- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Over the last few days, politicians and editorialists have gone into overdrive on the subject of steroids and baseball. Threats of legislative action and calls for players’ heads are leading on networks and in newspaper headlines. A prominent senator led the charge for government action on Fox News Sunday. He pledged that Congress would take action against steroid use if Major League Baseball’s owners and union bosses cannot reach a satisfactory steroid-testing scheme on their own.

We’d like to point out a few inconvenient facts that suggest the angry voices should calm down. First of all, the laws already on the books are sufficient — some would say invasive — and seem likely to render any new law redundant. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, for one, made it a felony to distribute steroids for nonmedical reasons like performance enhancement. That was why federal agents raided the California-based Bay Area Laboratory Collaborative, or BALCO, in September 2003, and it is also why Barry Bonds’ trainer, Greg Anderson, is in such hot water these days. Taking steroids for enhancement is itself a crime under the 1990 Anabolic Steroids Control Act. That law classified steroids as Schedule III controlled substances and put steroids in a class with barbituates and narcotic painkillers, just a grade lower than cocaine. So clearly the law is already in place. If at first it seemed to have little effect on ballplayers, the BALCO case illustrates that that is changing.

The other inconvenient news that broke yesterday is that MLB and the players’ union already appear headed for the stronger steroid-testing policy that the senator and others have threatened to force on them. The new policy reportedly entails more frequent testing and off-season testing, and moves in the direction of baseball’s stringent minor league drug-testing regime. That regime is credited with more than halving steroid use among minor leaguers. So if pre-existing law weren’t enough, MLB will likely have an agreement before Congress convenes in January.

We wonder whether all the hubbub isn’t just opportunists acting on the public urge to do something, anything, to curb illegal steroid use. The selective outrage over lawbreaking isn’t reassuring on that account. Of all the law-breaking alleged in the case, few seem disturbed at the most clear-cut violation of federal law in an area where appropriate behavior was settled long ago: the leaking of grand jury testimony. The leak violated federal law, and it violated Jason Giambi’s right to confidentiality under it. We would hope the same commentators breathing fire over steroid use would be equally supportive of vigorous prosecution of whomever broke the law.

In the meantime, we encourage would-be regulators to take a deep breath, consider the tools already at prosecutors’ disposal and the progress already being made to solve the problem. It’s clear that pertinent reforms already headed where they want.

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