Lawmakers Upset Over Mixed Signals on Steroids
Baseball Players Condemn Steroids; Lawmakers Say Not Enough Being Done
March 17, 2005 - Thursday's widely-anticipated Capitol Hill hearings on anabolic steroids in professional baseball left some lawmakers frustrated that proceedings designed to send a stark message about the evils of performance-enhancing drugs instead sent signals that were largely mixed.
One after the other, some of Major League Baseball's biggest current and past stars told lawmakers that steroids are dangerous and should not be part of sports at any level. Each made moving tributes to the parents of Rob Garibaldi and Taylor Hooten, two young scholastic baseball players who committed suicide after taking the drugs.
Medical experts testified about the disfiguring side effects of illegal steroids, and big league record holders offered themselves as national spokesmen for anti-steroid campaigns.
Still, it was dissatisfaction over a proposed major league drug testing plan -- as well as equivocation from pro stars testifying under oath -- that left the hearings without the clear message on the evils of steroids that many lawmakers said they'd hoped for.
"More than just the reputation of baseball is at risk. Our primary focus remains the message that's being sent to ... children," says Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who chaired the hearings in the House Government Reform Committee.
"Baseball is dealing aggressively with the usage of steroids in the game," says Richard A. Alderson, Major League Baseball's executive vice president.
But Davis and other lawmakers were highly critical of a plan submitted by baseball officials, saying that it was far too lax on enforcement and that it fails to adequately test for several classes of performance enhancing substances.
Players caught using steroids or other drugs under the plan face a 10-day suspension from play or a fine of up $10,000. Several lawmakers decried the penalties, noting that they could allow millionaire players caught using illegal drugs to pay only small monetary fines and not even necessarily see their test results made public.
"The intention of this program is suspension and public notice of suspension," says Elliot J. Pellman, MD, the medical advisor to the commissioner of Major League Baseball. Facing withering criticism from lawmakers who pointed out that the plan's language calls for no such notice, Pellman offered to resign from his job if the conditions were not met.
Lawmakers also attacked the plan for failing to include several classes of stimulant drugs, including amphetamines, and for relying on a yet-to-be created urine test to search for evidence of human growth hormone use.
Pellman told committee members that he was "optimistic" that a reliable urine test for the hormone would be ready by the start of the 2006 baseball season.
But Gary I. Wadler, MD, who represents the United States at the World Anti-Doping Agency, the group responsible for developing drug testing protocols used by the Olympic Games, denounced Major League Baseball's plan as full of loopholes, including the reliance on urine tests instead of blood tests to find human growth hormone abuse.