Just over three months ago, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room in Texas. Tyler Skaggs’ autopsy revealed that he died from aspiration of gastric contents, and that he had opiates including fentanyl in his system.
Eric Kay, the Director of Communications for the Angels, claims he supplied Skaggs with the drugs and that he brought Skaggs’ drug use to the attention of other Angels front office employees. The organization disputes the claim. Kay also claims that more players on the Angels roster use opioids, although he did not name them publicly.
Given the extent of the opioid crisis impacting all walks of life in the United States, assuming MLB players are somehow immune to this disease, or that Skaggs’ drug use is entirely isolated is foolish.
In a column for NBC Sports, Craig Calcaterra compares drug use to the revelations in the 1990s that there were many famous athletes who used steroids. He writes “It seems logical that it would extend beyond the Angels, at least. From gambling and throwing games in the early days of the game to alcohol addiction during its alleged ‘Golden Age’ to cocaine in the 1970s and 80s and on to PEDs in the 90s and early 2000s, vice and/or addiction in Major League Baseball always — always — extends to more than one club.”
Though the news broke early this week, Major League Baseball, aside from providing statements to assert unawareness of Skaggs or any other players drug use, has mostly swept the issue under the rug. The Angels organization has similarly released statements asserting unawareness. When the autopsy report was initially released, Skaggs’ family said they were shocked to learn that their son had been using drugs and hoped to gain clarity about how Tyler came into possession of narcotics, including who supplied them.
An opportunity for drug addiction education
The news comes in the middle of the league’s postseason, one of the heaviest revenue sources during the entire season. Major League Baseball’s website and its news section is filled with game highlights and offseason rumor mill banter, with no mention of the developing story or the truth about Tyler Skaggs. It’s not even buried elsewhere on the site, it is non-existent. While the drug overdose death of a player who received substances from a front office employee is not good PR, it is also unwise for the MLB to not be taking immediate action.
Imagine, if now, in the middle of the playoffs, when more eyes than ever are on MLB, the league announced that it will fund efforts for drug addiction education for little league programs throughout the country. Imagine if they tried to empower those with substance use disorder, not only professional athletes, but fans to seek drug addiction treatment programs or behavioral therapies. It could use this tragedy as an opportunity to educate the public about fentanyl overdose signs and how to administer Narcan if you suspect someone has overdosed.
Instead of pretending like the problem is not occurring, and adding stricter and more punitive drug screenings, MLB could show compassion. It could release a statement recognizing that the entire country is amid an opioid epidemic, and although the league is made of the most talented baseball players on the planet, they too are only humans.
“If the league’s stab at [alleviating the opioid problem among players] involves making a point to name those other five Angels players Kay mentioned to the DEA or if it involves casting them or other addicted players around the league as villains or poster children, it’ll be the wrong move,” Calcaterra said. “Wrong in an absolute sense in that it would work to blame addicts in ways that, I would hope, we’re all smarter about now than the way we used to be.”
Athletes’ bodies are put through the ringer on a regular basis. No wonder they turn to painkillers. Clearly, if they don’t know what they are taking, the fentanyl effects can be deadly. Turning a blind eye to addiction will not alleviate the issue, and if nothing is done, MLB and every other professional sports organizations should not feign disbelief when this happens again.
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