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NFL gets its turn on steroid hot seat
Scripps Howard News Service


April 28, 2005

Washington - Appearing before the same congressional committee that grilled baseball officials last month, National Football League administrators emerged largely unscathed Wednesday after a six-hour hearing concerning professional football's steroid policy.

Nevertheless, the specter of congressional intervention arose as Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., and ranking minority member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., revealed that they and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are drafting legislation calling for uniform testing standards for all professional sports leagues.

That prospect distressed NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

"Our sport has developed programs to meet our needs," he said. "We can do better than having uniform standards."

However, consistent standards make sense to former NFL lineman and admitted steroid user Steve Courson.

"That's a good idea," he testified. "It would take the pressure off of the leagues."

Courson has spent more than a decade campaigning against steroids and blames them for heart problems he has battled.

In contrast to the acrimonious 11-hour hearing over baseball's drug-testing plan, members of the House Government Reform Committee mostly offered praise and platitudes toward NFL officials.

"Drug-testing experts have long hailed football's testing program as the top of the heap in professional sports," said Davis.

Added Waxman: "Major League Baseball fought us every step of the way . . . the NFL has cooperated from the start."

Lawmakers did find some areas of concern with the NFL's plan. Several representatives wondered if steroid abuse could be the cause of the huge growth in massive players in the league.

"Only five players in the NFL were over 300 pounds in 1985," said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. "By 2003, there were 327 players in the league over 300 pounds. While I'd like to believe that steroid abuse is limited to a few players, I am not yet convinced."

Tagliabue and NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw both said that the players coming into the league are already oversized.

"The NFL is a product of what we get," said Upshaw, who noted that he played against several 300-pounders before retiring in 1982. "They come to us at the size we get them."

Added Tagliabue: "We don't believe they are getting bigger because of steroids."

Additional questions were raised about the independence of the league's testing program. Dr. Gary Wadler, who works with the World Anti-Doping Agency, testified that the NFL should allow an independent agency like WADA to administer the tests.

But Tagliabue bristled at that notion, saying it was the wrong approach to be "outsourcing the problem offshore."

When asked why the NFL doesn't test for human growth hormone like the Olympics, Tagliabue said the test was still too new to be considered reliable. The first hgh tests were conducted with blood samples at the Athens Olympics last year; 300 tests were conducted and no one tested positive.

Some congressmen asked whether the penalties given to steroid cheats were strict enough. The NFL suspends players without pay for four games for a first offense, and six games for a second offense.

Tagliabue noted that since testing with penalties was implemented in 1989, 111 players have been suspended for steroids. Only two of those players tested positive a second time, and they both retired rather than accept their penalty.

"The program works," he said.

Tagliabue was also questioned about a recent report on "60 Minutes Wednesday" that three members of the Carolina Panthers had prescriptions filled for banned steroids by a South Carolina doctor. Tagliabue said the league is conducting its own investigation and would provide details to the committee when it is concluded.

Davis said he expects that additional hearings on steroids are possible, as earlier this month the committee sent letters seeking drug-testing information from the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, U.S. Soccer Federation, Association of Tennis Professionals, USA Track & Field, and USA Cycling.


E-mail David Nielsen at nielsend(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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