<
>

Answers from the presidential candidates to sports-related questions

9/4/2008

Maybe steroids and Spygate don't rank up there with the war in Iraq and global warming, but we submitted questions to the Obama and McCain campaigns as to where they've stood on some recent political issues related to sports. Here is how they answered via e-mail. Obama's campaign staff prepared his answers. A McCain spokesman relayed his candidate's direct responses.

Questions for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama:

Overall, why do you feel you are the best candidate to represent the interests of athletes and sports industry executives?

Senator Obama has immense respect for athletes, sports, and competition. Obama thinks the interests of athletes are the same of those of other Americans in their respective fields. Obama is committed to fairness to athletes as employees, to safety in their field, and to a competitive market for their services. And he believes that the interests of sports executives are the same as executives in other fields. They can and should expect fair treatment from their government and advocate for their views on regulations, taxes, or trade policies. As president, Obama promises an open door and an open mind as well as fair treatment for all industries, but he will not grant special access or special favors to any.

In recent years, Congress has held hearings investigating the use of steroids in Major League Baseball as well as other professional sports. What role should Congress, and the president, have in regulating steroid use in sports? Should the federal government be setting testing standards?

Senator Obama knows so many kids look up to star athletes as people, who push themselves to reach extraordinary feats. That is one of the reasons cheating in sports is such a concern. Of course, voluntary standards are frequently preferable to government regulation. But the government must step in when voluntary standards fail to protect either the health of athletes (or other workers in other fields) or consumers from manipulation through deceptive practices. Some sports are taking more robust steps to police themselves. At this point, Obama is still evaluating professional sports' response to the growing threat of steroid use, but remains open to regulation if necessary.

Various members of Congress have discussed the possibility of hearings into other professional and collegiate sports issues, including Spygate in which the New England Patriots were fined for videotaping coaches' signals, and illegal betting in the NBA related to the scandal involving former official Tim Donaghy. Three representatives have also introduced legislation that would challenge the NCAA Bowl Championship Series as a violation of trade law. What role, if any, should Congress and the presidency have in these cases?

The government has a role in regulating interstate commerce to protect consumers. National sports, its promotion, and the sale of access to it as entertainment constitute interstate commerce. And sports also has a very special place in our national culture. While we should avoid politicizing sports, we have to protect consumers, encourage fair competition, and ensure that the sports comports with what it purports to present to fans -- a level playing field where the most talented win on the merits.

One of your largest sports-related donors is Killerspin, a Chicago table tennis company. As a state legislator, you wrote letters in support of giving state tourism grants to Killerspin for a series of table tennis tournaments. Killerspin owner Robert Blackwell donated to your various campaigns as well as paid you for giving legal advice to his technology firm Electronic Knowledge Interchange. The relationship between you and Killerspin has been criticized as a conflict of interest and contrary to your pledge not to cater to demands of corporate donors. What's your response to that characterization?

The Obama campaign declined to respond directly to this question and instead referred to comments made previously in a Los Angeles Times article from April 27, 2008. Here is a paragraph from the story:

"Obama's presidential campaign rejects any suggestion that there was a connection between the legal work, the campaign contribution and the help with the grant. 'Any implication that Sen. Obama would risk an ethical breach in order to secure a small grant for a ping-pong tournament is nuts,' said David Axelrod, Obama's chief political advisor."


Questions for Republican presidential candidate John McCain:

Your campaign has received more donations from professional sports -- athletes, owners, executives and others -- than your opponent's campaign. Why do you feel this particular segment of donors supports your campaign when your overall fundraising levels are below Sen. Obama's?

I believe that every person that has donated to my campaign has done so with the understanding that I am running to (be) an experienced and committed voice for our country in the White House. Certainly I have at times been a harsh critic of the leagues and their drug policies, but I believe that Americans who are working in our economy understand that we need to pursue growth policies that will promote job growth, and fiscal discipline in Washington.

You also have a vested interest in baseball. Your wife owns a stake in the Arizona Diamondbacks, and you've long been concerned about steroids in the sport. You once suggested that the United States Anti-Doping Agency step in and monitor MLB athletes. If elected president, what role would you advocate the federal government have in regulating steroid use in baseball, as well as other sports?

As I've indicated many times during Congressional hearings that I have chaired on this subject, Major League Baseball and its players association were complicit to the fraud perpetrated on their fans and customers by allowing a culture of cheating to thrive among their players. USADA does a terrific job with respect to ensuring that our U.S. Olympic athletes comply with doping rules, and anything Major League Baseball and the other professional sports leagues can do to improve their testing is positive. This is not only a consumer issue, but a public health issue as our youth increasingly seek to either emulate their sports heroes or use performance-enhancing drugs for vanity reasons. The role of the Federal government in this area is not to regulate drug testing for private industries, including professional sports leagues, but rather to concern itself with the proliferation of drug sales on the Internet, and the health consequences associated with our youth using these substances. We must ensure that dietary supplements are just that, supplements, and not performance-enhancing drugs that are sheltered from regulation. I believe a significant part of this effort should be in the form of youth education.

Various members of Congress have discussed the possibility of hearings into other professional and collegiate sports issues, including Spygate in which the New England Patriots were fined for videotaping coaches' signals, and illegal betting in the NBA related to the scandal involving former official Tim Donaghy. Three representatives have also introduced legislation that would challenge the NCAA Bowl Championship Series as a violation of trade law. What role, if any, should Congress and the presidency have in these cases?

The reason I involved myself in the past in sports-related issues was primarily out of concern about certain injustices that existed. For example, I saw and still see the fundamental unfairness and often unscrupulous behavior exhibited within the realm of professional boxing with little or no regulatory check on those activities. I did what I could legislatively to ensure a certain baseline of fairness for a sport that is regulated for health and safety on an intrastate basis but operates on an interstate basis. With steroids, I saw a youth health issue and a fundamental competitiveness issue that needed to be publicly vetted by Congress. And with college sports gambling, university coaches and presidents came to me and said that gambling posed a significant danger to college sports and their universities, so I held hearings and sought to address the problem. While the NBA scandal, NFL's "Spygate" and the BCS are competitiveness issues that call into question the legitimacy of their organizations and products, they are not issues that threaten the well-being of our youth or general public. Ultimately, the NFL, NBA and BCS will have to answer to their consumers whether their products are legitimate and they have every reason to ensure that they are.

You're a boxing fan and a purist when it comes to fighting sports. And you're not a fan of mixed martial arts, having been reported as equating it to "human cockfighting." You have sought to ban MMA, which is growing in popularity. If elected president, will you continue to push to ban or regulate MMA?

I continue to believe that mixed martial arts is dangerous to those involved and can have a negative influence on children who are too young to understand the complexities of the sport. However, mixed martial arts promoters have now put in place more safety rules regarding the sport than when I labeled it "human cockfighting" years ago. I will continue to encourage promoters to put in place further safety rules to protect the health and safety of the fighters.

Aside from their individual donations, how have big-name athletes, owners and executives been able to help your campaign?

I was honored that (Boston Red Sox pitcher) Curt Schilling, a world-class athlete and friend, took the time to join me in New Hampshire before its primary. I have had several athletes express their support, and as a life-long sports fan I am proud of the support.