Mariners' Franklin Suspended after Steroid Testing

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Seattle Mariners pitcher Ryan Franklin is suspended Tuesday after testing positive for steroids. This comes shortly after Orioles slugger, Rafael Palmeiro's suspension. Both players claim they did not intentionally take steroids.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The New York Times is reporting that baseball star Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for a potent anabolic steroid called Stanozolol. It's the same drug that was found in Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson when he was stripped of his Olympic gold medal in 1988. The Times report says the information came from a person in baseball with direct knowledge of the sports drug testing program. According to the article, Stanozolol does not come in dietary supplements. That strengthens the argument of skeptics who aren't buying Palmeiro's explanation of his positive steroid test. The Baltimore Orioles' first baseman said earlier this week he never intentionally took steroids and implied that contaminated dietary supplements caused his positive test. NPR's Tom Goldman has more on the dispute over supplements.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

Rafael Palmeiro's sterling, 20-year major-league career reached its apex last month when he became just the fourth player ever to have at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Now just a few weeks later, all of that teeters on one word, `intentionally,' as in not intentionally taking steroids. In his telephone conference call Wednesday this is as close as he got to explaining how he unintentionally ingested a banned substance.

(Soundbite of conference call)

Mr. RAFAEL PALMEIRO (Baltimore Orioles): At the end of the day, it is important for all players to understand the risk of contamination and to be very careful about what they put in their bodies.

GOLDMAN: And later...

(Soundbite of conference call)

Mr. PALMEIRO: You have to make sure that you see a doctor. You make sure you get your--whatever it is that you're taking, your supplements, that you're taking them for--from a reputable source, and just be very careful with what you take. It happened to me and I--it can happen to anyone.

GOLDMAN: Citing baseball's confidentiality rules when it comes to drug policy, Palmeiro and his agent wouldn't talk details about the alleged contaminated dietary supplements that Palmeiro implied led to his positive test. But the confidentiality rule to protect a player's privacy doesn't prevent the player from talking if he wants to. The fact that Palmeiro doesn't at this point want to divulge what the alleged supplement was makes sports doping expert Charles Yesalis wary.

Professor CHARLES YESALIS (Sports Doping Expert): My guess on this is, if they could have played that card in full light, they would have.

GOLDMAN: Because, according to Yesalis, if Palmeiro revealed a supplement and offered it up to be tested for contamination, he might have had a case. Consider recent history. In 2002, the International Olympic Committee released results of a study that found nearly 15 percent of 634 dietary supplement samples were contaminated with substances that would trigger positive drug tests. And in May of this year, Olympic-level swimmer Kicker Vencill of the US won his lawsuit against a supplement maker and won a jury award of more than half a million dollars. Vencill successfully argued that contaminated multivitamins caused a positive steroid test that led to his two-year ban. Attorney Rick Collins, an expert on doping and the law, says the Vencill case is resonating throughout the dietary supplement industry.

Mr. RICK COLLINS (Attorney): Many companies, I'm sure, are aware of the judgment and I would certainly think that most companies would be concerned that any star athlete or professional athlete who is taking their product might test positive.

GOLDMAN: But while some think the Vencill case may have set an important precedent, Rick Collins believes the issue of positive tests from contaminated supplements may be heading in the opposite direction, actually becoming less likely. Collins, who also works as a consultant to the supplement industry, notes that at the beginning of this year the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 became law. It made illegal so-called pro-hormones; steroidlike substances that were already banned in some sports. Collins says it was those pro-hormones accidentally getting mixed together in the manufacturing process with legal supplements that were triggering positive tests.

Mr. COLLINS: Once these companies were barred from producing pro-hormone products, the potential cross-contamination issue was dramatically reduced.

GOLDMAN: Meaning Rafael Palmeiro might not have such a good case after all. Professor Yesalis, who has studied and doping for nearly 30 years, thinks the case also is weakened by who Palmeiro is, a veteran, star player, the kind who wouldn't, in Yesalis' opinion, practice what he calls `cowboy chemistry.'

Prof. YESALIS: They don't go on the Internet and say, `Oh, that stuff looks good. I'll try it. It says you wouldn't get caught.' Or they don't go down a, you know, dark alley and score their drugs from a guy named Lenny. They don't do any of that. The get real drugs, usually from a physician or other health professional.

GOLDMAN: According to drug experts, Stanozolol is as real as anabolic steroids get, potent and popular. If The New York Times report is true, Rafael Palmeiro is going to have a tough time convincing those still giving him the benefit of the doubt that the steroids in his body were anything but intentional.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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