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Thursday, April 28, 2005
 
Should Congress Regulate Drug Testing in Sports?

Perhaps Congress has discovered that professional sports is a major untapped source of campaign contributions. You certainly can expect some campaign money to be flowing in to the Capital in the next few months, as certain legislators have floated the idea of taking the testing for performance-enhancing drugs out of the hands of the leagues and placing it into their own.

For the most part, Congress seemed satisfied with the testimony given yesterday by Paul Tagliabue and other NFL representatives, but some lawmakers still believe a uniform policy for all leagues, one that is far stricter, is the best for sports and the best for the country (Farmer, "NFL boss blasts interference, Chi. Trib., 04/28/05; Brown, "Unified Steroid Rule is Proposed in the House," N.Y. Times, 04/28/05).

Under the current NFL policy, one positive test means suspension for 4 games; the second violation brings a 6-game ban; and the third results in a suspension of at least one year. Baseball's new policy calls for a 10-game suspension for the first violation.

Under the proposal submitted by the World Anti-Doping Association, a positive test would bring a two-year ban and a second positive test would result in a lifetime suspension. In some sports, a suspension for two years would be an effectual lifetime ban, as an athlete would never be able to return to the same elite level, and a replacement would be found. It is true that some track-and-field athletes have waited out long suspensions in the past, but team sports are far different. An athlete training on his/her own is not the same as playing with a team, against the top competition, on a regular basis. And teams will move on.

Even more frightening for the leagues, though, is the prospect that the testing procedures themselves could be taken out of their hands. There is a great deal of speculation that leagues are "selective" (putting it euphemistically) in their enforcement of drug testing. Many believe that although the leagues are strengthening their policies and adding drugs to the banned list, the existing testing loopholes will mean little difference. (Anderson, "The undiscussed issue: steroid test loopholes," N.Y. Times, 04/28/05).

The thought of an independent testing group coming in and suspending a few superstars for two years will cause considerable nervousness in league headquarters. Leagues are fine suspending a few role players to make an example and show they are in compliance with the policy, but does anyone really believe that no superstar athletes have taken performance-enhancing drugs? Don't think the NFL or Major League Baseball is going to give up this control without a considerable fight.





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