- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training this month, and fans everywhere have reason to be hopeful.

Major League Baseball has seen a lot of recent changes: Johnny Damon is now a clean-shaven Yankee, Mike Piazza is suiting up for the San Diego Padres, and baseball has a new and improved drug testing policy. Our national pastime has done a lot to face up to its problem with performance enhancing drugs, but we as a nation still have a long way to go.

More than a half-million young athletes abuse steroids. and it’s not just the boys. Recent studies show up to 5 percent of high-school girls and 7 percent of middle-school girls have tried anabolic steroids. Steroids not only pose serious health risk, they represent a national character crisis.

America’s organizing virtues are merit and equality of opportunity. Sports are the ultimate meritocracy — everyone is equal on the playing field and the only way to get ahead should be through hard work and raw talent.

Steroids are un-American. They teach young athletes to cheat.

When we drop our kids off at practice we want them to learn about teamwork, sacrifice, perseverance and dedication just as much as we want them to score a goal and win the game.

We teach them integrity isn’t measured in box scores and stat lines, but in the effort they give and how they play the game.

When our athletes choose to sacrifice those virtues by popping pills and injecting drugs, they sacrifice much more than their health: They weaken our very foundation as a nation.

When I first addressed the problem of steroids in college sports many folks tried to tell me “it’s not a problem.” I couldn’t get any major coaches to come before Congress and testify because they were afraid it would bring negative attention to their programs and put them at a disadvantage.

But then Penn State’s Joe Paterno courageously spoke out. Without his help I wouldn’t have been able to pass the 1990 law making anabolic steroids illegal. And if it wasn’t for sports writers keeping focus on the issue, we wouldn’t have been able to strengthen the law in 2004 by banning new substances and over-the-counter performance enhancing drugs.

Though we improved our anti-steroid laws and stiffened penalties for dealers, users and makers, we have not followed through on our national commitment to educate and prevent young athletes from using these dangerous substances.

The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004, which President Bush signed into law, provides $15 million for education programs to teach kids about the dangers of steroids. But Mr. Bush has never included any money in the budget, and the Republican-controlled Congress refuses to allocate a penny. It is time Congress and the president stepped to the plate.

The private sector is doing its part. Last week, I joined executives from Sports Illustrated in announcing a $1 million grant to the Oregon Health & Science University’s ATLAS and ATHENA programs. This partnership will initiate a national anti-drug campaign for more than 7 million high school athletes.

Teaching student-athletes at school is important, but we have to do so at home too. Only 2 in 10 parents talk to their children about the health dangers of steroid use. They never explain to teenagers that doping may enlarge their muscles but shrink their morals.

I hope as parents and grandparents sit with their kids and watch their favorite players and teams compete, they remind them: We are a meritocracy. There are no shortcuts to success.

Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, is a member of the U.S. Senate. He wrote the 1990 law making steroid trafficking illegal and the 2004 law banning androstenedione and tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).

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