SBD/Issue 165/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Commissioners, Union Heads Continue Testimony At Capitol

NBA Commissioner David Stern, NBA Senior VP & General Counsel Richard Buchanan, NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter, Rockets VP/Operations & Trainer Keith Jones and Wizards G Juan Dixon testified this morning before the U.S. House Government Reform Committee during a hearing on steroid use in the league. Committee Chair Tom Davis (R-VA) in his opening statement said, “Taking testing results from rookie players and extrapolating the results to reflect on the entire league doesn’t cut it.” Ranking minority member Henry Waxman (D-CA) added, “The NBA penalties are not strong enough to provide a significant deterrent. ... The NBA’s remarkably weak steroid program makes it impossible to know whether there is a problem.” Committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said, “I am disturbed by the fact that the NBA’s steroids testing policy is weaker than that of the NFL or MLB.” Cummings: “If ever there was a time to have an effective steroid testing program, it is now. ... It is my hope that the players will recognize the urgent need to adopt the recommended changes” (ESPNews, 5/19).

FOR OPENERS: Stern, in his prepared opening statement, said, “The NBA is fully committed to a strong and effective drug testing program for steroids and performance-enhancing substances. We made a good start in this area with the creation of our first steroids program in 1999, but intend to do better by making improvements in this program prior to the start of next season” (NBA).

Stearnes Hears From NFL
Execs During Last Session
TAGS, YOU’RE IT: At the same time as the House Government Reform Committee hearing, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade & Consumer Protection concluded its hearing on the Drug Free Sports Act of 2005 with a panel featuring NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw and NFL Exec VP/Labor Relations Harold Henderson. Tagliabue during his opening statement said, “We think that the way the bill is written could easily be construed as superseding and effectively repealing the (National Labor Relations Act) when it comes to collectively-bargained programs in professional sports, and we feel that would be unfortunate. ... We think we can manage this critical function (of our business).” But Tagliabue added, “If the committee concludes that legislation is necessary, we would look forward to continuing to work with the committee on the specifics.” Upshaw said of the bill, “We strongly believe as players that the two-year ban is strictly too much. ... If you lose two years in a suspension for a first offense, your career is basically over.” Upshaw added, “I think we have to draft ... an agreement and a policy that addresses football” (ESPNews, 5/19).

TWO HARSH: Subcommittee Chair Cliff Stearns (R-FL) asked Tagliabue if he felt the two-year suspension for the first offense “is too draconian,” to which Tagliabue replied, “Yes. ... If there are federal standards, and they are high and they are demanding, fine. What I do not want to see happen here is our ability effectively to run the best program in the country (be) limited. If I want to fire somebody, ... (who) didn’t do his or her job, I want to be able to fire that person and not have to go to the Secretary of Commerce” (ESPNews, 5/19).

FOOTBALL FANS: Several members of the Subcommittee praised the NFL for its testing program, including House Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Joe Barton (R-TX), who said, “I think in many ways, y’all have done an excellent job. ... (But) we do want to have one testing agency so we get uniformity.” Subcommittee member Edolphus Towns (D-NY) added, “I think that the real problem is that some of the other ... leagues have not made the kind of progress that you’ve made.” Towns added, “When someone is doing basically what they should do, we should leave them alone. And you seem to be doing that. ... Others are not doing that.” Towns said to Stearns, “When you have someone that’s moving forward in a very positive kind of way, I wonder if we should take action now, or should we wait and see if others get the message. ... I would prefer us not being involved in it if we don’t have to be involved in it” (ESPNews, 5/19).

Stern Outlines Drug-Testing
Proposals During Hearing
TESTING PROCEDURE: Stern and Hunter appeared before the Subcommittee during Wednesday afternoon’s session. Stern outlined the drug-testing proposals the league has made during CBA negotiations, under which a first positive test would result in a ten-game suspension, a second positive would result in a 25-game suspension and a third positive would result in a player being “dismissed and disqualified” from the league, with the possibility of reinstatement after two years. The NBA has also proposed increasing the number of random tests to four per season, plus one random offseason test. Currently, rookies may be tested three times per season, while veterans may be tested once during the preseason only. Hunter indicated that he would agree to at least one test for veterans during the season. Barton said to Hunter, “You can be assured that the law is going to require a year-round testing program. ... Tell (the players) the Chairman says they’re going to have to. Make me the black hat” (ESPNews, 5/18).

HONOR SYSTEM: Hunter said that the league depends on players to report someone they suspect of using performance enhancing drugs. Stearns asked Hunter, “Do you think that policy would work with the Olympics? Do you think it would work with the NCAA? Obviously not, because they have random testing, and it’s throughout the whole year.” Hunter: “I think what has happened is that we’ve gone through a revolution. ... When the policy was adopted, we didn’t have the problem.” Stearns: “I suspect that you don’t know that you don’t have a problem if you don’t test.” Hunter: “We don’t have a problem” (ESPNews, 5/18).

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING: Hunter echoed the sentiment expressed by representatives from MLB, MLS, the NHL and their respective unions during the morning session that collective bargaining was the best way to deal with performance-enhancing drugs. Hunter: “We continue to believe that collective bargaining is the most appropriate form for the resolution of these items.” Barton responded, “In a perfect world, I’d rather this be done at the collective bargaining table. ... We don’t live in a perfect world. I think there really needs to be a federal standard.” Stern told the Subcommittee, “We feel we have a strong program, and it will get much stronger –- much, much stronger. But if Congress sees fit to legislate here, I can pledge to you that we will meet or exceed any standard that is set” (ESPNews, 5/18).

