A U.S. House of Representatives committee has rebuked Major League Baseball for the weakness of its policy governing performance-enhancing drugs. The congressional panel heard from baseball's commissioner, medical experts, star players and the parents of two amateur players who committed suicide after using steroids.
In a crowded hearing room, the House Government Reform Committee hearing started with Virginia Republican Tom Davis criticizing Major League Baseball (MLB) for not taking the fight against steroids seriously.
Mr. Davis said that the league's testing agreement, which has not yet been signed by the players' union and contains a provision that would allow Commissioner Bud Selig to impose a $10,000 fine instead of a 10-day suspension for a first positive steroid test. Mr. Davis said that not enough to solve the problem.
"Baseball cannot simply turn its back on recent history, pronounce that the new testing policy will solve everything, and move on. You cannot look forward without looking back," he noted.
Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning, a former major league player and member of the professional baseball's Hall of Fame, said there is no doubt that big, strong major leaguers are using performance-enhancing drugs. Senator Bunning said that the hall of famers he played with were very different from today's players.
"They did not put on 40 pounds and bulk up in their careers," he added. "And they did not hit more home runs in their late 30s than they did in their late 20s. What is happening now in baseball is not natural and it is not right."
The panel also heard from the families of two amateur players who committed suicide after using, then withdrawing from, steroids. Donald Hooton, whose son Taylor killed himself after becoming depressed when he stopped taking steroids, said Major League Baseball has a responsibility to clean up its act.
"I am sick and tired of having you tell us that you do not want to be considered role models," said Mr. Hooton. "If you haven't figured it out yet, let me break the news to you that whether you like it or not, you are role models. Why don't you behave like we try to teach our kids to behave. Show our kids that you are man enough to face authority, tell the truth and face the consequences."
Several of the top home run hitters, including former Saint Louis first baseman Mark McGwire, current Baltimore Orioles Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro all told the committee that steroids need to be eliminated in baseball. McGwire, who broke Roger Maris's single season home run record four years ago, told the committee more needs to be done.
"It is a problem, and that needs to be addressed," said Mr. McGwire. "Most importantly, every little leaguer, pony league, high school, and college player needs to understand that performance-enhancing drugs of any kind can be dangerous."
McGwire's voice cracked with emotion as he told the committee that he would not sit in judgment of other players. He joined several other players in condemning former Oakland and Texas star Jose Canseco's book about steroid use in baseball.
Baltimore Orioles designated hitter and Cuban native Rafael Palmeiro took a more aggressive stand, telling the committee immediately that he did not use drugs.
"I do not know how to say it any more clearly than that – never," he stated. "The reference to me in Mr. Canseco's book is absolutely false. I am against the use of steroids. I do not think that athletes should use steroids, and I do not think that our kids should use them."
Baseball enjoys a special exemption and tax status in the United States because the sport, known as "America's pastime," has a significant place in American cultural history. Congress has considered withdrawing that special status if baseball does not institute tougher anti-doping policies.