Congress again raises possibility of drug sports law |

Congress again raises possibility of drug sports law

WASHINGTON — Once again, professional sports and their leaders were hauled up to Capitol Hill on Wednesday by lawmakers who say they might try once again to legislate drug-testing policies for U.S. leagues.

Facing a House subcommittee that also held hearings on steroids in 2005, commissioners sat side-by-side with their sport’s union chief: Bud Selig was inches away from Donald Fehr; the NBA’s David Stern was next to Billy Hunter. Then there was the NFL’s Roger Goodell and Gene Upshaw, and the NHL’s Gary Bettman and Paul Kelly, who rounded out the day’s first set of witnesses.

Only one was called out by name in the hearing’s early going, when Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., reminded everyone: “I am already on the record calling for the resignation of commissioner Selig.”

Stearns was the chairman of this subcommittee three years ago, when it brought a similar collection of sports officials to testify. Stearns introduced a bill then that fell by the wayside.

“The purpose of today’s hearing is to restart ” and perhaps finish ” the legislative process we started” in 2005,” said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.

“Let me just say, I do resent the elitists, the cynics and cultural critics who dismiss this issue as a populist spectacle,” Rush said in his opening remarks. “I believe that we can move forward in a measure, deliberative and bipartisan manner with legislation that seriously tackles drugs in sports.”

As members of the subcommittee delivered their opening statements, some backed the idea that it would be important for the government to impose standard testing and punishment on the various sports leagues. Others ” from both parties ” questioned whether Congress should be pursuing the issue.

“Sometimes I think we get our priorities out of order,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., said fans’ opinions will carry more weight than Congress.

“The worse thing that’s happening to these leagues is that fans are losing their faith that everything is on the up and up,” Weiner said.

Not surprisingly, witnesses made pointed objections to Congress’ intervention.

“Federal legislation in this area is not necessary for the NBA. Nor do I believe that a uniform, federally mandated approach to drug testing for all sports leagues would be appropriate,” Stern said, a sentiment echoed by others.

Fehr did suggest one way in which Congress could help sports leagues: require that commercially sold human growth hormone contain a chemical marker that would be detectable in a urine test.

This panel is not connected to the House committee that held hearings Jan. 15 on former Senate majority leader George Mitchell’s investigation into drugs in baseball and Feb. 13 on star pitcher Roger Clemens’ denials of allegations in the Mitchell Report that he used steroids and HGH.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is weighing whether to ask the Justice Department to investigate whether Clemens or his accuser, former personal trainer Brian McNamee, made false statements under oath.

Rush noted that Mitchell was unable to attend Wednesday’s hearing because he is receiving radiation treatment for cancer; a written statement from Mitchell was entered into the record. The chairman also said he was “exceptionally and extremely disappointed” that World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon was the only witness to decline the subcommittee’s invitation to testify Wednesday.

A second witness panel Wednesday was to include the CEOs of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, along with NCAA president Myles Brand.

Horse racing took a few jabs during lawmakers’ opening statements, particularly from Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., who suggested that sport has done little over the last three decades to correct perceptions of a drug problem. He blamed steroids in part for the frequent breakdowns of horses on the track.

“Steroids have been banned in all professional sports except horse racing for a reason ” they’re dangerous,” Whitfield said.

He ended his remarks with the question: “Is it time to call the federal cavalry and send it chasing into your stables with guns blazing to clean up the sport of horse racing?”

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