Questions, answers about congressional hearings on steroids

WASHINGTON - The House Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed seven current or former players and four baseball executives to testify at a hearing on steroids next week.

Major League Baseball has said it will fight the players' subpoenas, and one former player has said he wants immunity if he is to answer all questions.

Here, in question-and-answer form, is a look at the issue:

Q: Who's been called to testify March 17?

A: Former stars Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco; current players Jason Giambi, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmeiro; players' association head Donald Fehr; Major League Baseball executive vice presidents Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson; and San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers.

Q: Will the players actually show up? And, if they do, will they have to answer all questions?

A: It's unclear. Baseball and committee officials are negotiating the scope of the hearing. Canseco says he will appear but wants immunity to testify fully. Schilling, Fehr and Manfred have said they will appear. Thomas said he is willing to testify but doesn't want to travel while he recovers from ankle surgery. The others have not given definitive answers.

Q: Why would the players want immunity from prosecution?

A: If immunity were granted, a prosecutor who wanted to charge a player would not be able to use that player's statements to Congress as evidence in trying to bring such charges.

Q: Who decides whether to grant immunity?

A: Committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., in consultation with others on the committee and the Justice Department.

Q: What happens if players who were subpoenaed don't show up?

A: The committee could vote to find them in contempt, which would have to be approved by the full House of Representatives, then move to the Justice Department and be certified by a U.S. Attorney. If that happened, baseball's lawyer has said, the fight would head to court. The last contempt of Congress prosecution was in 1983.

Q: What is baseball's new drug-testing plan?

A: Under pressure from Congress, Major League Baseball and its players agreed in January to a tougher steroid-testing program that added penalties for first-time offenders (10-day suspensions) and random, year-round tests. Under the previous agreement, a first positive test resulted only in treatment. No player was suspended for steroid use in 2004, the first season of testing with penalties.

Q: What penalties do other sports have for steroids?

A: Drug policies vary by sport. First-time offenders are suspended for at least four games in the NFL and for five games in the NBA, while the NHL does not test players for performance-enhancing drugs. The World Anti-Doping Agency's code, followed by most Olympic sports, calls for a two-year ban for a first positive test and a lifetime ban for a second, unless there are mitigating circumstances.

Q: Why is Congress looking into steroids in baseball now?

A: In part because the issue has been in the news a lot lately. There were reports late last year about testimony given by Giambi and Barry Bonds in 2003 to a grand jury investigating an alleged steroid-distribution ring tied to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO. More recently, steroids were in the news after the publication of Canseco's best-selling book, "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big." In it, Canseco calls himself the "godfather of steroids in baseball" and alleges that other players -including his former teammates McGwire and Palmeiro -used steroids. All of the players Canseco names in the book denied his claims, and Alderson has said Major League Baseball likely will not follow up on any of the allegations.

Q: Why wasn't Bonds asked to testify next week?

A: Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., and ranking Democrat Henry Waxman, D-Calif., say they thought Bonds' presence would be a distraction.

Q: What might the players be asked?

A: The players could be asked under oath whether they took or saw others take steroids, although lawmakers say that's not the purpose of the hearing. The congressmen say they want to know more about the role of steroids in baseball, what effects steroids have, and whether their use by pro athletes leads to high school athletes taking the drugs.

Q: Is any other congressional committee looking at steroids?

A: Yes. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing Thursday, when several congressmen chastised a baseball lawyer for what they termed weak penalties under the sport's new steroid plan. The chairman of the full committee said more hearings could be held and he warned that baseball commissioner Bud Selig might be subpoenaed in the future.

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