National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Players' Union head Gene Upshaw have appeared before a U.S. Congressional committee investigating steroid use in the NFL. The hearing was part of the government's efforts to stop illegal steroid use by professional and amateur athletes.
The U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would impose strict penalties for steroid use in all levels of sports. Federal drug officials would enforce the new policy, so no labor negotiations would be necessary to adapt the list of banned substances should new drugs emerge.
Republican Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said that action is needed to make sure that young people do not start using steroids to get ahead in sports.
"Our primary focus has to be the message being sent to our kids," he said. "Children who play football, baseball, and basketball and soccer. Children idolize and emulate professional athletes. Too many college athletes believe they have to consider steroids if they want to make it to the pros. High school athletes, in turn, think steroids might be the key to getting a scholarship. It is time to break that cycle and it has to start from the top down."
Several medical experts and two high school coaches testified before the committee. Former Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman Steve Courson told the committee steroids are a severe temptation for those wanting to compete at the highest level.
"The drugs will always provide an example, you cannot train to the same degree. You can make tremendous gains without them, but the person who is using [drugs] everything being equal is always going to have the advantage," he said.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told the committee that his league has revised its steroid testing policy, including lowering the amount of testosterone needed for a positive test. Out-of-competition drug tests would also be increased from the current two tests to six.
The NFL commissioner said that he was reluctant to implement a worldwide policy, such as the World Anti-Doping Code, because the NFL policy is working.
"I happen to believe that Americans can solve American problems just as well as anyone else in the world. I think when we apply our mind to it, we can be the best in the world. And if we have got to start outsourcing or off-shoring our drug programs, then I think we are in trouble," he said.
The current NFL policy bans players for four games, one quarter of the season, for a first offense, six games for a second, and one year for a third infraction.
The hearing came after the U.S. News program 60 Minutes reported that three members of the NFL's Carolina Panthers used steroids in the 2003 season before the team made it to the Super Bowl. NFL Players association head Gene Upshaw told the committee that football's stand could not be compared to a more lenient policy in Major League Baseball.
"Where we are, we have been doing it [enforcing drug policy] for 20 years. They [baseball] haven't done it that way. And they have to do what's best because I get asked all the time, what advice would I give baseball. I cannot give them any advice; I am more concerned about our league, our players, our teams and our sport," he said.
Wednesday's hearings lacked the acrimony of last month's hearing involving Major League Baseball players and officials. Similar hearings are planned for officials from the National Basketball Association and the National (ice) Hockey League.The congressional investigation comes against the backdrop of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative case, in which several professional athletes, including football and baseball players, were found using the designer steroid THG. Four men have been indicted in connection with the case.