KWAME HOLMAN: There is excitement in the nation's capital. The new Washington nationals will take the field in just a few weeks, marking the return of major league baseball to the city for the first time since the Senators departed 34 years ago. Some fans can't wait.
REP. TOM DAVIS: I'm a baseball fan. I always have been. I didn't become a political junkie until the Senators left town and I needed something to replace my near daily routine of memorizing box scores.
KWAME HOLMAN: Virginia Congressman Tom Davis also is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, and he invited several former and current baseball stars to a committee hearing today, not to get autographs, but to get their take on the prevalence of steroid use among players.
REP. TOM DAVIS: Yesterday, USA Today reported that 79 percent of major league players surveyed believe steroids played a role in record-breaking performances by some high-profile players. While our focus is not on the impact of steroids on major league baseball records, the survey does underscore the importance of our inquiry.
A majority of the 568 players in the survey think steroids are influencing individual achievements. That's exactly our point. We need to recognize the dangerous, vicious cycle that that perception creates. Too many college athletes believe they have to consider steroids if they're going to make it to the pros. High school athletes in turn think steroids might be the key to getting a scholarship. It's time to break that cycle, and it needs to happen from the top down.
KWAME HOLMAN: Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, whose newly announced steroid testing policy has been roundly criticized by many on the committee, did accept his invitation to the hearing. But when most of the ball players declined theirs, the committee subpoenaed them, forcing them to attend.
They include former homerun king Mark McGwire and current star Sammy Sosa. Together in 1998 they captured the attention of the nation in their chase to break Roger Maris' single-season homerun record. The committee also subpoenaed former slugger Jose Canseco, who in a new book has admitted his own use of steroids during his career, and has implicated McGwire and others as well.
New York Yankee Jason Giambi was subpoenaed, but was excused from testifying because of his involvement in a grand jury investigation of a steroid distribution ring. Committee members first heard from doctors who have studied extensively the health effects of steroid abuse, especially on adolescents.
DR. NORA VOLKOW, National Institute of Drug Abuse: Anabolic steroids can lead to heart attacks, strokes, liver tumors, kidney failure, and serious psychiatric problems such as aggression, depression, psychosis, mania. Some of these consequences persist long after the person stops taking the drug. Indeed, depression induced by steroid withdrawal can result in suicide weeks after drug discontinuation.
KWAME HOLMAN: And they heard from parents whose children did commit suicide.
DONALD HOOTON, Parent: I have several messages for the professional athletes: First, I am sick and tired of having you tell us you don't want to be considered role models. 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.
And parents across America should hold you accountable for behavior that inspires our kids to do things that put their health at risk and that teaches them that the ethics we try to teach them around our kitchen table somehow don't apply to them.
KWAME HOLMAN: Then at mid-afternoon, the lineup of current and former major league all stars and their legal representatives entered the hearing room. And while there were no cheers or applause, there was a sense of opening day anticipation.
SPOKESMAN: We have a very distinguished panel here, obviously, in front of us.
KWAME HOLMAN: Jose Canseco, whose allegations of steroid use in baseball led to this hearing, was the first to speak.
JOSE CANSECO: When I decided to write my life's story, I was aware that what I revealed about myself and the game I played for a majority of my life would create a stir in the athletic world. I didn't know that my revelations would reverberate in the halls of this chamber and in the hearts of so many.
KWAME HOLMAN: Former Chicago Cub and current Baltimore Oriole Sammy Sosa had his lawyer read his statement, denying he ever used steroids. Sosa then spoke for himself.
SAMMY SOSA: I was back there in the room and I was watching in TV the two families that lost the two kids, and it really shocked me and broke my heart. I want to extend sympathy to those families that got to go through that situation. And, you know, the quicker we can resolve this problem of steroids, which is bad for kids, you know... I willing to work with you guys and do the best that I can to stop that.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mark McGwire was up next and also spoke of the families.
MARK McGWIRE: I admire the parents who had the courage to appear before the committee and warn the dangers of steroid use. My heart goes out to them.
KWAME HOLMAN: McGwire then talked generally about steroids and baseball.
MARK McGWIRE: There has been a problem with steroid use in baseball. Like any sport where there is pressure to perform at the highest level and there has been no testing to control performance-enhancing drugs, problems develop.
I will use whatever influence and popularity that I have to discourage young athletes from taking any drug that is not recommended by a doctor. What I will not do, however, is participate in naming names and implicating my friends and teammates.
KWAME HOLMAN: Following McGwire in the lineup was Rafael Palmeiro, also a Baltimore Oriole. He also denied steroid use as is alleged in the Canseco book.
RAFAEL PALMEIRO: I am against the use of steroids. I don't think athletes should use steroids and I don't think our kids should use them. The point of view is one, unfortunately, that is not shared by our former colleague, Jose Canseco. Mr. Canseco is an unashamed advocate for increased steroid use by all athletes.
KWAME HOLMAN: Palmeiro said he would be happy to join a new "zero-tolerance" task force Chairman Davis announced he was forming to combat steroids in sports. Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox and Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox, who testified by remote, have agreed to be co- chairmen.
But members of the committee found it difficult to draw out the players with any of their questions. Henry Waxman directly asked each of them about his personal knowledge of steroid use in baseball.
HENRY WAXMAN: Is it something that most of the baseball players knew about?
RAFAEL PALMEIRO: Sir, I have never seen the use of steroids in the clubhouse.
HENRY WAXMAN: Let me ask Mr. Schilling, did players know?
CURT SCHILLING, Boston Red Sox: I think there was suspicion. I don't think any of us knew. Contrary to the claim of former players. While I agree it's a problem, I think the issue was grossly overstated by some people, including myself.
HENRY WAXMAN: Do you think it's basically a non-problem in baseball?
CURT SCHILLING: No. Absolutely not. I think it's an issue. I think if one person is using, it's a problem.
HENRY WAXMAN: Mr. Sosa, did you know that other players were using steroids?
SAMMY SOSA: To my knowledge, I don't know.
HENRY WAXMAN: You didn't know?
KWAME HOLMAN: Several members of the committee issued a warning that if officials of major league baseball don't adopt a policy that ensures the elimination of steroid use, then Congress will do it for them.