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Unfinished business

Congress may bring more heat on baseball over HGH

Posted: Friday June 9, 2006 5:32PM; Updated: Friday June 9, 2006 5:58PM
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Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has been at the forefront of Congress' interest in performance-enhancing drugs in sports.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has been at the forefront of Congress' interest in performance-enhancing drugs in sports.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
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Major League Baseball is not, in Rep. Henry Waxman's considered opinion, in the same spot it was back in March 2005, when commissioner Bud Selig and union boss Don Fehr fidgeted before Congress, trying to explain the sport's leaky drug policy.

Things have changed. The arm-twisting and browbeating that Congress put the game through on that embarrassing spring day finally spurred the national pastime into action. A beefed-up drug program, with increased testing and stiffer penalties for those who use illegal performance-enhancers, was enacted. Baseball now has, as Selig constantly crows, the toughest drug policy in sports.

But as this week's revelations about human growth hormone (HGH) in the game have shown, things haven't changed so much that Selig can crow all that loudly. Baseball, clearly, has a long way to go to clean up its act.

And some members of Congress want to make sure it gets done.

"I was promised action to address this critical public health issue and none has been taken," Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) said in a statement. "[Major League Baseball] continues to be reactive instead of proactive on this vital issue affecting not only the well-being of the players, the integrity of the game, and most importantly the health of baseball's young fans who emulate their sports heroes.

"MLB and the Players Association must take immediate action or face Congressional interference yet again."

Other members of Congress, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have been critical of the sport's progress in trying to rid the game of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. But Waxman, a California Democrat and a member of the committee that investigated steroid use in the game, is not threatening another pummeling on Capitol Hill just yet.

He's sure not ruling it out, either.

"I really don't know, at this time, what I'm going to do," Waxman said by phone from Washington on Friday morning. "I'm going to watch the situation and see what they do on their own."

The biggest issue that baseball now faces in its battle against performance-enhancers -- or, at the least, the issue immediately in front of its face -- is what to do about HGH, an injectable chemical intended primarily for use by children who suffer from growth hormone deficiencies. HGH, illegally used by players for its strength-building properties, is on baseball's list of banned substances, but the league does not test for it because of disagreements over the validity and accuracy of those tests.