MLBPA official continues to defend stance

Originally Published: March 6, 2004
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

Public pressure apparently isn't going to make the Major League Baseball Players Association give in.

Gene Orza
Orza

While Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig once again advocated a zero-tolerance drug policy with harsher penalties than the one the league negotiated with the union two years ago, Gene Orza, chief operating officer for the Major League Baseball Players Association, hasn't changed his stance on the issue despite mounting criticism of what some have called a lenient testing system in light of the BALCO steroid scandal.

Orza, who contends that it isn't the job of the union to protect players from things that potentially could be harmful to them, at the possible expense of their privacy, told ESPN.com on Saturday that he didn't compare steroids to cigarettes in a statement earlier in the week that spurred responses by Selig and Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY).

"Cigarettes are worse," Orza said. "And I didn't say that steroids shouldn't be prohibited. They in fact are. The point, conveniently overlooked by Mr. Sweeney, is that it is not banning steroids to which we object, but the manner in which he proposes to detect use -- the unlimited, forced analysis of someone's urine -- even in the absence of a particularized suspicion. I know Congressman Sweeney hasn't read our Joint Drug Agreement. But I didn't know he hadn't read the Fourth Amendment [search and seizure without probable cause]."

On Friday, Selig spoke to reporters at the Padres-Angels spring training game in Tempe, Ariz. Hours later, Sweeney, one of four politicians who introduced the Anabolic Control Act of 2004, responded to comments made by Orza, who suggested it wasn't the union's job to agree to unlawful tests of steroids, which he had "no doubt that they are not worse than cigarettes."

"Mr. Orza's flippant remarks comparing steroids and cigarettes suggest he is sadly misinformed on this issue," Sweeney said, in a statement. "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."

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.

"The union needs to be reaching out, not shutting its doors," Sweeney said. "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."

On Thursday, 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.

On Friday, Selig refused to specifically comment on Orza's statements, only saying, "I read them, I thought about them, and I don't have anything further to say about them."

This season, players will be randomly tested, after five to seven percent of players tested positive for steroids last season. Under the agreement, which expires in Dec. 2006, the first time a player tests positive for steroids, he will have to get treatment. For the second through fifth violations, players face suspensions of 15 days up to a year and fines of $10,000 up to $100,000. A five-time offender in the minor leagues is permanently expelled.

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

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