Congress calling league heads to Washington

Updated: September 28, 2005, 10:03 AM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The commissioners and union leaders for professional sports leagues keep tweaking -- or offering to tweak -- their drug-testing policies. And lawmakers keep hauling them back to Capitol Hill, looking for more.

This time, Major League Baseball chief Bud Selig wanted some backup.

Career home run leader Hank Aaron and four other baseball Hall of Famers planned to accompany Selig to a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, the latest in a series of sessions on steroids.

Selig invited Aaron, Ryne Sandberg, Phil Niekro, Robin Roberts and Lou Brock to attend the hearing, a baseball official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to disclose that information.

As of Tuesday night, there were no plans to have the former stars testify, and none was on the witness list posted on the committee's Web site.

Selig, baseball union head Donald Fehr, and officials from the National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League were called to discuss two pieces of Senate legislation that would standardize drug policies across sports. Three similar bills have been introduced in the House.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, sponsored the Clean Sports Act, a companion to the House bill introduced by Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican and former pitcher elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1996, sponsored the Professional Sports and Integrity Act.

Both of those call for a two-year suspension the first time an athlete fails a drug test and a lifetime ban after a second failed test. The four leagues whose officials were to appear Wednesday have less strict penalties, though all have toughened or proposed toughening their programs in recent months -- in some cases, right before or after congressional hearings on the subject.

"If they would take seriously the bills before the Congress and negotiate some kind of settlement that is close to the bills in the House and in the Senate, then I think major league sports and their unions could get away without having legislation passed by the Congress," Bunning said Tuesday. "I don't see that happening."

He expects legislation to reach the floor of Congress before the end of the year.

Bunning was dismissive of Fehr's offer to accept a 20-game penalty instead of 10 days for first-time steroid offenders, a proposal outlined Monday in a letter to Selig.

"Basically, he says, 'In your face. Twenty games, take it or leave it.' That's completely unacceptable to the Congress," Bunning said.

Selig called in April for a 50-game suspension after an initial positive test, a 100-game ban for second-time offenders and a lifetime ban for a third violation. Selig took the get-tough approach about five weeks after lawmakers on Davis' panel grilled Selig, Fehr and players, including Rafael Palmeiro, about steroids.

"If that were enacted into an agreement," Bunning said, referring to Selig's offer, "we could live with that, because that is a reasonable approach. What Donald Fehr has proposed is totally and completely unreasonable."

Asked about Fehr's letter, McCain said: "My initial reaction is that it doesn't include the 'three strikes and you're out' provision."

That mirrored Bunning's criticism of other leagues' drug policies.

"If they give us the excuse that they're tied in to collective bargaining agreements and they can't do anything," Bunning said, "then it's up to Congress to change it and make it the law of the land."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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