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Major League Baseball Enacts Anti-Doping Policies


Major League Baseball has enacted new anti-doping policies that are being described as unprecedented in American professional sports. Yesterday, Major League Baseball and its Players Union said that starting next year they will be fighting the use of human growth hormone and testosterone - two allegedly popular banned substances.

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman has been covering this story. Tom, good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Hard not to notice the timing of this, coming one day after the baseball writers failed to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame; largely because of concerns about past doping.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, a failure to elect players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa - legendary players are linked to banned drugs. It was a reminder of a not so long ago era that baseball and its union would rather forget. It's widely believed they were complicit in letting doping flourish. So it was an egg-on-the-face day for baseball. And lo and behold, the next day lots of clapping on the back and pronouncements of baseball a leader in the fight against doping.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said the new policies had been in the works for a long time. But he said about the timing: It wasn't too bad, was it?

Whether it was a coincidence or public relations planning at its finest, there is pretty wide agreement that baseball has come a far way since the so-called steroids era.

INSKEEP: OK, let's talk about the future here. What, starting next year anyway, are they going to do exactly?

GOLDMAN: They will start unannounced random blood testing during the regular season for human growth hormone, HGH. It can help build muscle and help an athlete recover quicker from intensive workouts. Last year, baseball OK-ed blood testing for HGH in the majors in spring training in the off-season. But now it'll be in-season as well. Meaning, you know, there's no safe time to use for players who want to do that.

Also, baseball will start a more sophisticated approach to testosterone detection. They're going to work with the World Anti-Doping Agency on a program to create profiles of players that contain baseline measurements of testosterone and other data. That can be compared to drug test results to look for fluctuations and thus possible doping.

INSKEEP: Substances that you would naturally have in your body. The question is how much.

GOLDMAN: Exactly. Now, these steps, Steve, they move baseball way ahead of other North American pro sports leagues, and closer to the Olympic model of testing which really is the gold standard.

INSKEEP: Well, Tom, you mentioned a lot of backslapping inside baseball about taking this big step. What about when you step away from the sport. How are outside observers seeing all of this?

GOLDMAN: With a lot of praise, actually. The World Anti-Doping Agency called it a groundbreaking announcement. Longtime anti-doping advocate Dr. Gary Wadler praised the news as well. He called it a sea change because baseball, like other sports leagues, has been quite negative about HGH blood testing in recent years, calling it bad science.

Then the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, USADA - in the news lately for its report on Lance Armstrong - called the new policies a strong statement by the players and the league. USADA also through a little elbow to the ribs of the NFL, saying essentially, hey, guys, how 'bout you too. The NFL and its union have agreed to HGH testing, but so far nothing. And they don't have top-line testosterone tests either.

INSKEEP: The NFL has a problem with concussions and there's some news there.

GOLDMAN: There is. The National Institutes of Health announced yesterday that Junior Seau, the former great NFL linebacker who shot himself last May, had degenerative brain disease - chronic traumatic encephalopathy - a condition linked to head injury that can cause depression and dementia.

It's a sad story but not startling. We've heard this news before with other players whose lives ended allegedly in a concussion-induced haze. The question is, you know, what do we do with this mounting evidence? Where will it lead? A vastly different game, minor change, and just the realization that all you can do in a violent collision sport is, you know, try to control the problem - not eradicate it.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Morning Edition
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.