Tyler Skaggs. Jose Fernandez. Oscar Tavares. Len Bias. These were all real people that were lost to substance-related deaths in the early stages of their lives and careers. People who used to smile, dance, make people laugh, do charity work and most importantly radiate their joyfulness onto others.
There have been many other athletes that have suffered from addiction, and it has been happening for decades. It was time for the sporting world to start caring years ago, but it is especially important now that they do before other good-hearted people start dying.
This is more than a team losing a promising player about to enter their prime. This is more than an empty jersey and seat on the bench. This is about families who have had their children, brothers, nephews or grandchildren ripped away from them because no one realized they were in pain or simply didn’t care enough to look. This is about the individuals who have done tremendous good for their communities, stopped in their tracks by a mountain they cannot climb on their own – addiction.
All major leagues do some sort of drug testing, so why have they let people die at the hands of these potent substances? How has this slipped through the cracks? They need to help their employees – their responsibilities – get better, period.
According to The Athletic’s Evan Drellich, “Major league players are not subject to regular testing for drugs of abuse, including recreational drugs.”
If they have the technology available to do it, why wouldn’t they? Opioids were involved in 69.4% of all drug overdose deaths in the United States last year. Last year alone, 68,557 people died of drug overdoses, 47,590 of which were related to opioids, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.
Within the past three years the baseball world has been shaken to its core twice with the deaths of Skaggs and Fernandez to recreational drugs.
Skaggs passed away in July in his hotel room on the road in Texas; he was 27 years old. The cause of death was not released until later in the season due to the severity of it. It was released in late August that he had choked on his own vomit while under the influence of oxycodone, fentanyl and alcohol, killing him.
CNN reported that there were “high levels” of fentanyl and “not insignificant” amounts of alcohol in his system at the time of his death.
Recently, reports from ESPN revealed that a team employee had reported to the DEA that they had been providing Skaggs with oxycodone and had been abusing it with him for years. The article also said, “that two team officials were told about Skaggs' drug use long before his death.” The team denies knowing about his opioid use prior to his death, however.
For the past five days I have been trying to wrap my head around this. How could the team have known and let him have access to the pills that killed him and potentially provide him with them, in a team hotel?
Days before the team’s road trip to Texas a team employee, Eric Kay, gave Skaggs three illegal oxycodone pills, according to ESPN. It is unknown whether those pills were the ones that killed him.
It is outrageous to me how this could have happened, especially if Kay was telling the truth and the team knew about it. On road trips, there should have been people there watching him to make sure he didn’t overdose. Or, better yet, he should have been undergoing some type of rehabilitation program to treat this disease.
There have been players in the past who have been able to get better: Josh Hamilton, Daryl Strawberry, Cris Carter, Michael Phelps and many others, so there is already a prescribed formula to help. Teams need to use it.
In the case of Jose Fernandez, he was killed in a boating accident with two other people in Sept. 2016. The boat crashed into a rock-jetty in Biscayne Bay, Florida with Fernandez’ fingerprints on the steering wheel. He drowned to death after being stuck under-water by the rocks and the boat. However, an autopsy revealed that he had alcohol and cocaine in his system at the time of the accident.
Not only did we lose Fernandez, a bright, young man of considerable talent on and off the field, but we also lost two other people in that accident. All from drugs.
While this situation seems to be more of an individual event rather than consistent abuse, there should still be team programs in place to educate their athletes on the dangers of using these substances in any situation.
Fernandez’s death arose from using cocaine and drinking alcohol during a night out partying at a bar. He then took a boat and drove it to just .2 mph under its maximum speed and crashed it. He of course was at fault for his actions that night, but it is also the team’s job to make sure their athletes know the dangers of using recreational drugs. They should be especially aware of the dangers of driving under the influence.
This is a problem the whole country is facing, but in sports there are already established protocols to handle drug abuse. There needs to be better testing to prevent these types of deaths. The fact that MLB has neglected to test for recreational drug use is asinine, considering they potentially have the most serious problem.
Leagues and teams have the technology and staffing to stop this from ever happening again, so do it before another person gets seriously hurt, or worse, killed.
Mike Mavredakis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @mmavredakis.