Major League Baseball Toughens Steroid Policy

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Major League Baseball and its players' union took steps Tuesday that would toughen the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs. If the deal is approved by players and owners, it will go into effect next season.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In this country, major-league baseball and its players' union have agreed to toughen the sports policy on performance-enhancing drugs. It's the second time that's happened in less than a year. The new agreement includes dramatically increased penalties for players caught using steroids. If players and owners approve this deal, it goes into effect next season, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

This is the second time since January that baseball has altered its drug policy, but don't expect more, says major-league commissioner Bud Selig, at least not soon. `I don't regard this as an interim step,' Selig said yesterday. `I regard this as the completion of a long process.' It began in earnest last March 17th when Selig, other baseball officials and a handful of famous players were blasted at a congressional hearing for doing very little to combat drug use in the sport. Yesterday on a conference call, Selig recounted the testimony at that hearing of Don Hooten, a grieving father who told the story of how his athlete son killed himself because of steroid abuse.

Mr. BUD SELIG (Major-League Baseball Commissioner): I'm not ashamed to tell all of you that I--the more I thought of that story, I cried, and I made up my mind that night that this sport wasn't going to rest until it had taken what I felt and what all of us felt were the appropriate actions.

GOLDMAN: After initially resisting Selig's efforts to impose a get-tough plan, the players' union finally gave Selig what he'd called for back in April: tough steroid suspensions of 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second, a lifetime ban for a third. For the first time, baseball will test for and punish amphetamine use, said to be far more prevalent in the game than the use of steroids. And the new agreement addresses concerns about the integrity of the drug testing process. An independent person not associated with baseball or the union will have oversight on everything from scheduling tests to collecting samples to the lab work. The new policy was greeted with a good amount of self-congratulation on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers rightfully took credit for forcing players and owners to make a deal.

Senator JIM BUNNING (Republican, Kentucky): I'm here to declare victory.

GOLDMAN: Senator Jim Bunning said his broad anti-doping legislation with even tougher sanctions would have gone to a vote in the Senate Tuesday night and passed if the baseball officials hadn't worked out their agreement.

Sen. BUNNING: Even though the penalties are not as strong as we recommended, they're very close. It says to those playing baseball, you can't abuse steroids and get away with it.

GOLDMAN: Critics remind us, though, declaring victory over performance-enhancing drug use is a risky business: too many unknown and undetectable steroids on the horizon, not enough tests for the illegal substances we do know about, not enough will ultimately in our pill-popping society. For now, though, baseball's determined commissioner is happy, as Congress waits to see if other pro sports follow baseball's lead. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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