Lawmakers press baseball to clean up its steroids problem
December 5, 2004
WASHINGTON – Major League Baseball should enforce stronger rules against steroid abuse by players on its own, but Congress will require changes by law if necessary, leading lawmakers said Sunday.
Sen. John McCain, the driving force behind changing how baseball polices performance-enhancing drug use, said Sunday he believes President Bush would sign a bill into law.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind. He’d love to,” said McCain, who accompanied Bush to Saturday’s Army-Navy college football game in Philadelphia.
He added that Bush, too, would prefer for baseball to act on its own. “I know that the president would like to see it done through collective bargaining and decision made by owners and labor,” said McCain, R-Ariz.
Other lawmakers, including the top Republican in the Senate and the House’s top Democrat, expressed similar sentiments as cries grew louder for baseball to act.
The executive board of the players’ union starts its annual meeting Monday in Phoenix with the steroid issue on its agenda.
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“Obviously, the steroids issue is something that was going to come up in our board meeting,” union head Donald Fehr said Sunday. “That would have been the case quite apart from this.”
Gene Orza, the union’s chief operating officer, and Rob Manfred, executive vice president of labor relations in the commissioner’s office, have met several times since May to discuss Selig’s call for more frequent testing and harsher penalties. Publicly, the union has shown a willingness only to discuss changes, not to make them.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions with the union,” Manfred said. “We feel a great sense of urgency to complete the discussions, and we hope the union has the same sense.”
The matter has become urgent since the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week details of players’ testimony to a federal grand jury that indicted four people on charges of illegally distributing steroids to top athletes.
One of those indicted was the personal trainer of the San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds, whose 73 home runs in 2001 is the game’s single-season record and who is 53 homers away from breaking Hank Aaron’s all-time record of 755. Bonds told the grand jury he used a cream and a clear substance but said he didn’t know they were forbidden substances.
The indictments were instrumental in Congress’s passage of anti-steroid legislation that President Bush signed into law in October. It curtailed sales of steroid precursors, expanded the list of banned anabolic steroids and established a grant program to teach young people about the dangers of steroids.
“The important aspect of this issue is not Barry Bonds” or other big names, McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“The important aspect of this issue is that high school kids all over America believe that this is the only way they can make it. Ask any high school coach.”
Appearing on other Sunday talk shows, the House minority leader and the Senate majority leader agreed that the best solution would be for baseball to require stronger testing but said they would support legislation if the league failed to act on its own.
“They have a responsibility, not only to the sport, but to the children of America who look up to these players,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Quite frankly, it’s overdue.”
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the problem “could be ended, bang, just like that, if everybody from the owners to the unions just step up and face the reality that we’ve got a huge problem.”
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Frist said, “I’ll support being very aggressive if it cannot be addressed at the more local level, which again, I would much prefer.”
New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, a players’ association leader, expressed skepticism about congressional action. “It sounds great, or it sounds tough,” he said. “I’m not even sure if that can be done. I’m sure it was designed to be, ‘Oh my God, we had to do something.”‘
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.