiti was the National League MVP in 1996 while playing with the San Diego Padres, and he took the team to the World Series. He played for 15 years total, with the time split between the Astros, Padres, Rangers, and Braves. After his tenure in baseball, Caminiti admitted to using steroids during his 1996 MVP season and speculated that half of the baseball players used the drug.

Caminiti spent the last day of his life with an ex-con, Rob Silva, who told Newsday that Caminiti seemed edgy. Silva reported that Caminiti did not take any drugs or drink in the hours before his death, despite the guess that his death is caused by some combination of the two.

Early last week, Caminiti tested positive for cocaine, violating his parole after being released from jail. He had previously spent 189 days in prison for possession of cocaine, on a felony charge.

Caminiti’s problems almost certainly did not stem from Major League Baseball, but the League did not help. When you know that even your MVP’s are using performance enhancing drugs, you cannot simply turn a blind eye. Sure, there are measures being put into place to randomly test for drugs, but they are not close to thorough or comprehensive enough.

What does it say about a sport when both of its best players this year, and most likely the American League and National League MVP’s, in Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds have had relations with performance enhancing drugs? Sheffield already admitted to using a steroid cream in the past, and it is quite apparent that Bonds has done more than that.

Of course, if you find the players that are using performance enhancing drugs, you can give them help before they turn to something worse. Or, you can catch the players that are using illegal drugs and at least try to fix their problems now, as the NFL’s substance abuse program attempts to do.

Most people will abide by the laws of their sport when confronted with the choice of playing and getting paid or taking drugs and not having a salary. Not many people are going to do what Ricky Williams did and leave the NFL because he had earned enough money and just wanted to smoke marijuana. But the issue isn’t just drugs, it’s about being a role model.

In fact, the public no longer looks up to most sports stars and oftentimes sees them more as people with huge problems. An example of a bad role model is Mike Tyson. He pretty much did every bad thing imaginable and has fallen tremendously since the days he was mostly known for his boxing conquests. Tyson has gone from having millions of dollars to having millions of people look down on him. He has declared bankruptcy and has also embarrassingly lost a supposed easy match in the ring.

A more shocking example of a great role model turned bad is Kobe Bryant. Before his turn to adultery, Kobe was the sweet young star ready to propel the Lakers to more championships than even Phil Jackson could imagine. Then came the one night in a Colorado hotel room.

From now on, Kobe will be known as much for his choices off the court as on it, and his innocence will be lost forever.

No matter what Charles Barkley says, athletes are our role models. This means that they have a big responsibility to the general public. Children look up to them. Even adults look up to them. In addition, we love to write about them, good or bad.

However, athletes must realize that no matter how they feel, they are not superhuman and are not above the law. Mike Tyson, Ricky Williams and Kobe Bryant should all realize that. Too bad for Ken Caminiti, he didn’t find out until it was too late.