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Gary I. Wadler, M.D., FACP, FACSM, FACPM, FCP, is an internist with special expertise in the field of drug use in sports.  He is the lead author of the internationally[…]

Was Congressional involvement appropriate?

Question: How do you rate the George Mitchell Report?

Gary Wadler: Well, I go back prior to that. You know, baseball has been in a state of denial for a long time. In 2003, the survey year, they did not anticipate crossing their five or seven percent threshold that would have triggered mandatory testing. Their position was we don’t have a problem in baseball. We certainly don’t have a steroid problem in baseball particularly. They subsequently went on and in fact the Lehrer News Hour one night there were two of us and they at that point said they didn’t have a stimulant problem in baseball either. I guess all of us who knew about greenies didn’t quite understand how they came to that conclusion. Because of all of that and Caminiti and Canseco and so on, obviously the House Government Reform Committee under the leadership of Davis and Waxman, now Waxman and Davis, had hearings and I testified at those hearings and I pointed out some of the specific deficiencies that existed then and there were many. What’s happened with baseball is a reaction. Each time there’s some sort of expose, there’s another increment towards their program. Their program is constantly getting improved increment by increment. My position has been, and remains to this day, and I think Senator Mitchell came to the same conclusion, and I said it back in Congress in ‘05- when were the hearings? ’05, ’05. Yeah. I said in the ’05 hearings in Congress that baseball ought to get out of-- and I’d say the same for the NFL-- out of the anti-doping business and hand it off to an independent, transparent, accountable agency, that they could not do this within the house. They had to externalize it, outsource it if you will. What they have done is take the World Anti-Doping Code and incrementally have taken pieces of it to satisfy critics I guess such as me and others. I say this is not a matter of incrementalism; this is a matter of taking the entirety of the code which was developed by an international process of governments and sporting bodies from all over the world, tremendous amount of effort went into this thing, led in many cases by athletes who wanted nothing more than the opportunity to participate in sports on a level playing field, didn’t come from some ogre, you know, some bureaucrat, and really the initiatives came from athletes, and make that the program for Major League Baseball.To this day, they will not do that. And so every X number of months they’ve opened up the collective bargaining agreement, which until the issue of doping arose they have never opened up these collective bargaining agreements, but they opened them up and they’ve made and tweaked and changed things. And to show how disturbing it is, the Mitchell Report, for example, pointed out that roughly a hundred cases of attention deficit disorder had suddenly emerged. That was after I made the case the stimulants was a problem in baseball. They reacted by banning some stimulants, all right? And so because their therapeutic use exemption program left something to be desired, suddenly all of a sudden there was an epidemic of attention deficit disorder which is treated with stimulants. So the baseball player who would have gotten dinged for taking a stimulant says, “Oh, I have ADD. Here’s a note from my doctor. I have ADD so now I can take the stimulant.” Well, that was in the footnote in the Mitchell Report. And I can go on and on. You’d have to take chapter and verse to do it justice, but the answer is get out of the business. Do exactly what the IOC did. Remember, they were at this since the 1960s and they really were the leaders in this field. They created the field. And they finally threw up their hands and said, “You know what? No matter what we do, we lose. No matter what we do, we lose. We got to totally go independent. We’ll be part of that process, we’ll help fund that process, but we’re gonna stay out of the line of fire of all this decision-making stuff.” Baseball can’t- we shouldn’t expect baseball to do what the World Anti-Doping Agency does. We shouldn’t expect baseball to spend hundreds of man hours putting an annual list together of prohibited substances. That’s not their expertise. Their expertise is to field the great game of baseball and deal with contracts and length of seasons and all those things. It’s not to deal with the hardcore science and implementation of anti-doping initiatives. That’s not their thing. If you ask them why they have been resistant, they can only speculate. And my speculation relates to sanctions. And the sanctions in Major League Baseball has its own evolution as the first hearings in Congress when they originally said there was gonna be X number of days or a ten thousand dollar fine and the little word “or” showed up and so they had to change that. The issue of sanctions for a major offense is currently two years and it may go up to four years under the new code which goes into effect next year. I think they’d rather- they’re probably quite concerned with some of their superstars. They wind up out of the game at least for a couple of years. I can understand their apprehension about this. But if you’re really serious about getting doping out of your sport, then you got to bite the bullet. There’s no easy way out of this thing. We know that. History has taught us that over and over and over again. So they need to do what they need to do in their heart of hearts if they want to get doping out of their sport. And I’m saying this goes for the other professional sports in the United States as well, not just baseball.

Question: Has Congress handled this appropriately?

Gary Wadler: Well, it turns out, you know, the role of government in all of this has been rather significant whether it was the President in the State of the Union or whether it was the reclassification of anabolic steroids or whether it was investigations like the BALCO Affair or whether it was the hearings in Congress.  There’s no question that more came out as a result of the Congressional hearings than anybody anticipated.  Major League Baseball and the National Football League changed their programs substantially.  That would not have happened in my judgment had there not been those hearings.  You know, some people on the Congressional side of the table were caught up with the celebrity of all of this, but for the most part, I thought their questions were probing and insightful and I think baseball and football recognized they were in an untenable position.  They tried to respond by incremental changes and hoping Congress and everybody else would go away and say, “All right, you fixed it. It’s over, kaput, done.”  It turns out, no, the probing continues.  Every time something happens, there’s another question.  And so I think it’s holding their feet to the fire and I don’t think that would have happened without the Congressional investigation.  I fully understand there’s big problems in the world, but I also recognize when we talk about the numbers of kids that were using these drugs.  That’s a national concern.  And so I think it’s appropriate for Congress to have dealt with that.

Question: Is it any different than taking something that would make you smarter?

Gary Wadler: You know, that reminds me of debating societies and, you know, that’s great fodder for somebody who wants to have a philosophical debate.  I’m much more grounded in here and now in the realities of what’s happened and the abuse of drugs.  But my concern are drugs are getting more and more sophisticated, more and more dangerous in some regards, more and more insidious in some regards and that we have to deal with that.  I clearly obviously have heard these discussions, but I don’t want to take our eye off the ball to use that metaphor.

Recorded on: 04/25/2008