Sports Leagues Team Up to Battle Drugs
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Representatives of the four major U.S. professional sports leagues and the U.S. Olympic Committee have begun discussions with the White House and key federal agencies to explore possible information-sharing and other forms of cooperation to address the problem of performance-enhancing drugs in sport.
Although the scale and form of the cooperation is still taking shape, officials from the sports bodies and federal agencies say trading information about drug distribution networks could potentially help sports leagues and governing Olympic bodies more effectively monitor athletes while providing federal investigators with tips and leads.
The unprecedented collaboration is indicative of an emerging consensus among sports bodies that the use of performance-enhancing substances is a mounting health and legal concern that potentially threatens the multibillion-dollar professional sports industry in the United States.
The effort began to take shape during a meeting in March at the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Administration attended by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and high-ranking officials from Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, according to several people who participated in the talks. A follow-up meeting was held last week at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Also in attendance at both sessions were representatives from the Department of Justice and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in addition to representatives of the four professional leagues' players unions and officials from the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations.
"I give the leagues great credit for not only initiating this discussion but also reaching out to the right people and agreeing to sit down and have really frank and candid conversations," said Scott M. Burns, deputy director for state and local affairs at the White House drug control office. "We had representatives from the highest levels and key entities at the table to deal with this."
Though Burns cautioned that the effort had yet to result in concrete action, federal and sports officials yesterday characterized the talks as an important step toward addressing an issue that has bedeviled Olympic, professional and amateur sports for years.
"The problem of steroids and drugs in sports had reached enough of critical mass that people thought we should all be sharing information," said a senior official from one league, who spoke on condition that his name and league not be identified.
Several officials said the fact that the major professional leagues are engaged in the effort was significant, suggesting they recognize the extent to which use of steroids, human growth hormone (HGH) and other performance-enhancing drugs could inflict long-term damage on the reputation of American athletic achievement.
The burgeoning partnership comes as professional baseball is focused on San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds's pursuit of the all-time home run record held by Hank Aaron -- one of the most hallowed achievements in sport -- in the aftermath of his acknowledgement that he had used steroids, though Bonds said he did so unknowingly. Bonds has been the subject of a federal perjury investigation.
It also reflects the leagues' apprehension about the recent spate of federal and state investigations into steroid distribution networks that have produced links to well-known athletes.
A 2003 drug bust of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, a San Francisco area supplements company known as Balco, resulted in five criminal convictions while implicating Bonds and dozens of other high-profile baseball and football players and track and field athletes.
An Internet pharmacy raided earlier this year listed a number of professional athletes as clients, and a former New York Mets clubhouse attendant admitted as part of a plea deal three weeks ago that he provided steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to "dozens" of Major League Baseball players. As part of his plea bargain, the dealer, Kirk J. Radomski, agreed to cooperate with an investigation headed by former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell, who was appointed by Commissioner Bud Selig last year to look into steroid use in baseball.