Bears

More procedural issues in MLB's steroid testing

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More procedural issues in MLB's steroid testing

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Major League Baseball dropped its 100-game suspension of Colorado Rockies catcher Eliezer Alfonzo for a positive drug test because of the same procedural issues that came up in the Ryan Braun case. Alfonzo is eligible to play immediately, according to a person familiar with the decision who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Sunday night because no announcement had been made. Mostly a backup during six major league seasons, Alfonzo became the first player suspended twice for performance-enhancing drugs under the MLB testing program when the commissioner's office announced a 100-game penalty last September. Alfonzo appealed and was notified within the past week that MLB had lifted the ban. The reason: a dispute over the storage and shipment of his urine sample similar to the one that led to Braun's 50-game drug penalty getting overturned by an arbitrator in February, the person said. The person was not familiar with specific details regarding the chain of custody of Alfonzo's specimen. Alfonzo's contract was renewed by the Rockies in March, but he was not paid while he was on the restricted list during the suspension. He is currently assigned to Triple-A Colorado Springs in the Pacific Coast League, but the 33-year-old catcher has been at home in Venezuela, the person said. Alfonzo gets the minimum 480,000 salary in the majors and 86,473 in the minors. A message left for Rockies spokesman Jay Alves late Sunday night was not immediately returned. Braun, last year's NL MVP, tested positive in October for elevated testosterone, which was revealed by ESPN in December. His sample was collected on Oct. 1, a Saturday and the day he and the Milwaukee Brewers opened the NL playoffs. The collector did not send the sample to the laboratory until Monday, thinking it would be more secure at home than at a Federal Express office during the weekend. Baseball's drug agreement states that "absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the laboratory on the same day they are collected." Braun appealed and when his ban was thrown out by arbitrator Shyam Das, MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said management "vehemently" disagreed with the decision, which made the Milwaukee slugger the first major league player to successfully challenge a drug-related penalty in a grievance. During the hearing, Braun's side challenged the chain of custody from the time the urine sample was collected by Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc. to when it was sent, nearly 48 hours later, to a World Anti-Doping Agency-certified laboratory outside Montreal, two people familiar with the case said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because what took place in the hearing is supposed to be confidential. Since then, MLB and the players' union have made some changes to collection procedures as a result of Das' decision. Employees of Comprehensive Drug Testing, who take the specimens from players, are now required to drop the samples off at a Federal Express office on the same day they are collected, provided an office is open in the vicinity. If not, collectors should take the specimens home rather than leave them in a drop box. The prohibition against using drop boxes already was in the drug agreement between players and owners. Alfonzo's penalty was dropped without a hearing before an arbitrator, the person said Sunday. The catcher missed the final 15 games of last season and Colorado has already played 33 games this year. Under the major league drug agreement, first offenses are arbitrated before any public announcement -- but additional offenses are litigated after a suspension is announced. Alfonzo also was suspended for 50 games in April 2008 while a member of the San Francisco Giants. "I am surprised by this positive test," he said last September in a statement released by the Major League Baseball Players Association. "I learned my lesson in 2008 and have not taken any prohibited substances since then. With the union's help, I intend to fight this suspension and look forward to appearing before the arbitrator in the near future." After the suspension four years ago, Alfonzo said he never knowingly took steroids but did take medicine for bronchitis while home in Venezuela. Manny Ramirez and Guillermo Mota are the only other major league players to be penalized twice for positive drug tests. Baseball began testing with penalties in 2004. Under the current rules, a third violation would carry a lifetime ban. Alfonzo is a .240 career hitter with 17 homers and 67 RBIs in 591 at-bats over 193 major league games. He has also played for San Diego and Seattle.

Should the Bears sign free agent running back Devonta Freeman?

Should the Bears sign free agent running back Devonta Freeman?

Former Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman remains unsigned after being released earlier this offseason following a 2019 season that totaled 14 games and a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.

Freeman, who earned back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl in 2015-16, was at one time considered one of the NFL's top dual-threat running backs. His best season came in 2015 when he ran for 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding another 578 yards and three scores as a receiver. In 2016, he ran for a career-best 1,079 yards and 11 scores.

Injuries derailed what was a promising start to his career. He hasn't played a full 16 games in any of the last three years and in 2018, he missed 14 games with foot and groin injuries. 

Are Freeman's best days behind him? Maybe. Running backs tend to decline the closer they get to 30 years old, and at 28, Freeman is inching closer to the end of his career than its beginning. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have value for a team like the Bears, who lack any semblance of depth behind starter David Montgomery.

