Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bud Selig and the Questions on Accountability and Punishment

Bud Selig leads a charmed life. He's the commissioner of Major League Baseball. In 2007 he was paid higher than all but three players in baseball (click here). He survived even after a season was cancelled by the player strike. But I think he's sort of lost it. He first wanted to suspend Alex Rodriguez (click here) when the news that he had done steroids leaked (and return Hank Aaron to the title of "official all-time home-run king"). Now Mr. Selig says that he doesn't want blame for what happened in baseball with regards to steroids (click here).
Let me start by explaining that positive test that got released about Alex Rodriguez was supposed to be an anonymous test in 2003. What was the punishment for failing a test that year? Nothing...because it was anonymous. Or supposed to be. During the Barry Bonds investigation, the United States government seized the 104 positive test results from that season. The one name that has leaked so far has been A-Rod. Although taking "illegal drugs" was banned in baseball since the early 90s, a punishment for steroids wasn't instituted until 2004. So what Bud Selig wants to do is go back in time to 2003, when there was no punishment for steroids (mostly because he didn't have enough guts to stand up to the forces around him and demand such), and suspend A-Rod for a test that Selig shouldn't even know that A-Rod failed. 
Let's put this in another context (entering fantasy world...)
Let's say that you run a company called Initech. Let's say that you sort of knew that everyone in your company was doing some sort of drug that was making them more productive. It may be illegal, it may not, but hey, they are certainly putting up good numbers and your company has never been more profitable. One of your employees, Bob, is creating too much trouble, though, around the office and you decide to let him go. Bob's upset by the situation and alerts a lot of people to the fact that he thinks everyone in your company is doing an illegal drug to keep productive. You sweep this under the rug. This guy was disruptive when he was here, who knows if this is true, and even if it is, who is going to believe Bob or care. You have another guy, Bill, who is a star employee so you really hope he's just going to fill in for Bob. He's won a couple of employee of the month awards and really seems like he's going to make a lot of people forget about Bob. Bob says some things about Bill on his way out but you dismiss these as well.
Backing up a few years before this, you had decided that because people are getting sick too often, you wanted to institute a health screening to determine healthcare premiums. You take blood from everyone for the purpose of testing cholesterol and whether they are a smoker and some other factors. It's anonymous because of HIPPA so you have no clue anything other than if the person's premiums are going up or not. Some of your employees are still worried about privacy rights but you assure them that it is in the form that they sign that Initech can't use the test for anything other than a simple health-related screening and can't fire you for any of the results. 
All of a sudden Bob gets busted in his new company for doing an illegal drug. He says to the police that the drug is for his cholesterol. He says that he had really bad cholesterol for years and needed to take it. The police come to Initech and ask you for the blood results for Bob to see if this was true. Under order of subpoena, you are forced to hand over all the blood tests. For good measure, you make a new rule that anyone caught doing this drug will be fired immediately. You didn't have that rule in place already because there seemed no reason to and you already had a rule about "abusing".
The person testing the blood for the police, Joe, finds in inordinate amount of illegal drug in Bob's test. He thinks that maybe others are doing it as well. Joe takes a few and tests them and they all come back positive. Those weren't part of the subpoena, but Joe figures he might as well tell his friend who works for the local newspaper. He won't tell him much except that the new star earner for Initech, Bill, is also using this drug and that's probably why Bill and the company are so successful.
Suddenly you find out about what's going on in Initech. You already suspected that it was going on, but you can't believe that Bill was doing it, as well as Bob and others. So you decide to take decisive action. You tell Bill that you're thinking of firing him for what he had done in the past...even though it really wasn't explicitly banned and you weren't ever supposed to see that blood test or even test it for anything other than what was needed for the health assessment. You also inform him that you're taking away his employee of the month awards. You further let the public know that you weren't to blame for what was going on. It was the employees doing illegal things, not you. "Why would anyone blame me for this?" you say...
Ok...back to reality. How many of those things at the end would you get away with as the head of a company or as a Human Resource professional? Probably none. 

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