By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
May 19, 2005
Tagliabue, just recently returned from a trip to China, told members of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection that the testing program the NFL instituted in 1987 is, in many ways, stronger than the one outlined in a bill sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., and that he would seek to retain some facets.
But Tagliabue also told lawmakers, "Our basic attitude is we can operate under something in this area as long as it is written in a thoughtful and effective manner."
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, was a bit less enthusiastic about the legislation, telling the panel that he would need to see the final proposal before making a commitment. Still, he expressed support for a strong anti-drug and anti-steroid program.
Upshaw's apparent willingness to at least consider a federally mandated regimen places him at odds with Don Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, who voiced his opposition during a subcommittee meeting on Wednesday. Among other issues, Fehr expressed concern that the bill might pose Fourth Amendment questions regarding illegal searches and seizures.
Upshaw said he didn't share those concerns, to the delight of Stearns, the panel chairman, who said he regarded Fehr's reference to those fears as "a red herring."
The former all-pro guard for the Oakland Raiders did protest that the legislation's proposed two-year ban for anyone testing positive goes too far, noting that the average NFL career lasts only about four years.
While Upshaw and Fehr expressed differences, neither Tagliabue nor Selig put up much of a fight over the potential involvement of the federal government in their sports.
Selig, who drew congressional wrath two months ago for failing to implement strong anti-steroid measures, said Wednesday, "I will continue to be a supporter of an appropriately tailored, uniform federal standard. I hope that we will have the opportunity to work with Congress in developing that standard."
Both Selig and Tagliabue, ironically, stand to benefit from a governmental incursion into their sports. A federally mandated steroids policy _ the Stearns bill creates a random-sampling system and institutes a two-year suspension for violators _ would remove testing from the collective-bargaining table, an often-acrimonious spot where player representatives use the desires of league brass to squeeze concessions.
Stearns and others expressed determination to work through differences and produce bipartisan legislation on mandatory testing despite claims from players unions that the issue is best left to the collective-bargaining process.
While some lawmakers, like Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, expressed satisfaction with the NFL policy _ which suspends first-time offenders for four games _ they maintained that other leagues, like baseball, have failed to implement sufficiently tough standards.
The subcommittee wasn't the only congressional panel considering steroids on Thursday. The House Government Reform Committee convened to hear testimony from NBA Commissioner David Stern, who was told by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., that the league's testing program is "simply inadequate."
Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the committee chairman, announced plans to introduce his own bill next week. He said the package will contain a two-year ban for those who test positive.
"Our investigation already has spawned results," Davis said, "evidenced most profoundly by Major League Baseball's abrupt about-face on the need for more stringent testing."
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