WASHINGTON – Despite what he called an "abrupt about-face" by Major League Baseball (search), the head of a congressional panel said Thursday he will propose a law creating a drug testing standard for the four major professional sports leagues.
House Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., opened a hearing on steroids in the National Basketball Association by saying he'll produce a uniform drug testing bill next week. Davis promised the legislation he's drafting with ranking Democrat Henry Waxman of California and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., "will have more teeth than other bills introduced."
Davis didn't go into detail, but Waxman said their legislation would follow the Olympic model and would call for a two-year ban for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second offense.
Those are the same penalties in the Drug Free Sports Act introduced last month by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee conducting a separate inquiry into steroid use.
Stearns' panel is holding hearings to discuss his proposed legislation, with National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw appearing Thursday.
Referring to the proposed bill, Tagliabue said he "would respectfully urge that it not be enacted into law in its present form."
"The drug testing program in the NFL is not a 'problem' that needs federal legislation in order to be 'fixed,"' Tagliabue added in his written testimony.
About 100 yards away, in another wood-paneled hearing room, Davis' committee was hearing Thursday from NBA commissioner David Stern, NBA union leader Billy Hunter, Washington Wizards guard Juan Dixon (search) and Houston Rockets trainer Keith Jones. The lawmakers held hearings on baseball in March and football in April.
"Certainly, the NBA is not suffering under the same cloud of steroid use suspicion that has been hovering over other professional sports," Davis said.
But, he continued, "How do we know for sure there's no steroid problem in the NBA if its testing policies are so weak? If there's little or no upside to using steroids in basketball, why doesn't the NBA have the strongest policy in all of sports?"
Waxman called the NBA's policy "simply inadequate. Of the professional sports policies this committee has reviewed, the NBA policy appears to be the weakest."
Stern repeated what he told Stearns' subcommittee on Wednesday: He has told Hunter that he wants to add more in-season tests, double the penalty for a first offense to 10 games, and kick players out of the league for a third positive test.
"The union supports some changes," Hunter said Thursday.
"Our investigation already has spawned results, evidenced most profoundly by Major League Baseball's abrupt about-face on the need for more stringent testing," Davis said.
When baseball commissioner Bud Selig testified before Davis' panel in March, he defended his sport's steroids policy against withering criticism, calling it "as good as any in professional sports."
He also said he had agreed to shorter penalties "on the theory that behavior modification should be the most important goal."
When he returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify before Stearns' subcommittee along with the commissioners and union chiefs from the NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer, Selig articulated other goals: wiping out steroids in baseball and restoring the game's reputation.
"I'm proud of this sport, and I've been saddened by what I've read, what I've heard. Do I think a lot of it has been unfair? I do. But it's up to us to take the next step and that is to remove any doubt. There should be no equivocation about what this sport wants, what it did about it and how it cleaned it up," Selig said.
On Wednesday, several lawmakers lauding the commissioner for his recent attempts to strengthen baseball's drug program. He testified about the details of his proposals.
"We need to do this as soon as possible," Selig said. "We just need to keep the intensity and get it done. So we can quit talking about it."
Baseball banned steroids in September 2002 and instituted mandatory 10-day suspensions this season. In a letter to union head Donald Fehr last month, Selig suggested that starting in 2006, major league players be given 50-game suspensions for a first positive test for steroids, 100-game penalties for a second positive test and lifetime bans for a third. There are 162 games in a season.
Selig also wants to ban amphetamines.
"Mr. Selig, you've come a long way," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.