MLB, NFL each give $3M toward anti-doping research collaborative
DENVER -- Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was looking for a way to show he's really trying to fight steroids. The U.S. Olympic Committee served up a perfect opportunity for Selig to do something more than just talk.
Major League Baseball and the NFL agreed Thursday to join an anti-doping research collaborative spearheaded by the USOC. Each will contribute $3 million to create the most extensive drug-fighting partnership to date between the United States' biggest pro leagues and its Olympic federation.
A month after the release of the Mitchell report, this announcement was especially significant for baseball, which is looking for any glimmer of good news during this winter of discontent filled with news of doping, Roger Clemens and pending Congressional hearings.
"Major League Baseball's support of this important new effort by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency continues our commitment to fight the use of performance-enhancing substances among our athletes," Selig said in a statement.
When the Mitchell report came out last month, Selig promised he would act. The timing of the announcement is opportune for baseball, though USOC chief executive officer Jim Scherr said details of this program have been in the works for more than six months.
"We've worked a long time with baseball and the other participants," Scherr said. "It's been a sincere, long-running effort by them."
The USOC also is giving $3 million, and USADA is giving $1 million to the new Partnership for Clean Competition, a collaborative venture that will use the money to fund grants for research to combat performance-enhancing drugs in sports.
The NBA, NHL and PGA also are participating, and USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth said the USOC soon will secure more contributions from sports and non-sports corporations.
Ueberroth told The Associated Press he expects the funding to go well beyond $10 million quickly.
"We want to be in a place where we can stay ahead of cheaters and buy into economic ways to fight this battle," he said.
Although this program isn't a shift in the leagues' testing protocols, it is significant because baseball and the NFL long have distanced themselves from anti-doping programs endorsed by the USOC and USADA, saying their programs are tailored specifically for their sports and their unique management-union issues.
Part of the research money will go toward developing a better and cheaper test to detect human growth hormone.
Already working on these kinds of tests is Don Catlin, the longtime leader of the world-renowned lab at UCLA who resigned to start his own lab.
Catlin, who could be a beneficiary of this new line of funding, said he was "floored" by the news.
"It's dear to my heart because I always felt research was the answer in this whole field," he said. "They've been doing testing for 25 years, and we all know what they can and can't do. My whole foundational premise and rationale for what I'm doing is a belief in research."
Catlin, who has received $500,000 each from baseball and the NFL for research on a urine test on HGH, said he was surprised the leagues signed onto the program with the USOC.
"That means they recognize the value of collaboration, and that there are common problems that cross over all sports," Catlin said. "That's important."
The research collaborative is one in a series of anti-doping initiatives the USOC plans over the coming months and years.
"It doesn't affect one sport or just sports," Scherr said. "It affects society. It's something the leagues sincerely believe in."
Up to now, the research part of the anti-doping fight has been underfunded. Scientists and pharmacists have been able to come up with new, undetectable steroids more quickly than agencies such as USADA have come up with tests to fight them.
The $10 million, to be contributed by the four founders over the next four years, will be a significant boost to the worldwide research effort. The World Anti-Doping Agency, thought to be the biggest single contributor to the cause, has given $31 million to research since 2001.
"This U.S. research initiative provides a significant multiplication of resources and is a model we hope will be replicated in other developed countries," WADA director general David Howman said.
Ueberroth also would like to see less-expensive tests developed for high school sports. These tests wouldn't meet the standards of a USADA-style test, but could be used, for instance, to help coaches detect possible widespread use on their teams.
"Part of the USOC mandate is that we represent a lot of sports," Ueberroth said. "Let's help them all. A lot of them are defenseless economically. That's another reason we took the lead."
The Partnership for Clean Competition will have a board of governors, with one member from each of the founding partners. That board will appoint a scientific research advisory board. The scientific board will review grant requests and track results of research projects.
"Our support of the Partnership for Clean Competition is consistent with our long-standing commitment to invest in research that advances the goal of eliminating doping in sport," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said.
The NFL has had an extensive anti-doping policy in place for several years. Though it lacks a test for HGH, it is considered effective because it bans players for four games after a first positive steroids test and goes after salaries and signing bonuses.
Both baseball and the NFL also have been active in other anti-doping programs. In October, the NFL gave $1.2 million to the Atlas and Athena program, which encourages high school students to look to exercise and healthy eating instead of steroids and HGH. Baseball has alliances with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the Taylor Hooton Foundation.
One of the key components of the Mitchell report was the recommendation that baseball employ an independent anti-doping corporation to run its steroids program. Although baseball's contribution to this new project falls short of that, it is a substantial alliance with the USOC and USADA, which runs the kind of program the Mitchell report endorses.
"USADA welcomes and greatly appreciates the shared commitment of the U.S. Olympic Committee, National Football League and Major League Baseball, and that of others who join us in this important endeavor," said Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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