NFL to Meet with Prosecutors About Doping Inquiry

This week, NFL officials are expected to meet with prosecutors in New York state, where the D.A.'s office is investigating alleged distribution of steroids and other banned substances over the Internet.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This week National Football League officials are expected to meet with prosecutors in upstate New York. The District attorney's office in Albany is leading an investigation into alleged illegal distribution of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs via the Internet.

Major League Baseball officials reportedly are interested in meeting with the D.A. as well. This new steroids case emerged last week when law enforcement agents raided a couple of pharmacies in Orlando. Joining us now is NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Hi again, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Can you tell us a little more about this case?

GOLDMAN: You know, some have been calling it kind of the East Coast version of Balco, the highly publicized doping scandal that came out of the San Francisco Bay Area several years ago. Both cases involved elite athletes and their use or alleged use of banned performance-enhancing drugs, but this new case potentially could be bigger, because it involves illegal distribution on the Internet.

Balco primarily dealt with illegal distribution out of the controversial lab south of San Francisco, and when you look at the fact that this current case, it's a prosecutor in Albany, New York driving the investigation, and the raids happened in Florida, you know, that alone gives you an idea of the scope.

ELLIOTT: What is the connection between New York and Florida?

GOLDMAN: Signature Pharmacies, the name of the Florida business at the heart of this, reportedly was responsible for more than $10 million worth of illegal drugs finding their way to New York state alone, and state prosecutors are being urged by the federal government to go after these kinds of operations because state penalties are much stricter than federal ones.

Distribution on the Internet reportedly is a real problem. The Internet is becoming the delivery system of choice for people who want to get powerful drugs like anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, testosterone, the people who don't have the medical need for them. Those substances require valid prescriptions.

The Florida operation allegedly involves doctors, both licensed and unlicensed, who are writing bogus prescriptions for people they've never even met.

ELLIOTT: Now, we mentioned elite athletes potentially involved, the NFL and Major League Baseball both wanting to find out more. Do you have any idea which athletes might have been ordering some of these drugs through the Internet?

GOLDMAN: Some names have surfaced. They are not the A-list athletes that we've heard about involved with the Balco case, for instance, like Barry Bonds or Olympian Marian Jones, both of whom deny drug use, I should add.

This case we've heard about boxer Evander Holyfield, baseball players like Jerry Hairston Jr., Gary Matthews Jr. We've also heard about a doctor for the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers who bought about $150,000 of testosterone and human growth hormone and charged it to his personal credit card. There have been no charges against any of these people. They all deny drug use and the doctor for the Steelers says he got the drugs for use in his personal medical practice.

ELLIOTT: Now, Tom, spring training got underway this past week, and former Senator George Mitchell has been leading another investigation into steroid use in baseball. What's happening with that?

GOLDMAN: Well, not a lot. And a little background on that investigation. It was commissioned by Major League Baseball a year ago after the book "Game of Shadows" came out with all kinds of revelations about the Balco case. The players union has called Mitchell's investigation a witch-hunt.

I mean Major League Baseball is trying to excavate information about a problem that the league basically let fester for many years. But the players don't do themselves a service by stonewalling, because it looks just like that, hiding behind their union's contention that this is all an invasion of privacy.

ELLIOTT: Is it an invasion of privacy? Do baseball players have that assurance?

GOLDMAN: They will make a compelling case that it is, but I can also offer up hundreds of athletes in Olympic sports for whom drug control and drug testing is a way of life. They have to let drug testers know where they are every day of the year for random, unannounced drug testing. The major sport athletes don't have to do that. Their testing has become more stringent but they still have very powerful unions to protect them from too much.

And you know, it's not surprising. What multi-billion dollar major sport in this country really wants to expose the true extent of its drug use? So the Mitchell investigation continues. He's frustrated by owners and players and the union. He's threatening to bring in Congress to maybe use its subpoena power.

ELLIOTT: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Debbie.

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