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Fehr Is Against Random Testing

Baseball: Players' union head tells Congress there should be grounds for suspicion before steroid checks.


WASHINGTON — The head of the baseball players' union told Congress on Tuesday that players should not be tested for steroids without reasonable grounds for suspicion, and warned against new policies that would "smear" athletes.

"This discussion can be summed up in a single word: privacy," Donald Fehr, executive director and general counsel of the Major League Baseball Players Assn., told a Senate Commerce subcommittee.

The players' union has "always believed that one should not, absent compelling safety considerations, invade the privacy of someone without a substantial reason," he added.

Jerry Colangelo, managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, argued it is time for baseball to adopt screening policies similar to those in place in other professional sports leagues.

"If a person makes mistakes over and over again, we have to deal with it. Being a professional athlete is a privilege, not an entitlement," Colangelo said.

The testimony marked the first time Congress has held hearings on sports drug testing since the subject began drawing intensified public attention.

Unlike the Olympics, NBA and NFL, baseball does not have a testing program aimed at detecting steroids. But attention of lawmakers has been captured by allegations from retired players Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco that a high percentage of players have used performance-enhancing substances. The issue is sure to be a point of friction in the collective bargaining talks that are scheduled to resume today between the owners and players in Montreal.

"Bulging muscles clearly attest to the physical strength of our athletes, but anecdotes of drug use suggest that many may not have the moral fiber to match," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, (D-N.D.), who called the hearing as subcommittee chairman.

The NFL tests any player whose name is randomly selected by a computer. The NBA may test first-year players randomly three times each year, and veterans once each year. All test for steroids and other drugs. In baseball, only minor leaguers who are not included on their major-league team's 40-man roster are subject to random testing.

"Three strikes, and you're out in the NBA," said Colangelo, who is also president and chief executive of basketball's Phoenix Suns. "Random mandatory testing is not to catch anyone, but to act as a deterrent."

Baseball owners in February presented an 11-page plan on testing to the union, calling for players to submit to three mandatory tests each year for steroids and androstenedione, a substance readily available at health food stores that acts like a steroid by building muscle tissue.

A representative for the players association said last week that the players would demand at least two concessions to the owners' testing plan: no suspension for a first positive test; and assurance that test results would be kept confidential.

The issue was brought to public attention after Canseco claimed last month that 85% of players use anabolic steroids. Caminiti said that he won the 1996 National League most valuable player award while on them, and put the usage figure at about 50%.

Steroids, which are banned in the U.S. except by prescription, are used by some athletes to build muscle and help in the recovery from strenuous workouts. Adverse effects of use include facial hair and deepened voices for women, impotence and premature balding for men, and increased cancer rates, stunted growth, and damaged organ systems for all. Steroids may also cause muscles to grow so fast that ligaments and tendons--the musculature support system--are prone to strains and tears.

Some medical experts believe baseball's spike in injuries may be a reflection of steroid use. Last year, players made 467 trips to the disabled list, a 16% increase from 1998. And injured players are on the bench longer; the average stay has increased from 55 days to 58 days, and the total number of days league-wide from 22,100 to 27,430, an increase of almost 20% over the same period.

Doctors contacted by the commissioner's office said the pattern of injuries was consistent with a significant increase in muscle mass, Robert Manfred, baseball's executive vice president in charge of labor relations and human resources, told the Congressional panel.

"No one cares more about the game, and the health of the players, than the players themselves," Fehr said. But he warned that the possibility of over-the-counter supplements like androstenedione could trigger false positive tests in players, and hamper any testing plans.

The union and owners called on Congress to revisit the issue of regulating over-the-counter supplements.

Fehr also warned that public health issues with steroids would not be solved by baseball instituting a steroid testing policy.

"If children are using a lot of these substances, it is in large part because 11-year-olds can walk into the store and buy them," Fehr said. "It's a much bigger question than what we do in baseball."


Staff writer Lance Pugmire contributed to this story.

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