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Should Major League Baseball be allowed to use DNA tests to determine the true age of prospects?

The young baseball phenom, Esmailyn Gonzalez, received a $1.4-million bonus when he signed with the Washington Nationals in 2006. This February, the player who was misrepresenting himself as only 19 years old turned out to be a 23-year-old by the name of Carlos David Alvarez Lugo.

Gonzalez (if we can still call him that) is one of dozens of Latin American prospects that have been recently caught using false identities to entice scouts, The New York Times reported today. Do the home runs count if you go by another name?

To weed out players using borrowed birth certificates to appear younger (and therefore more desirable to clubs), according to the Times, “Major League Baseball is conducting genetic testing on some promising young players and their parents.”

Major League Baseball investigator, Dan Mullin, formerly with the New York City Police Department, recently talked to Baseball America about the issue. He noted challenging cases where a player “has fictitious parents, fictitious relatives and in some cases has been living in the village for as long as two years so the people know them as that name when in fact they’re someone older from a different village.” A DNA test, he said, will “tell us if the people that purport to be a player’s parents are in fact his parents.”

But are these DNA tests a violation of privacy? The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), passed last year, prohibits U.S. companies from seeking a DNA sample from a current or potential employee—or their family member. But the law will not go into effect until November 21, and even then, according to the Times, no one is sure how it will apply to tests conducted in other countries.

The impetus for GINA was to mitigate employment and insurance discrimination based on genetic risks of disease. Some experts worry that baseball could use testing to predict future injuries or illness. “The funny thing about this all is that the most famous baseball player with a genetic disorder was Lou Gehrig,” said Mark Rothstein, a professor of bioethics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, in his interview with the Times. Gehrig died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1941 at the age of 37. “Would they have signed him if they knew he was predisposed to ALS?”


Picture of Miguel Tejada (who admitted last year that he was older than originally purported) by Keith Allison via Flickr

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