Union chief rebuts critics

Updated: March 6, 2004, 12:52 AM ET
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Amendments to Major League Baseball's drug testing policy don't appear like they are in the offing, at least not in the immediate future.

Gene Orza
Orza

Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association, offered a pointed rebuttal on Thursday to the league's public cry for a more stringent drug policy in the wake of the BALCO scandal.

"Let's assume that (steroids) are a very bad thing to take," said Orza, who was speaking on a panel at The Octagon World Congress of Sports. "I have no doubt that they are not worse than cigarettes. But I would never say that to the clubs as an individual who represents the interests of players, 'Gee, I guess by not allowing baseball to suspend and fine players for smoking cigarettes, I am not protecting their health.'

"Whether it's good or bad for you, it's a far cry to say that because it's bad for you, you should participate in a structure which allows your employer to punish you for doing something that you shouldn't be doing," Orza said. "That's not my understanding of what unions do for their employees."

U.S. Rep. responds
Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-NY), one of four representatives who, earlier this week, announced that Major League Baseball would be co-sponsoring the Anabolic Control Act of 2004, reacted strongly to the comments made by the union's chief operating officer Gene Orza.

"Mr. Orza's flippant remarks comparing steroids and cigarettes suggest he is sadly misinformed on this issue," Sweeney said, in a statement issued on Friday. "Every major athletic association except baseball bans steroids and steroid precursors. The IOC routinely strips athletes of Olympic medals if they are found to have broken the rules. That's why Ben Johnson is now nothing more than the answer to a trivia question instead of a former world-record holding gold medalist."

"I find it sad Mr. Orza continues to protect cheaters, not the good guys who comprise the overwhelming majority of baseball players," Sweeney said. "The union needs to be reaching out, not shutting its doors. This isn't in the best interest of baseball, and it's not in the best interest of America's youth. If they won't do it, I hope the players speak up and demand that their union bosses do the right thing."

The legislation calls for an updating of the performance-enhancing drugs list and seeks to greater penalize the movement of performance enhancers within 1,000 feet of sports facilities.
-- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com

Orza cited two national studies on androstenedione, a steroid precursor. One done at Iowa State University concluded that the supplement, when taken in doses suggested by the manufacturer, does not increase muscle mass. The other study, jointly commissioned by the league and the union, concluded that if a person takes more than the suggested dosage, andro could increase muscle mass.

"You can take two aspirin, you can take 40, but should we in fact regulate aspirin sales more than we do now, because if you exceed the recommended dosage, it will have harmful effects?" Orza asked.

Although media reports have suggested that the league can invoke a clause in the collective bargaining agreement that will allow them to test players whom they believe might be using steroids, Orza called the reports understated.

Orza said that under the agreement, if a club has "affirmative evidence" that a player is using a substance on the prohibited list, the club can refer the player to a panel called the Health Policy Advisor Council. A doctor then has the capacity to look at that individual and if the physician concludes that there is reason to perform testing, things can proceed.

"Simply because you refer a person to the committee doesn't mean that they will be tested," Orza said. "Then you could just refer anyone you want."

Orza said he is disturbed about how quickly society has implicated the players in the scandal.

"There are thousands of pages of documents available to the public -- there are investigative subpoenas, there are reports on investigating agents (supplements), there are all kinds of material that would lead you to conclude that this is an extremely thorough and complete and exhaustive investigation over the course of many, many months," Orza said. "And the federal government hasn't charged one ballplayer with a crime ... The government chose not to charge them and the entire country is charging them nonetheless, what does that say about the chargers?"

Barry Bonds is one of a select group of players who reportedly received steroids from BALCO. Bonds' agent, Scott Boras, who was also on the panel, spoke up for his client.

"Since he stepped into my office in 1996, I believe he weighs four or five pounds lighter than he did then," Boras said. "I've seen what he's done with Jerry Rice, his programs and his conditioning team and his extensive regimen."

Boras did say that he thought many people were making the leap in suggesting that drugs that have been deemed performance-enhancing actually significantly affect performance.

Said Boras: "Certainly there is a question that has been drawn about what these supplements do and what they have done to the game and the fact of the matter is there has not been a lot of evidence that has been brought forth that there is a significant relationship between any of these agents and the fact that there has been performance."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter

ALSO SEE