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A first step

This is just the beginning in MLB's fight against steroids

Posted: Thursday January 13, 2005 2:31PM; Updated: Thursday January 13, 2005 3:11PM
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Pro Sports Steroid-Testing Plans
MLB
Frequency of testing
• All players tested at unannounced time at least once during season
• Random offseason testing
Penalties
• First positive: 10-game suspension
• Second positive: 30-game suspension
• Third positive: 60-game suspension
• Fourth positive: One-year suspension
NFL
Frequency of testing
• All players tested at least once per year
• Random year-round testing
• Reasonable cause testing
Penalties
• First positive: Four-game suspension
• Second positive: six-game suspension
• Third positive: Minimum one-year suspension
NBA
Frequency of testing
• First-year players tested once during training camp and three times during regular season
• Veteran players are tested once during training camp
• Reasonable cause testing for all players
Penalties
• First positive: Five-game suspension
• Second positive: 10-game suspension
• Third positive: 25-game suspension
• A player will be dismissed and disqualified from the NBA if he is convicted of, or pleads guilty, no contest to, a crime involving the use or possession of steroids.
Note: The NHL does not test for steroids.

Major League Baseball will announce a new drug policy Thursday afternoon that is designed to wipe out the use of performance-enhancing drugs and help restore faith in the national pastime.

It's a much bolder plan than the one in place, and one that's long overdue. It raises plenty of questions, too.

1. How is this different from the drug testing policy that MLB instituded in 2003?

A few ways. First, the new policy calls for year-round, random tests. They won't be strictly scheduled, as they have been the two years that the previous testing program has been in place. And players, at random, reportedly can be tested more than once, even in the offseason. That will make it tougher for a user to get clean, right before the test, and then get back on the juice right after it.

Secondly, the penalties for a positive test are more severe. Players will be suspended for a first offense -- of up to 10 games -- and the penalties increase with each subsequent one: a fourth positive test could result in a one-year suspension. The current policy has no suspension for a first offense (just treatment) and a player can test positive five times before he is suspended for a year.

Some reports indicate that players who fail tests will be publicly identified, too. That would be a huge deterrent to using steroids. Thus far, players who have failed tests remain anonymous.

Lastly, the list of banned substances has grown. THG and other drugs known as steroids precursors now will be taboo, too.

2. Is the new policy tough enough?

Well, it's not nearly as toothy as the drug policy many Olympic sports use, which calls for a two-year ban for a first positive test and a lifetime ban after that. Amphetamines are not covered on the new list of banned substances, either. But the new policy should be tough enough to knock a few more players who are using performance-enhancing drugs off the stuff.

3. Who pushed this thing through?

Give credit to commissioner Bud Selig, with an assist to many politicians (including President Bush). They identified steroid use in pro sports as a problem that affects not only the integrity of our games but the youth of America, too. Public outcry played a big part in ramming through this new policy, which will take effect before the 2005 season.

Selig and his cronies helped put pressure on the Major League Baseball Players Association, which historically has resisted testing because of privacy issues. The negative press surrounding leaked testimony in the BALCO case -- in which Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds all admitted using some sort of performance-enhancing drug, knowingly or not -- helped push things along, too.

And give a lot of credit to the majority of ballplayers, who let their union leadership know, loud and clear, that they'd be willing to be tested for performance-enhancing drugs to clean up the game's image.

4. Will it make a difference?

Maybe not immediately. But eventually? Yes, it probably will.

5. Will it clean up the game completely?

No. Some players still will try to get an edge by using performance-enhancing drugs. Somewhere, some lab will come up with an undetectable substance and some player will use it. The lure is just too great, the money too big.

The important part to remember is that this new policy is not an end-all. It's a first step toward cleaning up the game. Baseball, with cooperation from the union, will need to be ever-vigilant to ensure that testing measures are valid, enforcement is strict, the list of banned substances is constantly reviewed and no loopholes can be exploited.

If nothing else, this new policy should begin to ease the minds of baseball fans who have questioned the legitimacy of the national pastime.

John Donovan is a senior writer for SI.com.

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