Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Miller: Athletes victims of witch hunt
By Jerry Crasnick
As baseball union leaders Donald Fehr and Gene Orza face a torrent of criticism for their handling of events leading up to Alex Rodriguez's steroid admission, Players Association founder Marvin Miller defended the union's conduct and accused the federal government and major drug testing bodies of engaging in a "witch hunt" against prominent athletes.
But Miller, the 91-year-old Players Association icon, said union leaders are also now paying for their biggest mistake -- the decision to bow to public and congressional pressure and enter into an agreement with Major League Baseball to institute mandatory testing in 2004.
"Everything I've read in the last few days is unfair and anti-union," Miller told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "But that does not mean I agree that [union officials] are without blame. When they agreed on a testing program, I said, 'They're going to regret this, because you're going to see players going to jail.' "
Rodriguez told ESPN's Peter Gammons on Monday that he used performance-enhancing drugs while playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001 through 2003. His admission came after Sports Illustrated reported that he tested positive during a round of "survey" testing in 2003 that was supposed to be confidential.
Amid mounting criticism over the union's perceived negligence in failing to have the testing records destroyed, Fehr released a statement Monday night explaining why. He said there was only an eight-day span between receipt of the test results and notice that a federal grand jury was seeking them as part of the BALCO investigation into performance-enhancing drugs.
Fehr said the union first received test results on Nov. 11, 2003, that the results were finalized two days later and that players were notified the following day, a Friday.
"Promptly thereafter, the first steps were taken to begin the process of destruction of the testing materials and records," Fehr said. "On Nov. 19, however, we learned that the government had issued a subpoena. Upon learning this, we concluded, of course, that it would be improper to proceed with the destruction of the materials."
The Players Association negotiated with federal prosecutors in San Francisco until the following spring and pledged not to destroy the records. The union moved in April to quash the subpoena, and federal investigators obtained a search warrant and seized records from Comprehensive Drug Testing and samples from Quest Diagnostics.
Although the search warrant sought records of 10 players, the government found a spreadsheet with a list of 104 players who had tested positive; it then obtained additional search warrants and seized all records. The case has been in the courts ever since.
Miller said the timeframe is evidence that the union acted properly in its decision to cooperate with authorities.
"Under these circumstances, if you just ignore what's going on and you destroy records, you're running a terrible risk of being charged with obstruction of justice," Miller said.
Nevertheless, Miller leveled some pointed criticisms against the union, the media, the Justice Department and drug testing bodies in the midst of the furor surrounding Rodriguez.
"I would never have agreed to any testing program in the first place," he said. "There's no evidence that's plausible to justify testing people indiscriminately. If the government wanted to do that, they'd have to go to court for each player tested and say, 'Here's evidence of probable cause that this player is a user of an illegal product.' "
Miller took several other hard-line and potentially unpopular stands during a 40-minute interview with ESPN.com. Among his other observations:
• On the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball: "I have a personal belief that there's no such thing as a magic pill or magic injection. I don't know that there's any scientific evidence that there's a performance-enhancing drug. Players take it because they think it does. That's a far cry from saying that it does. Where is the evidence that requires testing?"
• On the argument that steroids should be eliminated from the game because of health concerns: "Not one but two surgeons general have said that tobacco use is the worst cause of death in the United States that can be prevented -- that we lose 400,000 people a year to tobacco-related incidents and over time it runs into the millions. Yet not only do we not outlaw tobacco, but the U.S. Congress keeps giving subsidies to the tobacco industry and everybody sits back and smiles. On the other hand, there's not one single documented death from the use of steroids. So that's a hypocritical lie."
• On the dangers of taking drug test results as gospel: "Anybody who has read about urine testing for a long time knows that quite a number of false positives come up. You get a false positive and then people are questioned in another context -- 'were you a user?' They say no. And then you get a news leak -- a leak of a leak, as it were -- and it turns out that you tested positive. If you said something under oath, you could go to jail and still be an innocent person."
• On why the union didn't necessarily have to bend to the wishes of membership and agree to random drug testing. "I have no doubt that was a factor in the union agreeing to it. But leadership can't just take a poll on what membership wants. You also have to judge whether this is in the best interests of the people you represent. If the entire membership voted unanimously to disband, would you do it?"
• On the media's role in perpetuating steroid use by referring to the drugs as "performance enhancers": "A kid who would love to be a professional athlete reads the sports pages or watches ESPN and is told over and over again, 'These are performance-enhancing drugs. They will make you a Barry Bonds or an A-Rod or a Roger Clemens.' The media, without evidence, keep telling young people all over the country, 'All you have to do to be a famous athlete with lots of money is take steroids.' The media are the greatest merchants of encouraging this that I've ever seen."
Miller also criticized the Justice Department for engaging in "union-busting tactics" by using the confidentiality provision in the drug testing to get information from players, and said many of the "experts" who advocate for greater testing in sports have an inherent conflict because they run labs and stand to profit.
"It's a witch hunt in baseball, for sure, but it also extends to cycling and the Olympics," Miller said. "And the victims are the athletes. They're obviously the ones being hunted down here."