WASHINGTON - David Stern was not about to back down.
Summoned again to Capitol Hill to discuss whether Congress should get into the business of legislating drug testing in the major professional sports leagues, the NBA commissioner took exception to lawmakers' remarks and stood up for his colleagues from the NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball.
"This is an area where federal legislation is not necessary," Stern told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
Yesterday's hearing produced the rare sight of the four commissioners and their sports' union heads sitting at the same table. The commissioners sat side by side with their sports' union chiefs: Bud Selig was inches away from Donald Fehr; Stern was next to Billy Hunter. Then there were the NFL's Roger Goodell and Gene Upshaw, and the NHL's Gary Bettman and Paul Kelly. All tried to persuade skeptical lawmakers that their leagues had taken steps to thwart steroids use and were awaiting a dependable way to detect human growth hormone.
"In spite of the fact that they want to pronounce that they have it under control, I still think that it's not fully under control," said the subcommittee's chairman, Representative Bobby Rush of Illinois. "And we have to do more."
Baseball had the most to prove, having implemented a stringent steroids policy only in the last few years. The NFL began addressing the problem some two decades ago, while the NBA and NHL say the nature of their sports is such that steroids use is virtually nonexistent. All four leagues have toughened their drug policies since 2005, when many of the same witnesses testified before the same subcommittee.
The commissioners and union heads generally agreed collective bargaining was the best way to address the drug problem, rather than a one-size-fits-all law from Congress that would apply to all sports. Rush said the subcommittee will continue to pursue some sort of legislation.
In related developments, Alexander Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said he expects virtually all major racing states to adopt a ban on the use of steroids for horses at least a month before they appear on the track. And World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey, speaking at a symposium in Switzerland, said Major League Baseball must farm out its drug-testing program to an independent agency if it wants to regain credibility.