McCain sponsoring new steroid bill

McCain sponsoring new steroid bill

The House Government Reform Committee floated another bill that would regulate the use of steroids and drug testing in professional sports on Tuesday.

The bill, known as the Clean Sports Act of 2005, also is sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee and a leading voice in the drive to reach zero tolerance of performance-enhancing drug use in all sports.

Like the Drug Free Sports Act, which is coming out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the new bill calls for penalties that mirror the Olympics: a two-year suspension for a first positive drug test and a lifetime ban for a second.

"Over a year ago, I said publicly that the failure of professional sports -- and, in particular, Major League Baseball -- to commit to addressing the issue of doping straight on and immediately would motivate Congress to search for legislative remedies," McCain said on Tuesday.

"Despite my clear warning and the significant attention that I and others in Congress have given to this stain on professional sports, baseball and other professional leagues have refused to do the right thing. By introducing this bill, I am once again asking the leagues to shore up the integrity of professional sports."

The five Commissioners of each major professional league -- including MLB's Bud Selig -- were in Washington, D.C., last week and testified at hearings regarding drug programs in their particular sports.

Selig has asked the MLB Players Association to toughen the penalties in the current drug program. The penalty schedule is now a 10-day suspension for the first positive test, 30 days for the second, 60 days for the third and one year for the fourth. Selig has suggested 50 games for the first, 100 for the second and a lifetime ban for the third. The union has taken Selig's suggestion under advisement.

Short of collectively bargaining the changes, Selig said he would back federal intervention regarding the drug issue.

The latest bipartisan bill was introduced in the Reform Committee by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), its chairman, and was co-sponsored by 17 other members, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca.), the vice-chair.

The bill requires that MLB, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League "adopt standards that are consistent with, and at least as stringent as, the Olympic standard established by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency."

In addition, each league must at the least adhere to the banned substances limited by the Olympic Anti-Doping Code: steroids, amphetamines and other illegal stimulants, illegal hormones, and "illegal methods," such as blood or gene doping.

"At a minimum, each league must test each player, on an unannounced basis, at least three times during the regular season and at least twice during the off-season. The testing policies and procedures must be independently administered," the bill stipulates.

The legislation guarantees that players who test positive receive the right to due process and reduction of a penalty if the athlete establishes that he did not know he used the prohibited substance. It also establishes a Commission "to report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in high school and college athletics, and to provide recommendations for reducing their use."

McCain said, though, that there was still time for the leagues to act before the latest bill, H.R. 2565, is enacted.

"I remain hopeful that professional sports will reform their drug testing policies on their own -- a modest proposal in the eyes of reasonable people," he said. "However, the introduction of this bill demonstrates the continued seriousness with which Congress views this issue. It should be seen as a renewed invitation to the leagues to clean up their sports on their own without government interference."

The House Energy and Commerce Committee bill was the focus of discussion last Wednesday during a five-hour hearing attended by Selig, the NHL's Gary Bettman, the NBA's David Stern and MLS's Don Garber, as well as their union counterparts. The NFL's Paul Tagliabue and the league's union head appeared the next day.

That bill, H.R. 1862, calls for penalties of a two-year suspension for a first positive drug test and a lifetime ban for a second; random testing of every athlete at least once a year; tests for all substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency; and testing administered by an independent party.

The dueling bills punctuate the point that the Congress is serious about addressing the drug issue.

"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."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.