MIAMI -- Government statistics show our prisons are disproportionately black. There are more black people living in prison than in college dorms. Black people represent less than 14 percent of the United States population but almost 40 percent of the prison population.
This is a complicated question, but the answer isn't, "Because black people are bad." Poverty. Lack of opportunity. Police targeting or being needed in dangerous, desperate areas where drug selling and armed robbery are more likely to be visible. In other words, environment plus judicial system plus desperation merging to tempt and punish one group at an alarming and lopsided rate.
Which brings me, round about, to steroids and baseball and Hispanics.
On March 29, baseball suspended another batch of minor-leaguers for performance enhancers. Their names were Astacio, Castillo, Feliz, Nunez and Reyes. Here's the list of baseball names who have been drug-suspended more than once: Rocha, Perez, Ugueto, Reyes, Garcia, Castro, Rodriguez, Delgado, Ramirez. Here are the names of the first six players suspended 50 games each to start this year: Alfredo Marte, Joselito Adames, San Lazaro Solano, Adrian Nieto, Hector Tavarez, William Abreu.
Lost in shadows
As the media focuses on the unholy mess the more famous Roger Clemens makes of his legacy punctuation, and the yawning and weary public gets bored with the steroid story, there is something more meaningful happening in the shadows, away from all the lights that trail Clemens. When you look at the list of all the drug-disgraced baseball players put together by bizof baseball.com, you can't help but notice that the Hispanic ones are getting suspended at an alarming and completely disproportionate rate. By baseball's count, Latin players represent about one-fourth of the game's population. By my count, they represent almost three-fourths of the suspended list.
It isn't because Hispanic ballplayers are bad people. It is because environment plus baseball's judicial system plus desperation are conspiring to tempt and punish one group more than others. And the risk appears to be worth the reward for Hispanic players. The best thing that can happen: You don't get caught, and you make the leap from minors to majors while getting great health benefits and ensuring family financial security. The worst thing that can happen: You get caught and have to go back to your previous situation.
Actually, that's not even true. You get caught, you get a warning. You get caught again, you sit out 50 games. Then you resume your career. If you get caught again, you sit out 100 games. If you get caught again, then maybe you have to go back to your previous desperate situation. Would you try to climb through loopholes and around workplace rules to get yourself out of poverty and provide for your family and get closer to the American dream? Might you cheat if you were poor and had a chance to rig some of the Lotto numbers?
Drug dealing in the ghetto is not unlike steroid use in the barrio: It is a possible way out of the desperation, and it doesn't seem to matter much how many cops are around.
Full disclosure because statistics can be manipulated: I'm not doing this scientifically. I'm looking at names on a list and trying to determine if they are Hispanic. It is pretty obvious in most cases, like Albaro "Yoel" Campusano and Arquimedes Lorenzo or San Lazaro Solano. But that allows for a margin of error. Some of these may be players with Hispanic surnames who grew up middle class in this country. Still, the way the list reads is completely alarming, even if my numbers are slightly off. By my count -- even allowing for a margin of error of 15 -- about 300 of the 445 baseball players suspended for drug use since 2005 are Hispanic.
And it gets worse. Bizof baseball.com lists the drugs of choice, separating the performance enhancers from the recreational drug use. Let's throw out the 34 of 445 baseball players who have been suspended for recreational drug use since 2005. But let's make sure to point out that the Hispanic guys aren't the ones getting suspended for recreational drug use; those are all the other nationalities. The Hispanic guys are trying to get ahead with Nandrolone and Boldenone and Stanozolol, not cocaine. Thirty of the 34 names nabbed for recreational drug use don't appear to be Hispanic. That means, of 411 players suspended for performance enhancers since 2005, about 300 appear to be Hispanic.
According to the most recent numbers, baseball is 27 percent Hispanic -- the smallest Latino percentage since 1999. It may be at its lowest total in a decade because so many fringe Hispanic players are now getting caught in the net as they try to find that extra illegal something that will get them upstream, from Triple A to big-league security. But it is impossible to miss things like this: Of the 68 players caught for performance enhancers in 2008, 61 appear to be Hispanic.
Is this racism? No. It is race playing a factor, not racism. Drug tests aren't singling out an ethnic group; an ethnic group is still choosing drugs as a detour, no matter the deterrent. Steroids aren't the drug escape out of the desperation.