Players in Mitchell report could be called to testify

Updated: December 18, 2007, 5:40 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Congress announced plans Tuesday to review the use of performance-enhancing drugs, with star-studded hearings scheduled next month and legislation to limit access to steroids and human growth hormone.

Two House panels are planning mid-January hearings featuring former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, author of a bombshell report last week that linked more than 80 baseball players to the illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Players, likely some of those named in the report, could be invited to testify as well.

Mitchell thinks Congress should give Major League Baseball a chance to implement his recommendations before taking independent action.

"My hope is that Congress will permit the players' association and the commissioner's office to review this report, to digest it, to consult with their own experts, and to work together to come up with the best possible program. And then, give them a chance to see what they can do, and at that point, take a look at it. So I hope that's what will occur," Mitchell told the Portland Press Herald in Maine, according to a report on its Web site.

With Christmas a week away, there's no realistic chance that the 1,200-member players' association could have a meaningful consultation and exchange of views within such a short time, Mitchell said.

"They need time to be able to do that. Similarly, on the other side, there are 30 clubs. Each of them has several executives who are involved, so you're talking about hundreds and hundreds of people who have to be consulted and have a chance to express their views in this process," he said.

Meanwhile, a Senate Republican and Democrat on Tuesday announced legislation to limit access to performance-enhancing substances and stiffen criminal penalties for abuse and distribution.

Central to that effort is cracking down on the abuse of human growth hormone, a drug for which there is no reliable test, said its sponsor.

The bill by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would classify HGH as a "Schedule III" substance, equating it legally with anabolic steroids and bringing it under the watch of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

That would mean that possession of HGH, a naturally occurring hormone approved by the FDA for treatment of some medical conditions, would be illegal without a current, valid prescription. Penalty for possession could be as high as three years in prison and even higher for illegal manufacture or distribution.

A second proposal by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would make it illegal to sell dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) to anyone under 18. DHEA is a naturally occurring precursor to testosterone and a dietary supplement that some athletes are using as an alternative to illegal anabolic steroids, Grassley said.

Two House panels, meanwhile, are planning hearings on the Mitchell report.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has announced a hearing on the matter Jan. 15. Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and ranking Republican Tom Davis of Virginia said they will invite Mitchell, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, to testify.

Rep. Bobby Rush, chairman of the subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, has scheduled proceedings for Jan. 23. Mitchell will be invited to testify as will other members of Major League Baseball, a spokesman said.

Mitchell's report implicated seven MVPs, 31 All-Stars and more than 80 players in all and moved the debate beyond whether baseball had a major problem with illegal steroids.

That was the question looming over Waxman's star-studded hearing on the matter in March 2005, when five players were compelled by subpoena to tell Waxman's panel whether they had cheated by using steroids.

In more than 11 hours of tense proceedings, baseball stars Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro were pressed about the matter. McGwire equivocated the most, his voice often choked with emotion. He had in the past denied using steroids but under oath repeatedly declined to respond directly. Sosa and Palmeiro said they hadn't. Palmeiro later was suspended by baseball for testing positive for steroids.

At the time, Selig said the extent of steroids in baseball had been blown out of proportion.

"Did we have a major problem? No," Selig told Waxman's panel. "There is no concrete evidence of that, there is no testing evidence, there is no other kind of evidence."

A year later, Selig hired Mitchell to probe steroid use in baseball.

Now lawyers in Selig's office are sorting through the report to determine whether any of the active players named in the report deserve punishment.

"I will take action when I believe it's appropriate," Selig said, leaving open the possibility of disciplining management.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press