The Supplements Made Me Do It
As a child, I couldn't get away with rule-breaking by saying, "The devil made me do it!" Yet this is essentially what some Major League Baseball players say when accused of steroid use: "The supplements made me do it."
Today star pitcher Roger Clemens is expected to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. The players and their representatives who have spoken so far -- to legislators and the press -- have offered a litany of excuses for how they ended up in the midst of a steroid scandal. The most preposterous, by far, is that dietary supplements are to blame.
Clemens, for example, has repeatedly denied using steroids or human growth hormone. But he acknowledged that he has been injected with vitamin B-12. Tainted B-12 was how Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro explained his failed steroids test in 2005. In his congressional testimony last month, Baseball union chief Donald Fehr blamed not just dietary supplements, but Congress for insufficient regulation.
"Go to the drug store or GNC or somewhere else and look what's up on the shelves," Fehr said. "Every tree, every grass, every bush, every mineral, everything else anybody's ever heard of is there." Fehr recommended revisiting the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) "to see if it makes sense, so that we don't, in effect, advertise to kids."
There are obvious flaws in these arguments. First, the Mitchell report substantiated that performance-enhancing substances used by players were obtained surreptitiously by a third party, typically at a high cost. Dietary supplements -- or at least the ones governed by DSHEA -- are available over-the-counter. So who shells out big bucks to a shady dealer in a back room, when he can easily purchase dietary supplements from drug stores and health food stores across the country? Someone who doesn't want what is legally on the shelf.
What's more, even Roger Clemens would have to admit that there aren't very many supplements that are injected into the body with a needle.
If the supplements were to blame, you'd think ultra-rich ball players would hire the best lawyers and sue the daylights out of the manufacturers that made them innocent victims, unfairly suspended from the game they love. How many of them have sued to prove that a lawfully marketed dietary supplement was indeed the cause? As far as I know, zero.
To those naysayers who claim that Congress has been negligent on this important matter, I would emphasize that the dietary supplement act, which a number of us shepherded through Congress, actually enhanced federal regulation of dietary supplements to ensure safety. And in 2004, after years of inaction by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, and with the strong leadership of President Bush, Congress passed legislation that effectively banned the use of androstendione and other testosterone-derived products from the consumer marketplace.
Dietary supplements and the laws that regulate them are not and have never been the problem. The problem is that a few athletes will do anything and take anything to get a competitive edge -- including taking substances they know are illegal. And league officials and players representatives who look the other way while all this is happening deserve part of the blame, too.
The sooner Major League Baseball acknowledges this, and does something about it, the sooner it will cease to be a problem. Thankfully, independent voices are calling out baseball's powers that be for their buck-passing ploy. "Professional baseball's response to Sen. Mitchell's report is baffling," said World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey in a statement last month.
Baseball has trailed behind other sports in taking action to address anabolic steroid use by its players. The foot-dragging continues with the lame attempt of baseball officials to deflect criticism and avoid responsibility, by blaming dietary supplements and Congress for their sad situation.
Finally, in terms of role models for youth, Fahey rightfully puts the blame squarely where it belongs. "By not wholly embracing Sen. Mitchell's recommendations," he said, the league and its players "are essentially thumbing their nose at those who care about the integrity of the game and the millions of youth who are impacted by what the professionals do."
The real tragedy is that many young American athletes are following the poor example set by elite athletes. The challenge and opportunity of the future is to set the right example by restoring integrity to America's pasttime.
The writer is a Republican senator from Utah.