Professional athletes have failed to take the lead in the effort to keep children from using steroids, the leader of a group that Congress created to study the growing problem said.
"I find it hard to believe that the leagues and players' associations cannot identify professional athletes who would be willing to take time out of their schedules to discuss such an important topic with their young fans," Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said today.
What is worse, many of the people who should be role models for young athletes are still using performance-enhancing drugs, even though they know the dangers of the drugs and the stiff penalties they face if they get caught, Davis said.
Davis spoke at a meeting of the Zero Tolerance panel, a roundtable of representatives from major professional sports leagues, pro player associations, college and high school athletic associations, and anti-doping organizations.
Representatives of the National Football League and National Basketball Association argued that many stars have participated in advertising campaigns and a forthcoming DVD to discourage young athletes from turning to steroids to boost their performance.
But they all seemed to agree that while much has been accomplished since the Government Reform Committee held headline-making hearings last year into the use of steroids by Major League baseball players, there is still a lot left to do.
As examples, Davis pointed to the recent doping scandals involving cyclist Floyd Landis and sprinters Justin Gatlin, LaTasha Jenkins and Marion Jones.
"The good news is that these people are getting caught for their illicit drug use," Davis said. "The bad news is that athletes are still using steroids despite fair warnings of the penalties they could face if they're caught. One might wonder whether these penalties are enough of a deterrent, but that discussion is for another day."
But he said there is also room for optimism.
"We've got a long road ahead of us, but I think we've made a difference," Davis told the group as it gathered for the last time to vote on its recommendations.
Barnaby Harkins, representing the National Basketball Association, agreed.
"I think over the past year and a half we have seen a dramatically increased testing and enforcement regime in all of the professional leagues, and there has been a much greater emphasis on education and outreach to student athletes," Harkins said.
Davis told participants their focus should now be on how steroids can be prevented from becoming an even larger problem for future generations.
According to a 2003 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 1 million high school students have tried steroids. Davis wants the Government Accountability Office to gather fresh information on the number of youngsters using steroids today to get a better sense of the size of the problem
The representative from the National Football League reported that the league has expanded its curriculum on steroids, human growth hormones and other performance-enhancing substances at its mandatory orientation program for all recently drafted players.
The Major League baseball representative stated that it has contributed $1 million to develop a comprehensive nationwide education program to teach young athletes about the dangers of using steroids.
Davis said he was disappointed in the lack of player participation among professional athletes in getting the word out by speaking to student athletes on the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.
Ben Zenko, representing the NFL Players Association, took exception to criticism, saying members of his group "do participate on an active basis in a variety of programs."
Several roundtable participants pointed to the millions of dollars their organizations had contributed to the production and distribution of anti-steroid public service announcements aimed at young audiences.
Dr. Gary Wadler, a New York University School of Medicine professor, said that a more comprehensive approach to the problem is needed, one that is not limited to anabolic steroids.
"We need to more than just say no," Wadler told the group. Our collective efforts must be more than just rhetorical. We cannot continue to tinker at the margins."