Chicago's running back depth chart is void of any real NFL talent behind Montgomery and Tarik Cohen, and let's face it, Cohen is more of a satellite weapon than he is a true running back.

So what's stopping the Bears from pursuing Freeman? Money.

Freeman is holding out for a reasonable payday that, apparently, involves demands beyond what the Seahawks offered in May (one-year, $4 million). The Bears, who still have in-house business to take care of, including an extension for wide receiver Allen Robinson, aren't going to offer Freeman a contract in that range. And they shouldn't. Montgomery is the unquestioned starter and that won't change even if a player like Freeman is added. As a result, he'll get a contract consistent with what's paid to a backup with starter's upside.

Remember: Freeman signed a five-year, $41.2 million extension with the Falcons in 2017, and like most players who believe they still have a lot left in the tank, he doesn't appear willing to lower his value by such an extreme amount.

Still, the market will determine Freeman's next deal. And if he's still hanging around and unsigned as training camp approaches, the Bears could find themselves in a favorable position to land an extremely talented running back at a mega-discount.

Chicago's offense will hinge on how productive the running game is in 2020. It would make sense to improve its chances of success by adding more talent. Freeman could be that guy, at the right price.

Thad Young on the challenges of being a father in a racially unjust world

Thad Young on the challenges of being a father in a racially unjust world

Before getting to Jim Boylen’s future, the anticlimactic end to the Bulls’ campaign and the NBA’s unprecedented 22-team play-in format to finish its 2019-20 season, Thad Young had to address the full context at hand for his conference call with reporters.

For Friday marked the 11th day since George Floyd, a black man, died after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine straight minutes. The killing has sparked mass unrest, protests and fervent discourse around racial injustice and police brutality across the globe. The world also continues to grapple with the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered the NBA on March 11, and the rest of the United States (where the virus has killed over 100,000 and counting) soon after.

“I know we’re stuck in unprecedented times where we’re in the house during COVID and then the thing that happened with George Floyd and social injustice,” Young said before fielding questions on the call. “I just want to make sure to let everybody know that I hope everybody is safe and healthy with our families, and make sure we’re holding each and every one of us close and try to get through these tough times…”

Young, 31, is currently bunkered down in his family’s new home in Texas with his wife, Shekinah, and two sons. Parsing through the realities of a racially unjust world with his sons, to hear Young tell is, has been a balancing act.

“When they come up with a question, it’s very hard to answer that question because I don’t want them to have to grow up and fear for their lives or have to grow up and understand that they can’t do the same things that other people are doing,” Young said. “That’s one of the toughest things. You want to give your kid the world. You want to get them to understand that, ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want to do.’ In these times, it’s just not the same. You can’t do everything that somebody else is doing. 

“If I’m going to be specific about it, the black kid can’t do everything that a white kid is doing. Those are things that are very, very tough to talk about. But it’s a harsh reality and we have to talk about them. My kids are still young, six and nine. They understand certain things that are going on, but not entirely everything. 

“For me as a father, that’s probably one of the toughest conversations to ever have with your kids. They all have questions because there’s so much stuff on social media and so much stuff on YouTube, which is what all the kids are watching now. When they see a video pop up with different things that happened… My youngest son, he asked the other day, ‘Why did they kill that man, Daddy?’ It’s hard for me to answer that question because you don’t want to push him into the harsh reality of what it is. But you have to answer those tough questions and you have to have those tough conversations with your kids. It’s definitely hard. What happened is definitely saddening for me but it also scares me to death because I have two young boys.”

Sadder still because the direct onus of those difficult conversations falls on black families far more than their white counterparts. It’s a testament to how ingrained racial biases (at best) and racist practices (at worst) still are, even today.

The hope of Young, Zach LaVine, who spoke on an earlier call, and countless others calling and fighting for change, is that a new dawn is on the horizon. Whether substantive change comes to fruition remains to be seen, but Young emphasized that resolution will come through unity.

“It’s so early right now just to see if there’s going to be change. One of the things that I do see is we have some unity coming,” Young said. “We have some people who are getting together. We have these protests. People are coming out and letting their voices be heard. You have a lot of celebrities and very, very influential people who are following suit. The good thing is we have a lot of people who are speaking up for change and speaking up for freedom and peace. 

“We’re bringing more and more people together. One of the biggest things is to continue to do that. Continue to let our voices be heard. Stay together. Stay unified. And also make sure we do what’s right and steer everybody away from doing what’s wrong.”

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