- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Baseball’s ongoing steroids crisis moves to Capitol Hill today with Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, executive director of the MLB Players Association, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee.

The session is likely to be tense as Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, presides over the panel. McCain has long been a strident critic of fraud in big-time sports, and has spent the last several years seeking to reform the troubled U.S. Olympic Committee.

The hearing also will present perhaps the first full public discussion from both sides of baseball on steroids since a federal grand jury issued indictments in the ongoing BALCO investigation. Selig has placed a gag order on steroid talk from team owners and executives, and union officials have stayed tightly to their position that testing in baseball is subject to collective bargaining and that unlimited, mandatory testing is an invasion of player privacy.

MLB is in its first season of random steroid testing. But the program still requires five positive tests before a player receives a one-year suspension and requires only treatment and counseling for an initial positive test. Criticism of that effort has heightened as the BALCO probe has continued toward a trial. Defendants in that case, according to an account first reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, supplied several major leaguers with steroids. No players, however, have been indicted.

Selig and the owners pursued a tougher steroid testing program during 2002 negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement with the union. Selig also implemented a stringent, year-round drug testing program for Minor League Baseball, whose players are not union members. But with the 2002 season hanging in the balance, MLB was not able to negotiate a truly punitive program on the major league level.

Also appearing before the Senate Commerce Committee today will be NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, and Terrance Madden, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The NFL levies a quarter-season suspension for an initial positive steroid test.

Selig’s last high-profile appearance on Capitol Hill came in December 2001, when MLB considered eliminating the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins. Selig was grilled for more than three hours from legislators, as well as then-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, suspicious of MLB’s claims of deep operating losses.

Last week Rep. John Sweeney, New York Republican, led the introduction of a House bill that seeks to ban over-the-counter supplements that include steroid precursors that metabolize into anabolic steroids.

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