Academy admits to delay in drug tests

Cummings calls for congressional probe

Sun follow-up

November 18, 2006|By Bradley Olson and Jeff Barker | Bradley Olson and Jeff Barker,sun reporters

Naval Academy officials acknowledged yesterday that they waited more than two months to administer urine tests to five football players who admitted early last year to using steroids - a delay that experts said would have allowed any trace of the banned drug to disappear.

"I think it's very important that we know who made the decision to test these young folks two months after we had good cause for suspecting illegal drug use," said U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Baltimore Democrat who sits on the academy's Board of Visitors, a civilian oversight panel. "I want to know who made the decision, why that decision was made, and I think that whatever answer that is provided should be one that every single member of the board should be very much interested in knowing."

He is one of several lawmakers, two of them involved in previous steroid investigations, who called for a congressional probe yesterday into the academy's handling of the steroid use. "The Naval Academy and its students occupy a unique place as American role models, and as such they must adhere to the highest possible standards," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat.

Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy superintendent, and Col. David Fuquea, who handled internal disciplinary proceedings for the players and is now the assistant athletic director, declined to comment through a spokesman, as did the players.

The academy's acknowledgment follows statements this week that officials allowed the five team members to compete in the 2005 season because the tests had "cleared" them of any wrongdoing. Two other players, who had tested positive for androstenediol in random tests administered by the NCAA, had been barred from the team that season, according to the association's rules.

The academy learned of the two positive NCAA tests Feb. 15, 2005. Nine days later, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched an official probe, during which the five additional athletes were fingered as other users of "andro."

The seven midshipmen, whose names the Annapolis military college would not confirm, were tested by the school on April 27, 2005, the academy said yesterday.

That two-month gap would have been more than enough time to prevent any steroid from being detected by a urine test, said Dr. Gary Wadler, an anti-doping expert and medical professor at New York University, and Charles Yesalis, a professor of health policy and sports science at Pennsylvania State University.

Both said andro would leave the human body within days. When taken, the drug combines with naturally occurring substances in the body to produce an unnaturally high level of testosterone. That can give users a competitive edge by building muscle mass, reducing body fat and speeding recovery from injuries.

Navy football coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday that once he was notified of the positive tests, he met with players and told them to throw away their banned supplements.

After inquiries from The Sun on Tuesday, he and Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk said they were unaware that the five players had admitted using the steroid. They also said they didn't know when the drug test was administered.

Speaking to reporters after practice Wednesday, Johnson dismissed interest in the steroid use as a "nonstory."

"We handled the thing exactly by the book," he said, according to a transcript. "Neither of the young men even played the year it happened. Word came out that there might have been some other guys involved, and everyone was tested, and they tested negative."

In a written statement, the academy said Fuquea determined the players had not "knowingly possessed or used the substance" after androstenediol was made illegal by Congress on Jan. 22, 2005.

Though the NCAA had banned andro before the 2004 season, the players had purchased the substance online before Jan. 22 and several admitted to taking it after that time. Two military law experts said it would be difficult to charge the players with knowing use based on the change in legality and on the difficulty in proving that the players were aware of the change in the law.

All seven were "found guilty of failure to use good judgment for unknowingly using a substance that was banned by the NCAA and all received appropriate punishment," the statement said.

The players were restricted to their dorms for several weeks, a punishment normally used for minor conduct offenses. By comparison, midshipmen have recently been punished with twice as much restriction time for running errands on a night they weren't authorized to leave the academy or wearing civilian clothes to a military function.

In the statement, the academy said it applies the same high standard in every case.

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