- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Bob Hazelton sat in his wheelchair before a House subcommittee yesterday that invited him to speak. Behind him was an attentive hearing room.

It was an overwhelming moment for Hazelton, a former heavyweight who once faced George Foreman. He broke down and cried. Someone was ready to listen to him.

This is Bob Hazelton’s time. Steroids are the buzz on Capitol Hill, and Hazelton is an example of the worst that the performance-enhancing substances can do to a body.

The 55-year-old had both of legs amputated 16 years ago because steroids stopped circulation. He began taking steroids in 1970 to get bigger, stronger and better, and instead wound up wrecking his life.

“This is something that will not go away,” Hazelton said. “I have to deal with this every day of my life.”

It is clear that steroids and the hazards of using performance-enhancing substances will not go away, either. A federal probe of BALCO lab is ongoing and could result in athletes forced to appear in court and testify about their use of steroids.

A week ago, the Senate Commerce Committee had a hearing on legislation to ban over-the-counter sales of such steroid-like substances as androstenedione, which Mark McGwire used when he broke Roger Maris’ single season home run record in 1998.

But that hearing turned into an indictment of major league baseball, and the failure of the sport to properly test its players. During that hearing, players union chief Donald Fehr took the brunt of the criticism from legislators for failing to support more stringent testing of its members.

No baseball representatives appeared yesterday before the House subcommittee considering similar legislation, but that didn’t mean the game wasn’t going to take another beating. Congressman John Sweeney, who introduced the legislation to stop over-the-counter sales of steroid precursors, called the players union’s refusal to go along with tougher testing “unconscionable.”

“They fail to see the message it sends to kids,” Sweeney said. “If you want to get ahead, just cheat a little bit.”

While baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig looked like one of the good guys last week, declaring he was in favor of more stringent testing, he was exposed by Hazelton yesterday for the lack of interest in shining a light on steroid use in baseball. “I called Bud Selig three weeks ago and tried to talk to him about this,” Hazelton said. “One of his associates said, ‘It’s none of your business. We will handle it.’”

If Cadillac Bud didn’t want to hear what Hazelton had to say, members of Congress did. For the former Florida high school sports star, it was as if the world finally caught up to his cautionary tale.

His story began in 1986, long after he quit fighting and went on to become a security guard for rock bands. The 6-foot-6, 183-pound Hazelton fought Foreman, who knocked him out in one round.

He weighed about 300 pounds when doctors found an infection in his left leg that had progressed to where amputation was required. A year later, the same thing happened to his right leg.

“The thing about this is that you don’t know if it will affect you six months down the road or 10 years down the road,” Hazelton said.

Much of the focus on yesterday’s hearing was about young people using steroid-like substances. “The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that almost 3 percent of junior high students have taken anabolic steroids,” Sweeney said. “According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one out of every 40 high school seniors admitted to using andro in the past year. It is time for congressional action.”

This proposed bill would change how the Drug Enforcement Agency classifies steroid-like substances, removing the requirement that the government prove through its own scientific testing that the product in question definitely causes muscle growth. It is likely to pass.

“Is there anybody we know who is not supportive of this bill in the universe?” Congressman John Conyers asked.

Nobody in their right mind, or in their right heart, or anyone who watched Bob Hazelton cry yesterday.

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