By DAVID NIELSEN
Scripps Howard News Service
September 27, 2005
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called for the hearing to review the drug-testing policies of the four major North American professional sports leagues: Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League. The commissioners and representatives from each sport's players union are expected to testify.
But on Monday, baseball union head Donald Fehr sent a letter to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, containing a counter proposal to a drug-testing plan offered by Selig in April.
The timing - and wording - of the letter guarantees that baseball will be the prime focus of the hearing.
"Senators will be looking very closely at the substance of their proposal," said a Commerce Committee staffer, who did not want his name published.
Fehr proposed a 20-game penalty for first-time steroid cheats, up from the current 10 days, but far short of the 50-game suspension that Selig proposed.
Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said Fehr's offer was too lenient.
"Donald Fehr has embarrassed the people he represents," said Bunning, a member of Baseball's Hall of Fame who won 224 games in a 17-year major-league pitching career. "He says to the American people, in that letter, we don't care what you think - 20 games is all we think is necessary. ... It basically says, in your face, '20 games - take it or leave it.' Well, that's completely unacceptable to Congress.''
Baseball officials have been subjected to withering criticism for their drug testing policy in previous Congressional hearings. Despite widespread rumors of steroid abuse by players for more than a decade, baseball's management and the players union couldn't agree on a pilot drug testing plan until 2003. Because more than 5 percent of those tests came back positive, the plan called for additional testing in 2004. First-time offenders were not to be suspended, but only receive counseling. Under pressure from Congress, baseball agreed this spring to suspend first-time offenders for 10 days.
Nine major leaguers have been suspended 10 days for violating the steroid policy this year, including Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro, one of only four players in baseball history with at least 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.
Bunning and McCain have each authored bills in the Senate, calling for penalties based on the standard used by the Olympics, with a two-year suspension for first-time offenders and a lifetime ban for repeat violators. Fehr's proposal calls for a 75-game suspension for a repeat offender, with the penalty for third offenders subject to the commissioner's discretion. Selig's proposal calls for a 100-game suspension for repeat offenders, then an automatic lifetime ban upon a third offense.
Both Fehr and Selig's proposals are harsher than baseball's current policy, which calls for a 30-day suspension for a second offense and a possible lifetime ban, at the commissioner's discretion, only after the fifth offense.
Still, Bunning said that the union's latest proposal suggests that Fehr doesn't think Congress is going to act.
"I've got news for Donald Fehr," he said. "We're going to. We're going to do it.''
Expected to testify:
Bud Selig, Commissioner, Major League Baseball.
Donald Fehr, Executive Director and General Counsel, Major League Baseball Players Association.
Paul Tagliabue, Commissioner, National Football League.
Gene Upshaw, Executive Director, National Football League Players Association.
David Stern, Commissioner, National Basketball Association.
Antonio Davis, NBA Player and President, National Basketball Players Association.
Gary Bettman, Commissioner, National Hockey League.
Ted Saskin, Executive Director, National Hockey League Players Association.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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