ULTIMATUM: Much of the discussion from the Subcommittee during the morning session focused on MLB and the increased penalties proposed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Subcommittee member Lee Terry (R-NE) said, “The only way to maybe clear our minds or give us confidence is by a harder stance. ... I urge you to clean it up and adopt harsher measures soon, and perhaps we won’t have to adopt legislation.” Subcommittee member Fred Upton (R-MI) said, “We’ll move this bill, particularly if you all stay stuck at ten (games suspended for a first offense).” Selig: “There should be no doubt left in anyone’s mind that we have rid our sport of steroids, and to do that we have to toughen the penalties” (ESPNews, 5/18). Barton said that the bill “would move forward regardless of baseball’s next move,” though Stearns noted that it “could lose momentum if the union agrees to Selig’s proposal” (NEWSDAY, 5/19).

Selig Receives Praise For Performance During Return Trip To Capitol Hill

FEHR BURNED: Subcommittee member Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said to Fehr, “It seems that you might be one of the few people in the world that thinks baseball’s current penalties are tough enough. I have to ask you, are you spectacularly misguided in your approach to this issue and to the legislation?” Fehr: “The data indicates that (MLB’s current policy) does (work). The incidents of use fell precipitously once the program was put in.” Blackburn then asked, “Is it (MLB) players pushing you to keep the penalties where they are, or is it you that is pushing to keep the penalties where they are?” Fehr: “This has been an issue that has been divisive (among the players). ... I expect that that dialogue will continue” (ESPNews, 5/18). Blackburn also noted that Fehr had served as USOC Public Sector BOD member “at the same time he was working to minimize drug testing in baseball.” Fehr said that he “had not dealt with drug issues on the Olympic committee because that would have been a conflict of interest” (George Vecsey, N.Y. TIMES, 5/19).

NEW TARGET: After the hearing, Stearns said that he was “disappointed with Fehr’s slowness in addressing the issue and that Fehr ‘didn’t fare as well as he should have’” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/19). Stearns, on the position of the unions: “When I hear them throwing up the collective bargaining screen and the Fourth Amendment screen, I think, ‘We’ve got to keep moving forward’” (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/19). Subcommittee member Tim Murphy (R-PA) said, “I never heard the players association say, ‘We don’t want government involvement,’ when the facilities were being built. It seems to me there are two standards. You’re saying give us the money but don’t watch what we do” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 5/19).

FEHR REAX: In DC, Thomas Boswell writes, “Another significant step was taken yesterday on Capitol Hill in the slow, inexorable, but necessary process of bludgeoning Donald Fehr and his baseball union on the need for more stringent testing and punishments for steroids cheating. ... Fehr had his worst day yet. Which means that, for those who want to see the Steroid Age die a swift and complete death, baseball had its best day in a long time” (WASHINGTON POST, 5/19). Also in DC, Eric Fisher writes the Subcommittee “grilled Donald Fehr ... in a fashion typically reserved for Selig” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/19). However, NEWSDAY’s Neil Best writes Fehr faced “the brunt of Congress’ concerns. As ever, Fehr was unshakable in the face of criticism and pointed questioning” (NEWSDAY, 5/19).

SELIG REAX: The N.Y. TIMES’ Vecsey writes of Selig’s appearance, “The new baseball commissioner, this man we’ve never seen before, vowed that baseball would turn back the forces of evil. ... Selig did everything but stand up on a table and shout, ‘Off with their heads!’ It was perhaps his finest hour” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/19). The WASHINGTON TIMES’ Fisher writes that “unlike many prior, embattled appearances before Congress, Selig yesterday remained calm, focused and received none of the rebukes dominating” the House Government Reform Committee hearing in March (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/19). In N.Y., Jay Greenberg: “Congress now loves the new, rough, tough, Bud Selig” (N.Y. POST, 5/19). Also in N.Y., T.J. Quinn notes the differences between MLB’s Government Reform Committee hearing in March, and writes, “This time, with the help of consultant and former White House spokesman Ari Fleisher, baseball carefully crafted its message and pledged its cooperation, proposing tougher standards earlier this month and putting the union on the defensive” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/19). The WASHINGTON POST’s Boswell: “Selig has finally seen the light. Or, perhaps, he has simply heard the howls and growls of Congress, the outrage of the public and media, as well as the investigations of some of his players by the FBI and Justice Department” (WASHINGTON POST, 5/19).

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES: ESPN.com’s Buster Olney said Selig’s stance has “cost him credibility with the union. Two months ago, the players saw Bud Selig sit before Congress and say, ‘Hey, this testing system is working; let’s give it a chance.’ Now he’s throwing (the union) under the bus. I think they’re asking the question, ‘Can we trust this guy?’ This may manifest itself in the next collective bargaining that’s done after (the ’06 season)” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 5/18). The N.Y. POST’s Greenberg writes Fehr “undoubtedly saw through Selig’s new proposal for its intended pressure on the union. Fehr wouldn’t dare say so publicly, because using the game’s integrity as a bargaining chip no longer flies. But we would be surprised if, after this, the union will be in any mood for further givebacks when the owners will come after more in 2007” (N.Y. POST, 5/19).

POWER STRUGGLE: The N.Y. DAILY NEWS’ Quinn writes the Subcommittee “appears to be in a minor turf war with” the House Government Reform Committee. Stearns said that “only his committee has jurisdiction over the issue.” Subcommittee member Bobby Rush (D-IL) said that it “was good to be holding hearings ‘in the actual committee that has jurisdiction on this matter’” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/19).

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