WASHINGTON (AP) – Athletes in the four major U.S. professional leagues would be subject to two-year bans for a first positive drug test under legislation proposed Tuesday that would put the sports’ steroid policies under the White House drug czar.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., joined House Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., and ranking Democrat Henry Waxman of California in introducing the Clean Sports Act of 2005.

It’s the second recent bill that would establish minimum, standardized steroids policies across the spectrum of American sports.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican who chairs a House Commerce and Energy subcommittee, proposed the Drug Free Sports Act of 2005 last month, and his panel will write the formal legislation Tuesday.

A third committee, House Judiciary, sent a letter last week to various sports leagues and their unions asking for documents about their drug-testing policies.

“There’s got to be some kind of legislation that will absolutely test and punish professional athletes that use performance-enhancing drugs,” McCain said.

“There are a lot of issues we would much rather address,” he added. “And if the professional leagues had taken action, we would not be here today. But they have not taken sufficient action.”

While boosting strength, steroids can lead to heart attacks, strokes, cancer, sterility and mood swings. Using most steroids without a doctor’s prescription for medical purposes has been illegal since 1991.

“Steroid use is a national public health crisis. This legislation is aimed at not only getting rid of performance enhancing drugs on the professional level, but also sends a message loud and clear to the young people of America: Steroids are illegal. Steroids are dangerous. They can be deadly. And there is no place for them in our sports leagues or our school grounds,” Davis said.

His committee held three hearings about steroid use, with witnesses including players, doctors, parents of young athletes who committed suicide after using steroids, and management and union officials from Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA. Those three leagues and the NHL would be governed by the Clean Sports Act of 2005, though the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy would have the power to add other leagues or NCAA Division I and II.

Stearns’ bill, if enacted, would put sports’ drug policies under control of the Commerce Secretary. There are other differences between the proposals.

The legislation offered Tuesday, for example, requires players to be tested randomly at least five times per year: three during the season, two in the offseason. Stearns’ bill requires one test.

Both bills call for testing by an independent agency. Both have two-year bans for a first offense and lifetime bans for a second, standards labeled “draconian” by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue at a hearing last week.

Right now, a first failed test draws a 10-day ban in baseball, a five-game ban in the NBA and a four-game ban in the NFL. The NHL does not test players for performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and NBA commissioner David Stern proposed to their unions that their punishments be toughened, while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he wants to add testing and penalties.

Davis’ legislation allows for reduced penalties if a player didn’t know he was using a prohibited substance or if he were to provide information on someone else violating the drug policy. Stearns’ proposal has strict liability: Anyone who fails a test is penalized.

All of the lawmakers present Tuesday, including co-sponsors Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Rep. David Souder, R-Ind., said there is widespread support for the legislation in both houses of Congress and in both parties.

“Baseball will not be allowed to filibuster this,” McCain said with a smile. “I cam confident that we will be able to move this in a timely fashion.”

AP-ES-05-24-05 1735EDT


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