- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig yesterday told Congress that his league’s steroid-testing program stands as a leader among professional sports but acknowledged that the policy still does not go far enough.

“I wanted tougher testing. I believe there should be tougher testing,” Mr. Selig said. “This was the best we could do in collective bargaining. But my goal to get to zero tolerance is well-known and remains my hope.”

Mr. Selig received the bulk of a barrage of contentious questions during a congressional hearing that lasted more than 11 hours. Mr. Selig, who has a history of difficult appearances before Congress, had a rare ally in officials of the players union. But his defense of the testing program found little favor among members of the House Government Reform Committee.

“There are so many loopholes in this program, it’s unbelievable,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Massachusetts Democrat. “I am not encouraged at all, and I think Congress has to act now. The time to wait has long since passed.”

The committee is seeking no legislation that would place additional federal regulation on steroids in baseball. However, lawmakers yesterday repeatedly warned that extensive controls will be pursued unless Major League Baseball (MLB) moves quickly to strengthen its recently revised drug-testing program.

Some leaders on Capitol Hill, including Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, have expressed interest in establishing a uniform drug policy for all professional sports leagues.

“The last thing you want is us making the policy. We don’t always do things very well,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chair of the House Committee on Government Reform.

The packed hearing featured the historic sight of six current and former baseball All-Stars — Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas — testifying before the often-skeptical House committee.

Sosa, Palmeiro, Schilling and Thomas denied using steroids. McGwire, who several times came close to tears, declined to say whether he ever took steroids or to discuss any observations of drug use in baseball during his playing career.

McGwire never invoked the Fifth Amendment, instead frequently refusing to answer questions on the advice of attorneys or to “talk about the past.”

“If a player answers ‘No,’ he simply will not be believed,” McGwire said. “If he answers ‘Yes,’ he risks public scorn and endless government investigation.”

Canseco, who recently released a best-selling, tell-all book in which he claimed that he introduced McGwire and Palmeiro to steroids, was repeatedly and strongly criticized by the other players at the hearing.

Schilling said Canseco was “a liar and a disgrace” and was attempting “to make money at the expense of others.” McGwire said people “should consider the source of the statements in the book.”

Canseco, who in his book “Juiced” advocated steroid use, told the committee that he is now against the use of performance-enhancing agents. During breaks in the hearing, he was kept apart from the other players.

Much of yesterday’s marathon hearing focused on MLB’s new drug policy.

The program, agreed to by MLB and its players union in January, mandates for the first time year-round random testing and immediate suspensions and public notification after an initial positive test. It also expands the list of banned substances to include steroid precursors, masking agents and human growth hormone.

Many in baseball called the policy a major step forward, considering the sport’s troubled labor history and the confines of law that governs collective bargaining, and cited the drop in the incidence of positive steroid tests from 5 percent to 7 percent in 2003 to 1.7 percent last year.

The lawmakers called for tougher penalties that would match those levied upon Olympic athletes, who face a two-year suspension for a first positive test. They also criticized testing procedures that allow players to not be monitored for set periods of time and, in part, blamed MLB for the increase in steroid use among high-school athletes.

“What they’ve done is a Band-Aid, and it doesn’t really address the problem,” said Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican and a former pitcher who is a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame. “It’s baby steps, and we’re running out of time for that.”

Don Fehr, executive director of the players union, disagreed, saying the public disclosure of violators of the drug policy will act as a major deterrent even before suspensions and lost pay kick in.

“Whether you are a young player trying to make it in the big leagues, an established star or a veteran utility player fighting for a job, the impact of being identified as a steroid user could be devastating,” Mr. Fehr said.

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