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Major League Baseball Players Testify Before Congress About Steroid Use

March 17, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JEFFREY BROWN: And for more on today’s hearing and the problem of performance enhancing drugs, I’m joined now by Mike Wise, sports columnist for the Washington Post. Mike welcome.

This week there was a lot of talk about grandstanding, there was a lot of skepticism about what this hearing would entail, what it would be about. At its core, what was its significance do you think?

MIKE WISE: I think that baseball had to answer some tough questions about its own policies. I think most of the congressmen involved, the questions centered around, whether baseball can police itself.

Frankly, I mean, they made a good argument as the actual policy unraveled that they can’t. I mean, to me, it’s not a meaningless policy, but it is clearly not the step in the direction that a lot of people want them to take.

JEFFREY BROWN: This morning they focused, as we heard in Kwame’s piece, with some scientific research and families. Now, you’ve covered sports at all different levels. How pervasive is the use of steroids?

MIKE WISE: I would say it’s frighteningly pervasive where you could go to any gym, any big-time gym in the city, you could probably go back to the free lift areas and you could probably meet somebody that could procure them for you.

The sad thing is it’s filtered down into our high schools, into our middle schools now, and there is an acceptance. And the availability of it on the Internet, the availability through friends, through other places, you know, it’s prevalent.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s that parent we heard who said the players need to know that they are role models.

MIKE WISE: Yeah, I think Donald Hooten, who lost his son Taylor, very upset about things. His son was a pitcher. He wanted to be a starting pitcher on his baseball team. He believes and doctors believe that his suicide was a result of withdrawal from anabolic steroids.

Five hundred thousand kids, that’s the latest estimate, in high school use anabolic steroids. I think that’s a little alarming, and I think more than a baseball issue; it’s a public health issue.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, baseball’s new regime, which you referred to just a moment ago, when the details were released yesterday when we were able to see it for the first time, when it was released, of course, there was a lot of hoopla about it, but when people saw the details, there was a lot of criticism. Why?

MIKE WISE: I think that when you look at, say, for instance, the IOC, which began…

JEFFREY BROWN: Which is the Olympic -

MIKE WISE: Yes, I’m sorry, the International Olympic Committee. In 1976, they decided to start testing for steroids, performance-enhancing substances. Not until 2002 has baseball decided to do that, and the policy itself, you have to test positive four times, Jeff, in order to be suspended for one year.

The International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, one positive test is a two-year ban automatically. Until baseball catches up to that, what I would say the gold standard of drug testing, I don’t see this being an effective policy

JEFFREY BROWN: Let’s talk a little bit about what we saw with the players today. A lot of focus was on Mark McGwire. He said repeatedly that he would not talk about the past. Explain for those who maybe don’t follow baseball why that is significant and why so much focus on him.

MIKE WISE: Mark McGwire, only five players in the history of the game have hit more homeruns than his 583 homeruns. In 1998, four years after America basically turned off the sport after a strike, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire reinvigorated baseball in America, brought back this nostalgic feeling.

They were crushing balls over the fence, and they both broke Roger Maris’s 61-homerun record. Now, years later with these accusations, people are wondering, was 1998 a big lie? Were what we were seeing, was that real?

JEFFREY BROWN: And that ultimately is one of the big questions, is whether much of what we’ve seen is tainted.

MIKE WISE: I think people are wondering right now… I think there is a segment of society that’s really concerned about it, and they want to clean it up. And they hope that educators and children will see, if not the public humiliation of these athletes, at least some hard questioning of them, and they’ll take that and they’ll say, “Well, I’m not going to put anything in my body.” I also think there is another segment of society that would almost turn a blind eye, like baseball has for many years.

JEFFREY BROWN: I wanted to ask you about the role of the public because, after all, Opening Day is only a few weeks away. Is the public in some sense, are we all sort of implicated in this by how much attention we pay or how much attention we just don’t pay?

MIKE WISE: I thought Dennis Kucinich made a great point when he said this is beyond baseball, beyond steroids; this is a win-at-all-cost mentality that has sort of infected us in this society. And so all we do is try to finish number one. Number two is no good anymore.

So I think the public has turned a blind eye. We don’t care how Sammy Sosa hits the ball out of Camden Yards, some of us, we just want to see him do it. And so I think in some ways we just would rather turn away from the steroid story, like we would a tax code story on the front page. We go to the sports section for fun and games. We don’t want this in our lives.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of the questions that did come up, and we saw it at the end of Kwame’s piece, it came up over and over again, is whether there needs to be a kind of federal legislation which goes to all sports to create one standard. You talked about the Olympic standard. But how would that work and how realistic do you think that might be?

MIKE WISE: An umbrella testing policy would be wonderful, it’d be idealistic. I don’t think with, for instance, the Baseball Players Union, which is the strongest union in all of professional sports and a model for a lot of other unions in some ways would ever allow that.

There would just be too much collective bargaining; there’d be too much money at stake. I just don’t see that happening. I do see it happening in amateur athletics, and I do see possibly college, maybe the NCAA and maybe high school athletics doing the same thing.

JEFFREY BROWN: Okay, Mike Wise of the Washington Post, thanks a lot.

MIKE WISE: All right. Thanks, Jeff.