Bush got ball rolling on testing for steroids

2004 State of the Union seen as influence on MLB

Drugs

February 03, 2005|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

Call it the power of the bully pulpit.

In his State of the Union address to Congress last year, President Bush called on "team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid of steroids now."

The two-paragraph mention of performance-enhancing drugs in sports took up about 30 seconds in the 54-minute speech, but sports-drug experts said yesterday that what the president said made a real difference.

"Before you can deal with the problem, you have to put it on the radar screen," said Dr. Charles Yesalis, a professor at Penn State who is writing a book on the history of doping. "It is now on the radar screen."

Frank Uryasz, president of the National Center for Drug Free Sport, said he thought it was "important and necessary" that President Bush addressed the issue.

"I do think it made a difference," Uryasz said. "Two important things have happened this year since he talked about steroids. One is a significant improvement of the major league drug-testing program. Second, the federal government including the steroid precursors like andro [androstenedione] as controlled substances."

The president did not address steroids in his State of the Union last night.

Last month, Major League Baseball and its players union announced a policy on performance-enhancing drugs that calls for every player to be tested at least once a year and for punishment of first-time offenders.

The policy, which runs through the 2008 season, also allows for unlimited follow-ups even during the offseason and broadens the list of banned substances to include steroid precursors and designer steroids.

Uryasz said it is hard to say whether baseball would have acted had the president not mentioned it last year.

"But I don't think we should underestimate the influence the White House had," he said.

Yesalis said he didn't know if the light shined on the issue in last year's speech would do any good in the long run in elite sports. But steroid use doesn't stop with pro athletes, he said. It "cascades down to children."

"The real achievement is it has been a wakeup call for naive parents to say, `Hey, we've got to watch our kids,'" he said.

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