Federal bill would create uniform penalties for steroid use

The drug czar would run the programs of all four major sports, with a mandatory two-year ban for one positive test.

Associated Press
Published May 25, 2005

WASHINGTON - Athletes in the four major U.S. professional leagues would be subject to two-year bans for a first positive drug test under legislation proposed Tuesday that would put the sports' policies for performance-enhancing substances under the White House drug czar.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., joined House Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., and ranking Democrat Henry Waxman of California in introducing the Clean Sports Act of 2005.

It's the second recent bill that would align league policies with Olympic standards without regard to the different impact drugs might have in each sport, the length of each sport's season, the efforts leagues have taken to negotiate policies in good faith or the effectiveness of existing policies.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., who chairs a House Commerce and Energy subcommittee, proposed the Drug Free Sports Act of 2005 last month, and his panel plans to write the formal legislation today.

A third committee, House Judiciary, sent a letter last week to various sports leagues and their unions asking for documents about their drug-testing policies.

"There's got to be some kind of legislation that will absolutely test and punish professional athletes that use performance-enhancing drugs," McCain said.

"There are a lot of issues we would much rather address. And if the professional leagues had taken action, we would not be here today. But they have not taken sufficient action."

All the leagues but the NHL have policies to punish players who test positive for performance-enhancing substances. In response to criticism that its policy was weak despite a substantial drop in positive tests since the first batch in 2003, Major League Baseball has proposed toughening its penalties.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said he wants to add testing and penalties.

With proper training, performance-enhancing substances boost muscle building and can speed recovery from injuries, though the extent to which they improve performance has never been established. Side effects can include suppressed blood clotting, liver problems, tumor growth, sterility and mood swings.

"Steroid use is a national public health crisis," Davis said. "This legislation is aimed at not only getting rid of performance-enhancing drugs on the professional level, but also sends a message loud and clear to the young people of America: Steroids are illegal. Steroids are dangerous. They can be deadly. And there is no place for them in our sports leagues or our school grounds."

Critics have argued that youths who take steroids despite condemnations from parents, authorities and the media probably wouldn't have their minds changed by a federal testing program.

Davis' committee held three hearings about steroid use, with witnesses including players, doctors, management and union officials from Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA and parents of young athletes who committed suicide after using steroids, though no direct connection was made between their suicides and steroid use. Those three leagues and the NHL would be governed by the Clean Sports Act of 2005, though the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy would have the power to add other leagues or NCAA Division I and II.