MLB, union agree to stricter drug policy
Deal bans three-time violators for life, includes amphetamines
Major League Baseball and the players association reached agreement on Tuesday to significantly strengthen penalties for steroid and amphetamine use.
The new agreement calls for first-time offenders to be suspended for 50 games, second-time offenders to be suspended for 100 games and third-time offenders to be banished from baseball for life. The penalties are identical to those proposed by Commissioner Bud Selig earlier this year.
The new package, which will take effect next season following ratification by union membership and the owners, also bans amphetamines for the first time and calls for an increased number of tests.
"This has been a historic day in baseball, a very meaningful one," Selig said. "I believe this will eradicate steroid use in baseball.
"This is an important step to reaching our goal of ridding our sport of performance-enhancing substances, and should restore the integrity of and public confidence in our great game. This agreement reaffirms that Major League players are committed to the elimination of performance-enhancing substances and that the system of collective bargaining is responsive and effective in dealing with issues of this type."
Selig said he does not anticipate any problems with ratification. The owners could ratify during their meeting in Milwaukee this week.
"I think the clubs will be more than delighted," Selig said. "There hasn't been any dissent. I believe it will be approved. I can assure you the approval process on our side will be very easy."
The agreement could circumvent steps by Congress, which has put pressure on all professional sports to expand their programs to test and penalize athletes for the use of performance-enhancing drugs at all levels.
"I believe it will absolutely satisfy any concerns that [lawmakers] have," Selig said. "It's up to them, obviously, but I have talked to some of the people involved today and I really believe that these penalties will satisfy them."
Rob Manfred, MLB's vice president of labor relations and human resources, and Michael Weiner, a general counsel for the union, were in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to explain the deal to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.
While Davis said in a statement that he is encouraged by the changes, he said it wasn't as tough as "what it would be had I authored it, it is a much stronger policy, one with multiple random tests and far tougher penalties for even first-time offenders."
"Ever since the Committee began its investigation into steroid use in professional sports, I have expressed my desire to see the leagues and the players unions take action to combat the use of performance-enhancing drugs," Davis said. "The agreement reached between Major League Baseball and the players association is the type of self-initiated action we were hoping for all along.
"I am a baseball fan. I always have been. There's been a cloud over the game I love. Because of our oversight, and because we've helped elevate public concern about this public health crisis, there's now a glimpse of sunlight."
Manfred said details of the new policy were still being worked out, but both sides expected the final agreement to cover not only the 2006 season but hopefully the term of the next Basic Agreement. The drug policy now in effect lasts through the 2008 season, while the Basic Agreement expires on Dec. 19, 2006. Manfred also said that previous positive tests would not count against the new agreement.
"They will be treated as first-time offenders," Manfred said.
Other sports' drug policies
|NFL||Steroid use is banned. Players are randomly tested, and those testing positive could face game suspensions.|
|NBA||Rookies are tested up to four times per season, and veterans are subject to one random test during training camp. Prohibited substances include amphetamines, cocaine, LSD, opiates, PCP, marijuana and steroids. Penalties range from game suspensions to lifetime bans.|
|NHL||There is no mandatory drug-testing policy. The only drug testing that is done is for players that are already in the league's substance abuse aftercare program. Players who are abusers can seek help the first time without being exposed or suspended.|
|NCAA||Athletes are randomly tested at NCAA championship events and football bowl games. Banned substances include cocaine, amphetamines, ephedrine, anabolic steroids, diuretics, heroin, marijuana, peptide hormones and urine manipulators. Athletes who test positive for any banned substance are ruled ineligible by their schools for at least 365 days and lose one year of eligibility.|
|Boxing||Varies by state, though most don't test. Nevada began testing boxers in 2002 for steroids. Urine samples are checked for 25 different steroids.|
Source: USA Today
It is the second time in less than a year that baseball has toughened its drug policy. Eight months ago, the union and MLB strengthened the previous policy that was originally negotiated during collective bargaining for the Basic Agreement during the summer of 2002.
