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5:42 PM Mon, Nov. 19th

Kobritz Column: MLB teams ban energy drinks

Earlier this year, Red Bull announced plans to pull back on its involvement in sports, including selling its two-car NASCAR team at the end of this season.

Last week, PepsiCo., makers of Amp Energy Drink, said Diet Dew would become the primary sponsor of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 car, relegating Amp to a secondary sponsorship role. Now we hear that the separation between sports and energy drinks isn't a one-way street.

MLB teams have begun banning energy drinks from the clubhouse, at least at the Minor League level, due to concerns about their health effects. Such unilateral restrictions aren't possible at the Major League level because unlike steroids and amphetamines, energy drinks aren't prohibited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Nevertheless, several teams are making an effort to restrict their use. According to a report in USA Today, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros have stopped providing energy drinks in the clubhouse and discourage their players from using them. Teams cite the harmful effects of the products, although whether that's based on fact or fear is subject to debate.

One of the primary ingredients in most energy drinks is caffeine, which has long been known as a performance enhancer. Studies have shown that caffeine can increase performance in some cases by as much as 25 percent. That isn't exactly news to the majority of Americans who can't function without their daily fix of a cup or three of Java. Others prefer a cola or, like yours truly, Junior's drink of choice, Diet Dew. Due to its performance enhancing capacities, caffeine was at one time included on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list of banned substances, but was removed in 2004. However, WADA continues to "monitor" the effects of caffeine. The NCAA still tests for caffeine and prohibits certain levels in a student-athlete's system.

One thing that's certain is caffeine is a diuretic.Too much caffeine can cause dehydration, a condition that can lead to serious side effects, especially in an athlete, and may even result in death. When Houston pitcher Wesley Wright required a hospital visit in 2009 for treatment of dehydration, allegedly from the effects of several cans of Red Bull, the Astros started restricting the availability of energy drinks and began educating their players on the use of the products.

According to Gary Wadler, former chairman of WADA's Prohibited List, there is no evidence that energy drinks are performance enhancers. That position seems inconsistent with the Agency's former - and current - stance on caffeine. There are dozens of energy drinks on the market and they contain various levels of caffeine. Ounce for ounce, some energy drinks contain two or three times the caffeine level of coffee.

Not surprisingly, a number of MLB players, still dealing with the 2006 ban on amphetamines and desperate for a legal pick-me-up to counter the effects of a grueling 162-game season, are none too happy with teams' restrictions on energy drinks. Diamondbacks' closer J. J. Putz, who consumes Red Bull in the seventh inning of games he expects to be called upon to save, told USA Today that teams are going too far. "It's asinine," said Putz. "What are they going to ban next, coffee? Soft drinks? It's so bizarre." Based on research and the caffeine content of coffee and soft drinks, maybe not as bizarre as Putz thinks.

Fortunately for Putz and other MLB players, unlike their Minor League brethren, they can turn to the MLBPA for support. Given the number of concessions the union has made in the area of performance enhancers and banned substances in recent years, it's unlikely the players will agree to further bans on products that are available to every other American.

Here's something that should give many MLB players cause for concern. WADA has added nicotine to its 2012 "monitoring list." Such action is designed to allow the Agency to gather more information on the performance-enhancing capacities of the drug.

Certain elements within MLB have long sought to ban the use of smokeless tobacco based on its cancer-causing effects. If WADA ultimately adds nicotine to its list of banned substances, it may give those efforts additional traction. While a ban on energy drinks in MLB seems highly unlikely, a ban on smokeless tobacco may not be that far-fetched.