The House committee that held hearings on steroid use in Major League Baseball last month turned its sights on the NFL yesterday, asking NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to provide information on the league's drug testing policy, including the results of its testing for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
The committee said it would send letters Monday with similar requests to a number of other leagues and sports organizations, including the NBA, NHL, Major League Soccer, U.S. Track and Field and the NCAA.
In a letter signed by the Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, the NFL was asked to turn over copies of past and present testing policies and details of random testing during the regular season and offseason. It gave the league until next Friday to turn over the documents.
The committee also asked the NFL for specifics on how the policies were negotiated between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, and a summary of all test results since the league began testing in 1989. The letter indicated that the committee was not looking for the names of players who tested positive. The league says 54 players have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs since 1989, 11 of them over the last two seasons.
Committee aides said it was too early to say whether representatives from the NFL and the other sports bodies would be summoned to testify before the panel. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member, was in favor of holding a hearing, particularly in light of this week's CBS report implicating three members of the Carolina Panthers for obtaining illegal prescriptions for steroids and testosterone in 2004, Phillip Schiliro, Waxman's chief of staff, said yesterday.
"New information has called into question the effectiveness of the NFL drug policy," Waxman said in a statement. "I'm pleased that our committee will closely look at that policy as part of our continuing investigation into steroid use in sports."
Tagliabue said the NFL would cooperate with the request. In a letter to the panel released by the league, Tagliabue said, "I have directed our staff to be fully responsive to the committee's request, and our general counsel, Jeff Pash, will be in charge of furnishing the requested information. I will also be certain to stay abreast of our response to the committee's request."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the committee chairman, was not available to comment. A league spokesman said Tagliabue's letter would be the NFL's only response.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, declined to comment on any questions involving steroids, saying he would respond after he meets with Tagliabue, most likely in New York next week. Their discussions also will include more conversation about extending the union's collective bargaining agreement with the league beyond the 2007 season.
CBS's "60 Minutes Wednesday" reported that former offensive tackle Todd Steussie, now with Tampa Bay, former center Jeff Mitchell and punter Todd Sauerbrun escaped detection for steroid use from the NFL's testing program before the 2004 Super Bowl. Steussie, according to records obtained by CBS, filled 11 prescriptions for testosterone cream over an eight-month period in 2004 and Mitchell reportedly filled seven testosterone prescriptions.
Sauerbrun, a Pro Bowl punter, reportedly had prescriptions for syringes and stanozolol, a banned steroid under the NFL program that must be injected to be effective. He also received prescriptions for testosterone. All the prescriptions allegedly were written by James Shortt, a West Columbia, S.C., physician who had been under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The three Panthers' names surfaced in the investigation, but they were not the prime targets.
"The NFL and baseball are completely different," Schiliro said last night. "The NFL seems to have a policy in place. The question we would want answered is, 'Does your policy work?' The question for baseball was, 'Did baseball ever want to do something about the problem?' Every step of the way, baseball was reluctant to deal with it. The NFL hasn't been, but when you watch '60 Minutes,' those guys didn't test positive, which raises the obvious question, how did that happen?"
Robert White, the spokesman for the House committee, said, "I don't know if we have a general impression [about the NFL] at this point. Obviously everyone is curious about the Panthers the last couple of weeks. I don't know if it indicates flaws or weaknesses in their program, or whether players are just finding ways to get around it. We know sometimes these drugs can outpace the testing."