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New Congress Less Likely to Tackle Drugs in Sports

Nov 5, 2010 – 4:43 PM
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A.J. Perez

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Congressional hearings that have put the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens in the crosshairs appear to be far less likely to occur as the Republicans seized control of the House of Representatives this week.

Rep. Darrell Issa, the incoming chairman of the House subcommittee that called the iconic hearings into steroid use in baseball, has no interest in exploring performance-enhancing drugs in sports, his spokesman told FanHouse.

"I think it's clear to the American people that jobs and the economy are more important than steroids in baseball," Frederick Hill said. "It would be unlikely that the Oversight Committee will turn its focus to steroids or any other performance-enhancing substances. We are more concerned about stimulus oversight, taxpayer money that went into TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) and health care laws."

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's first hearing on the subject came in the wake of the Bay Area Lab Co-Operative (BALCO) scandal that linked several athletes to steroids, human growth hormones and other performance-enhancing drugs. While the 2005 hearing was probably best known for McGwire's refusal to answer questions and Rafael Palmeiro's denials of using drugs months before he tested positive for steroids, anti-drug crusaders applauded the panel's efforts that pressured Major League Baseball to impose more strict testing standards and led to an outside investigation headed by former Senator George Mitchell.
"The committee did an admirable job of getting those high profile players and executives in front of the cameras and put the issue on the front page. ... These players are role models for that nation's youth."
-- Don Hooton, who testified about his son, Taylor, who took his own life after halting cycle of steroids

"The committee did an admirable job of getting those high-profile players and executives in front of the cameras and put the issue on the front page," said Don Hooton, who testified at the hearing about how his son, Taylor, took his own life after abruptly halting a cycle of steroids. "The focus at the start of the hearing was on professional baseball and the players' union, but in time it became about the impact on the children. These players are role models for that nation's youth."

Hooton (pictured below) said without the hearings, not only would pro sports lack better drug policies, but steroid education for the nation's youth -- like his Taylor Hooton Foundation -- would not have been nearly as successful.

Retired Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, the former Republican chair of the Oversight Committee, called that first hearing. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., took over the Oversight Committee when the Democrats seized control of the House in the 2006 elections and again called MLB executives and asked players, including Clemens, to testify in the weeks after the Mitchell Report was released in December 2007. Clemens was indicted earlier this year after a grand jury felt the seven-time Cy Young Award winner had lied before the subcommittee under oath.

No such hearings were called by current chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., although he did threaten to launch an inquiry into the Bowl Championship Series and said he wasn't opposed to more steroid hearings when he took over two years ago.

The prospect of pro sports not facing the same sort of scrutiny as in years past bothers Michael Gimbel. He runs Powered by Me, a Maryland-based program created by Oversight Committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., that educates young athletes about the ills of steroids and other substances.

"It's not like the drug problems in sports have been solved," Gimbel said. "The problem is bigger than just steroids. There are now other performance-enhancing drugs and even supplements that we have to worry about now. Cummings and the entire committee doesn't get nearly enough credit for what they did. The hearings made a big difference and showed their willingness to deal with this issue."

Issa, who was back at his Southern California district and could not be reached for this story, has said that the issue of steroids in sports had run its course, although he was supportive of the original hearings. But the fact that Congress may be less inclined to examine the issue has no bearing on how the other branches of government tackle various investigations related to drugs in sports.

All-time home run champ Barry Bonds faces a March trial in San Francisco federal court on perjury and obstruction charges linked to his testimony in front of the grand jury that investigated BALCO. Clemens' trial is set for April, although that date could be pushed back to later in 2011.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles is working with various federal agencies to investigate whether seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong was part of a criminal conspiracy to set up a doping ring during some of his title-winning years. A grand jury heard the testimony of Ukrainian rider Yaroslav Popovych, a former Armstrong teammate, on Wednesday.

Probably the best illustration of how serious federal agents are taking the issue was how Popovych was subpoenaed to testify. Multiple agents arrived in Austin, Texas, where Popovych was set to take part in a charity ride last month -- one forcing an SUV he was in to pull over to serve the summons.

"The country has a lot of issues right now," Ken Miller, Popovych's attorney, said. "These kinds of investigations should be considered pretty minor. You could start with terrorism, the financial industry then go to violent crime or a lot of other places. The money should be spent where you get some bang for your buck."
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