The controversy over the use of steroids in Major League Baseball reached Capitol Hill yesterday as the sport's top executives were warned to address the use of performance-enhancing drugs or possibly face federal legislation to clean up the game.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and players association executive director Donald Fehr that their sport "is about to become a fraud" because of questions over the accomplishments of some of its leading stars.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told players association executive director Donald Fehr that baseball "is about to become a fraud."
(Michael Robinson-Chavez - The Washington Post)
"Your failure to commit to addressing this issue straight on and immediately will motivate this committee to search for legislative remedies," McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, told Fehr. "I don't know what they are. But I can tell you, and the players you represent, the status quo is not acceptable. And we will have to act in some way unless the [players' union] acts in the affirmative and rapid fashion."
Fehr faced difficult questioning during most of the 21/2-hour hearing, which was held as the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in sports have reached national prominence. The steroids controversy has forced the historically powerful players' union into a rare defensive posture.
President Bush highlighted the issue of drugs in sports during his State of the Union address in January, and a federal grand jury last month indicted four San Francisco area men, including the personal trainer for San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, on charges of conspiring to distribute anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to dozens of athletes from baseball, the National Football League and the world of track and field. The names of the athletes have not been released.
The hearing in the Russell Senate Office Building attracted an array of sports VIPs. At one end of the witness table sat NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw, the NFL Players Association executive director, both of whom were praised by the committee for their league's drug-testing program. In the middle sat Terrence Madden, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. At the other end of the table sat Selig and Fehr.
The senators repeatedly zeroed in on Fehr and the union, which agreed for the first time to limited drug testing as part of its 2002 collective bargaining agreement with owners. Results of last year's testing of baseball players showed between 5 percent and 7 percent testing positive for steroids, which set in motion league-wide testing this year.
That is in contrast to the NFL, which tests randomly all year for drugs including steroids, growth hormones and diuretics. An NFL player earns a four-game suspension on his first offense. First-time offenders in baseball receive counseling.
"I don't understand why you don't have a policy as strong as the NFL," McCain said. He asked Selig and Fehr, separately, whether they were prepared to revisit the drug-testing section of the collective bargaining agreement. Selig affirmed that he would reopen discussions; when Fehr hesitated and said he wanted to explain his position, McCain interrupted.
"You may start out by saying yes or no," McCain said.
When Fehr said that the union had already compromised on the issue during the 2002 negotiations, McCain asked, "You do not believe further compromises are needed?" The collective bargaining agreement will expire in 2006.
Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) asked Fehr three times whether he would be willing to attend a White House summit on performance-enhancing drugs before Fehr answered yes.
The White House had hoped to hold a presidential meeting with major sports executives this spring, but those plans have been indefinitely postponed, a senior administration official said yesterday. "There's a grand jury process underway and we want to be mindful of that and not to be perceived as interjecting ourselves on one side or the other," said the official, who declined to be quoted by name.
Selig told the committee that the league had hoped for a stronger drug-testing program, but compromised on the collective bargaining agreement to avert a work stoppage.