WASHINGTON - Sen. John McCain teamed with House members yesterday to unveil the toughest legislation to date aimed at forcing big league baseball, football, basketball and hockey players to submit to the same rigorous anti-steroid regimen as Olympic athletes.
McCain and the Clean Sports Act of 2005's House sponsors predicted swift congressional action. "I am confident we will be able to move this in a timely fashion," the Arizona Republican said at a news conference.
Added Rep. Mark E. Souder, an Indiana Republican: "Watch how fast it can move without steroids and amphetamines in Congress. This bill is greased. It's going to move rapidly."
The measure would place Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL under the disciplinary schedule faced by Olympians who use performance-boosting drugs: a two-year suspension for a first violation and a lifetime ban for a second. It would require the leagues to adopt the expansive list of prohibited drugs - including steroids, amphetamines and stimulants - under the Olympic anti-doping code.
"I think we have taken a giant step here today," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who is a sponsor of the bill.
McCain said he had hoped legislation wouldn't be necessary, but the leagues' inaction forced his hand. In particular, he seemed frustrated at the Major League Baseball Players Association, which has not yet responded to commissioner Bud Selig's calls to radically toughen the existing policy that includes a 10-day suspension for a first steroid infraction. Union chief Donald Fehr said recently that he needs to discuss the proposal with players first.
"We haven't heard a word since then," McCain said.
McCain said he was particularly motivated by a March 17 House hearing - which he watched on television - in which two couples blamed steroids for their sons' suicides. The Hootons of Texas and the Garibaldis of California said their sons, one in high school and one in college, were advised by coaches to bulk up. Each family blames steroids for the young men's deaths.
Said McCain: "I didn't think there was a dry eye in the house. It's what compelled me."
The McCain bill's outlines had been hinted at last week by its House sponsors, including Virginia Republican Tom Davis and California Democrat Henry Waxman. Both had promised their measure would be more stringent than legislation drafted by Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns.
Like the new bill, Stearns' measure mandates the sports leagues to enforce at least a two-year suspension for an initial steroid offense. But while Stearns' measure requires that each athlete be randomly tested at least once a year, the McCain bill orders three unannounced tests during the season and two during the offseason.
The legislation requires that steroid tests be independently administered. That provision got a boost earlier in the day when U.S. Olympic Committee chief Jim Scherr told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee of the merits of having an outside drug-testing administrator. Scherr testified at a hearing that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would be well-equipped to assume authority over professional sports drug testing, in addition to continuing to test Olympians.
Asked about that proposal, USADA chief Terry Madden said in an interview: "We're willing to work with any sport."
The Senate panel also heard from American sprinter Kelli White, who admitted taking steroids last year and received a two-year competition ban from USADA. White, who has told her story on national television, said yesterday that she "cheated myself, my competitors, my sport, my family and the public."