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Players taking lead on tougher PED penalties

New attitudes on testing, speaking up helps enforcement of MLB Drug Policy @RichardJustice

Players got what they wanted. They wanted a message sent that cheating is not OK, that they will not tolerate it and that if they must take a vocal and active role in ridding the game of performance-enhancing drugs, so be it.

They want cheaters punished. They're for tougher penalties, too. They were furious when Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun escaped punishment a year ago, and they applauded when he was suspended for the remainder of the season on Monday.

"I think it's probably something that should have happened last year," Rangers outfielder Lance Berkman said.

Player attitudes may not have changed dramatically over, say, the last decade. There probably never was a time when a majority of rank-and-file players were hardcore users of performance-enhancing drugs.

What has changed is that players are speaking up, not just to reporters, but to their union leadership. Gone are the days when the Major League Baseball Players Association fought drug testing at every turn. This revolution began from within.

"I just want to make sure that the game is played clean and should be the way it is," Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said.

Rangers outfielder David Murphy added: "Those of us who have not cheated and have worked hard and done everything that we're supposed to do to get to where we are in this game, it's difficult to look at it as an even playing field when there's guys who've cheated. I feel like we're definitely moving in the right direction."

Players know that one positive test from one player stains the reputation of every player. Major League Baseball will never rid itself of performance-enhancing drugs. That's just the way things are.

As long as competitive people are involved, there will be some who look for shortcuts, even shortcuts that could kill them or send them to prison. But baseball has the best testing program on earth.

Baseball also has the owners and players working together on this issue. Braun's suspension is a victory for the players, because they made sure their voices were heard.

Players were also angry when Melky Cabrera served his 50-game suspension last year and then landed a two-year, $16-million contract from the Blue Jays. That's when players began publicly voicing their support of tougher punishment for first-time offenders. That's coming, too, just as surely as there are more Biogenesis suspensions around the corner.

In that way, this is a good thing. For years, players and owners argued over steroid testing. In a legendary 2002 confrontation with an official of the MLBPA, Orioles owner Peter Angelos dared the players to go on strike over steroid testing.

Players did the right thing then in agreeing to steroid testing, and they've agreed to toughen the program several times since. Their new leadership, led by Michael Weiner, has left no doubt where it stands on the issue.

It's astonishing that baseball's pursuit of the Biogenesis customers has been criticized by some. What's the alternative? To look the other way? To allow players to do whatever they want?

What message does that send to every player? If stars like Braun are allowed to use, what does that tell the guy at the bottom of the roster fighting for a job?

This is about doing the right thing, and if that means another flurry of negative headlines, big deal. Baseball has survived far worse than this.

There surely was a sense of relief around the Brewers that they can prepare for next season and that Braun can resume his career without doubt hanging over his head.

"This has always been a cloud over the ballclub, not knowing what's going to happen," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "I am glad, and I think as an organization we are happy that Ryan, the union and the Commissioner's Office have all put their heads together and made a wise decision for baseball and for us, the organization."

Every player considering cheating knows how much he's risking. He's risking not just jail and his health, but also his reputation and his career. Braun will have years to change the way people think about him, but his reputation may never be fully restored.

This is about doing what's right for the players and doing what's right for every high school kid out there who is being tempted. Commissioner Bud Selig and the owners were never going to be able to clean the game up on their own.

They needed the players to take a leadership role, not just with words, but with deeds. That's what has happened. More than anything else, that's the message from this week.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.