NFL done, congressmen turn next to NBA
By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Sports Writer
April 28, 2005
WASHINGTON (AP) -- First, Major League Baseball was summoned by Congress and chastised for a steroids policy that the sport promptly altered. Next up was the NFL, which strengthened its drug program on the eve of a trip to Capitol Hill.
Now it's the NBA's turn to face lawmakers, and commissioner David Stern already is talking about getting tougher testing into a new deal with his players' union.
Even as the House Government Reform Committee moves closer to offering legislation establishing uniform steroid rules for major U.S. sports, the leagues themselves are changing their programs.
``I don't know how the public feels about this, but I think members are pretty united on this. It's a huge issue, and it needs to be taken care of,'' chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., said after Wednesday's five-hour session on football.
``That's why it's important consulting with the NFL, Major League Baseball -- we'll be doing the NBA next -- talking about what their policies are so we don't do something stupid as we implement it.''
Worried that steroid use among pro athletes encourages youths to try the drugs, the committee is examining the testing policies of more than a half-dozen sports.
``How is the average American supposed to look at the size, strength and speed of today's NFL linebackers and not conclude that they might be taking performance-enhancing drugs?'' Davis asked NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Said Tagliabue: ``We don't feel that there is rampant cheating in our sport.''
The proceedings were not nearly as contentious as on March 17, when Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and other current and former baseball stars were compelled to appear and faced direct questions about whether they and other players used steroids. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, also a witness, was roundly criticized for his sport's policy, which lawmakers said was too lenient.
More than once Wednesday, congressmen prefaced remarks or questions by calling the NFL's appearance a ``breath of fresh air.''
``With all due respect, the commissioner of baseball hadn't even read the document that he had given us,'' Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays said. ``I kind of love you guys, and yet I shouldn't because I still have problems.''
In particular, he asked why a player would have to fail four tests before getting banned for life. Some lawmakers asked the 10 witnesses whether the size of today's NFL players is evidence of steroid use. Others asked whether amphetamines should be banned and when growth hormone will be checked for (Tagliabue said there's no credible test yet).
The NFL announced Tuesday that it's tripling from two to six the number of random offseason tests that players can face. The league is also adding to its list of banned performance-enhancers.
The NFL began testing for steroids in 1987, added suspensions in 1989, and instituted year-round random testing in 1990. Fifty-four players have been suspended, and Tagliabue said an additional 57 retired after testing positive. A first offense carries a four-game ban.
``We would be naive to not be aware that there are people out there who are trying to stay ahead of the curve,'' NFL Players Association chief executive Gene Upshaw said. ``As soon as we find out about something, we do something about it.''
Baseball banned steroids in September 2002, instituted mandatory 10-day suspensions this season -- and only eliminated a provision allowing for fines instead of bans after facing the committee.
The NHL does not test players for performance-enhancing drugs, while the NBA suspends first-time offenders for five games.
Stern, attending a playoff game in Chicago, said league officials ``absolutely'' would testify if asked, although he noted there are time constraints right now, including the postseason and labor negotiations.
Those talks include the possibility of expanded testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
``It's incumbent upon every sport to just have rules that demonstrate to their fans that, if you're in the NBA, you submit to a certain amount of testing,'' Stern said. ``It's really a covenant with the fans, especially the young ones.''
AP National Writer Nancy Armour contributed to this report.
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Drug Policy Interesting...
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