- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

President Bush’s call for athletes and professional sports leagues to halt the use of performance-enhancing drugs was met with both praise and skepticism yesterday, as sports figures and drug testing experts applauded Bush’s message while questioning its impact.

“It’s a good comment by the President,” said Dr. Robert Ruhling, director of the Human Performance Research Laboratory at George Mason University and an expert on drugs in sports. “Steroids have no place in any kind of sports, really. I think we all agree on that.

“But whether it will amount to anything, I don’t know. Without a program, I don’t think it will change anything.”

Bush called on major sports leagues to strengthen their anti-drug policies during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, telling the sports world “to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.”

With New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on hand as an invited guest, Bush also reminded athletes that they are role models for the nation’s youth.

“Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example,” Bush said. “The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message that they are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character.”

Bush’s remarks come on the heels of an ongoing international sports scandal involving the steroid THG, a designer drug that was first detected last summer. Five track and field athletes — four of them Americans — and four members of the Oakland Raiders have tested positive for the drug.

A number of high-profile pro athletes, including San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, appeared this fall before a San Francisco grand jury probing a nutritional supplement lab that is accused of providing THG to athletes.

In addition, Major League Baseball announced in November that between 5 and 7 percent of its players tested positive for steroids, triggering penalties for use that will begin this season.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the president’s speech,” said Dr. Charles Yesalis, an epidemiologist at Penn State University and an expert on performance-enhancing drugs. “Keep in mind that the president is a sports fan. Yeah, he has a lot more important things on his mind. But as a fan, unless he’s residing in a cave with Osama [bin Laden], it’s just public information that we’ve got a big drug problem in sports.”

Top officials for Major League Baseball and USA Track and Field voiced support for Bush’s comments, while the president of the National Center for Drug Free Sport said he was “delighted” by the president’s remarks.

By contrast, NFL players’ union head Gene Upshaw said Bush must not have been addressing pro football and that no drug problem exists in the sport.

“I don’t know who Bush is talking about, but he’s not talking about the NFL,” Upshaw said. “Because we’ve already dealt with steroids, performance-enhancing drugs and all of that.”

Yesalis called Upshaw’s response “embarrassing.”

“Drugs have played a major role in making these sports leagues multibillion dollar organizations,” Yesalis said. “What would happen if we really cleaned up sports? If the balls didn’t go over the fence, if you didn’t have 240-pound linebackers that are running 4.5 40-yard dashes? One might make an argument that it wouldn’t be too good for business.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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