This season was the first in which a player initially testing positive for any number of steroid-based drugs could be suspended.
"I don't really care how long the penalties are, the only thing as a player rep that I have to look at is my teammates' best interests," Atlanta catcher Johnny Estrada said. "So many times we've seen guys test positive and then say they were just using supplements or vitamins. Now with a 50-game suspension, there can't be any loopholes in the testing or margin for error. There can't be any mess-ups. You're dealing with guys who have to take care of their families and 50 games is a good chunk of the season."
Players contacted following Tuesday's announcement said the changes would be good for the game.
"We're trying to put something in place that's going to help the integrity. We're serious about getting steroids out of the game and protecting the integrity of the game," Detroit pitcher Mike Maroth said. "I think what [has been] in place has been working, but to make it a little bit stronger is a good thing. It's something that doesn't need to be in the game."
In the new agreement, players banned for life will have the opportunity to seek reinstatement after a minimum suspension of two years, with potential arbitral review of the decision on reinstatement.
Players who test positive for amphetamines for the first time will be subject to mandatory evaluation and follow-up testing. Subsequent positive tests for amphetamines will carry suspensions of 25 games, 80 games and up to a lifetime ban.
"That's going to shake it up a little bit," Estrada said. "Amphetamines have been around since the days of Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle. It was kept hush-hush and just accepted. Now that they're in the public eye, guys are getting criticized for taking them. I've heard guys say they'd retire if they can't take amphetamines. I don't know if they're joking or not."
|"This is an important step to reaching our goal of ridding our sport of performance-enhancing substances, and should restore the integrity of and public confidence in our great game.|
|-- Commissioner Bud Selig|
Selig said the amphetamine clause was "a very crucial part" of the agreement.
"We all know that amphetamines have been around for a long time," Selig said. "I must tell you that the concerns raised by the team doctors and trainers really made a great impact. We knew we had to get something done. I don't think we would have solved this problem if we had ignored amphetamines."
The new penalties replace those in the previous agreement, which called for 10 days for a first offense, 30 days for the second, 60 days for the third and one year for the fourth. Thirteen Major League players, including former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, tested positive and were suspended in 2005.
It had become clear that MLB's program wasn't strong enough for the lawmakers. Last week, the Senate floated a bill that calls for a half-season suspension for a first offense, a one-season ban for a second offense and a lifetime ban on the third strike.
The bill, which would apply to MLB, the NFL, NBA, NHL and baseball's Minor Leagues, would stipulate five random tests per season and provide a one-year grace period for each sport to negotiate tougher standards with its own unions before taking effect. It was a departure from other Congressional bills that sought Olympic-style penalties: a two-year suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second.
Since then, the bill has slowed in the Senate, while Davis (R-Va.) pledged that the House of Representatives would have no problem passing the McCain-Bunning measure if it is approved by the other branch of Congress.
A month after a March Congressional hearing, Selig sent a letter to the union seeking to extend penalties to 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for the second and a lifetime ban for the third, among other items.
In late September, union chief Don Fehr said that his association had agreed to almost all of MLB's stipulations, but countered with a proposal of 20 games for the first offense, 75 games for a second offense and arbitration to determine whether Selig can ban a player for life on a third offense.
The two sides also agreed that the scheduling of tests, the collection of samples, the implementation of the parties' agreement with the World Anti-Doping Agency Certified Laboratory and the reporting of positive tests results to the parties will be turned over to a new Independent Program Administrator, unaffiliated with either Major League Baseball or the Players Association.
Previously, the Health Policy Advisory Committee, comprised of management and union representatives, was responsible for these tasks.
"HPAC will not have a role with the independent administrator," Manfred said. "HPAC will retain some administrative functions [but] in terms of the core of the actual testing it will be given to the independent administrator."