On Friday May 4th, driving home from work, I listened to a fascinating story on NPR. It was the eve of the Kentucky Derby and recent Congressional investigations into the use of Lasix in race horses to prevent in a horses lungs. I mean, race horses are amazing, they’re a huge investment. Why not let them perform their best and protect their health, right?
Well, Lasix is not allowed in all fifty states, for example the states in which the Preakness and Belmont Stakes are run. Lasix is also banned internationally from horse racing events.
Well, what’s the deal? Nobody wants a horse to suffer pulmonary collapse in a race. But at Churchill Downs, according to Erica Peterson’s story, Lasix is administered to all the Kentucky Derby entries, including those without signs of bleeding, four hours prior to race time. It turns out, the effect of Lasix is to cause horses to shed 25-30 pounds of water weight during a race, very much lightening the load so to speak and make them faster. In the case of horse racing, Lasix is a performance-enhancing drug.
I was shocked to hear about Robinson Cano’s 80 day suspension for PED use today. Shocked, and broken-hearted. According to Major League Baseball Robinson Cano used Lasix or furosemide to mask the use of another, unknown drug. In humans Lasix allows the passage of urine so quickly, detection of a banned substance is quite difficult. It is a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and has been since 2008. While Cano might not lose 25-30 pounds of water in a ball game, he could also cheat and make it very hard to detect it by traditional urinalysis.
Lots of pixels are spilling on message boards about whether Robbie knew or didn’t know. Cano is a gazillionaire. He’s been in the league since the first testing regime began in January 2005, and has steadily ratcheted up through the current suspension levels agreed to by the players association in 2014. He isn’t stupid and he didn’t fall off the turnip wagon yesterday. It’s not doctor negligence. It’s very difficult to successfully charge and suspend a player for violating the drug policy, intentionally so. If Cano didn’t fight his suspension-costing him $12 million, what is a reasonable person left to conclude?
Cano made a conscious decision to break the rules. I’m not going to try to explain why he might have done it. He probably had the best of intentions, like finding a way for his aging body to stay on the field. But it’s wrong. I have argued fervently that PED use was and is wrong, especially in the days since players agreed to a testing regime and endorsed the level of punishments. More importantly he cost his team one of its most valuable players, not to mention his integrity and a shot at a likely Hall of Fame plaque.
I’ve spit fire and brimstone about this in the past, but that’s before one my own favorites was caught cheating. Cano was wrong, he cost his team, and I don’t buy the argument that he was dumb as a horse.