Transcript: Former Sen. George Mitchell's Press Briefing on Doping in Baseball

Mitchell says response to steroid use was "slow" and "initially ineffective."

Dec. 13, 2007— -- The following excerpts are from Charles Gibson's interview with former Sen. George Mitchell today. For more on the Mitchell Report, watch ABC News World News with Charles Gibson at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Gibson: Senator, among your recommendations was not to punish any players for past activity. Why?

Mitchell: Except for those where the actions are so serious that the Commissioner must impose discipline to protect the integrity of the game, I think that he should forego disciplining players.

First, I think we have got to look forward, and not to the past. Most of the violations are some years ago -- from two to nine years old. This was at a time when baseball was changing its rules regularly. And thirdly, the fact is, you have to take the date of the conduct when you apply punishment.

And, on the date of much of this conduct, there was no penalty for a first positive drug test.

Charlie, I think this problem is widespread. They have taken steps to try to deal with it. It can't be dealt with by spending time in the past. Everybody has to look to the future and pull together. And I think the Commissioner should give the players involved -- and everyone involved -- the chance to look forward.

Gibson: But some of the activity occurred after baseball passed rules against steroid use in particular. And it really amounts to -- what you are suggesting -- to amnesty.

Mitchell: Oh, Charlie, you know, that's a loaded word now, [LAUGHS] in another context. And I think it's a mistake to use it, because it doesn't apply, where the Commissioner has authority to impose discipline -- at his discretion. It's his judgment to make whether he thinks action is so serious that it requires some form of discipline.

Gibson: But…

Mitchell: But I think what baseball…

Gibson: Go ahead.

Mitchell: Excuse me. Go ahead.

Gibson: I was just gonna say. Marion Jones -- stripped of her medals. Floyd Landis -- stripped of his yellow jersey and the French bicycle race title.

Mitchell: Yeah.

Gibson: But you are saying…Nothing with the baseball players?

Mitchell: Well, let's be clear. You are picking out 3 people. You are not mentioning the dozens of hundreds of others in other sports who have been in the same situation and haven't been punished. So I don't think it's a fair comparison.

Secondly, what I think happened is a serious problem for baseball. The question is, how do you best get out of it? All right. In any situation where a law or a rule is broken, competing values come into play, and you have to make judgments that include responsibility, accountability, punishment, but also -- how do you deal with the problem in the future?

And one thing I learned in Northern Ireland -- letting go of the past is hard, but it's often a necessary step if you are gonna deal with the problem in the future. I don't think baseball now needs to spend the next several years rummaging around in the past trying to find every single person who ever used performance-enhancing substances and try to punish them. I think what they need to do is to look to the future. How can you best prevent this from occurring in the future?

Gibson: And you talked about kids. And we have reported in this broadcast that federal investigators have come up with literally thousands of names of young people who are buying these things -- these performance enhancing drugs -- either through e-mails or credit card receipts. To what extent is baseball, and the example it sets, responsible for that?

Mitchell: It's not just baseball of course, Charlie. Kids aren't just baseball fans, they are sports fans. It's every sport in which young people look up to prominent athletes. And as Don Hooten -- who I quoted today -- told Congress in 2005, "Kids do what they see the pros doing." And one of the most shocking aspects of this entire investigation to me…was to learn that hundreds of thousands of our children -- American youngsters -- are using steroids, placing themselves at great risk. And it must be emphasized, that the effect of steroids on youngsters, can be much greater than that on adults, because they are already going through serious hormonal changes in their life.

Gibson: And you do make the point that it is all in sport, and not just baseball. But you also made the point…

Mitchell: Yes.

Gibson: …that baseball ignored this problem. It was right in front of them for years and years… and years. So isn't baseball partly responsible for the fact that kids think it's OK to do this?

Mitchell: Everyone in baseball -- Comissioners, club officials, the Players Association and players -- bears responsibility…to some extent…for the rise of the steroids era in baseball. For that, there can be no doubt. The problem now is to look to the future. How do you prevent it from occurring in the future? If you are concerned about the fact that hundreds of thousands of young Americans are using steroids, the most important thing you can do is to try to figure out how to reduce those numbers; how to stop that from happening; and that's what I have tried to do in this report.

Gibson: In your 20 months of investigation, did you get as far as you wanted in identifying the extent of use, and who was using?

Mitchell: It took a long time, Charlie, precisely because I did not have the power to compel anyone to cooperate -- and many, many people refused to cooperate. But I believe we learned enough to be able to accurately describe the steroids era in baseball. Also, I acknowledged -- and I even emphasized -- that obviously I didn't learn every user, I didn't uncover every supplier. What I learned was enough to describe the era. But I think it's inevitable that more names will be disclosed; there will be more investigations; and the real challenge for everyone concerned is to devise, adopt and implement policies that reduce -- and hopefully eliminate -- the use of these substances in the future.

Gibson: Because your report speaks of a "code of silence." And you talk about the players having meetings and saying all this needs to be kept "in the family." Do you think there was a, a purposeful attempt -- on the part of many, many players -- simply to hide this from you and not to cooperate?

Mitchell: No, I don't believe that, Charlie. I believe the quote that you referred to did not apply specifically to substance abuse. In fact, it probably didn't apply to that, but other things. But that's not uncommon.

In all human organizations, there is a bonding together -- especially male organizations. And there are various "codes of silence." They could even exist in broadcasting companies, or law firms. Baseball players aren't any different in that respect, expect that they live together for two thirds of the year. And, and so, there is a serious bonding that occurs, and it does produce -- inevitably and understandably -- this kind of "code of silence."

I regret that the players chose not to cooperate with me. But we still found out enough -- I think -- to accurately describe the era, and to lay the foundation for the kind of recommendations that are needed to clean it up in the future.

Gibson: Recommendations are only recommendations. And the question is, will baseball adopt what you have suggested? Will the Players Union go along? The Players Union was not cooperative with you in your investigation. What gives you any hope that they might be willing to adopt your recommendations?

Mitchell: I believe it's in the self interest of everyone concerned -- Commissioner, club officials, Players Association and players -- to join in a cooperative and sustained effort to deal with this problem in the future. I don't urge them to do this because it's good for me - or for you; I urge them to do this because it's good for them.

Gibson: Do you have any realistic hope they will?

Mitchell: Oh, I think so. Let's be fair, Charlie. They have made a lot of progress. After many years of adamantly opposing mandatory random drug testing -- in 2002, the Players Association agreed to a program that has mandatory random drug testing. And that has been effective, in that it has reduced the use of detectable steroids. And they have made many improvements in it. Even during the course of our investigation, as we uncovered problems and concerns, they moved to deal with them. So they have made an effort. I don't think you can fairly describe their record as being one of total inaction. And so they recognize that it's in their interest to deal with this issue. And I hope on that basis -- and because it's the right thing to do -- they will act.

Gibson: You are an investigator. In this instance, you are also a fan. As you come out of this, how do you feel about the game, about its integrity, and about what we have seen go on on baseball fields for the last ten years?

Mitchell: Charlie, I love baseball. I grew up as a young boy in Maine with, three older brothers who are great athletes, played a lot of baseball. I played a lot myself; I wasn't very good. And anyone who has ever tried to hit a pitch, knows how hard it is to have the stamina…the talent and the skill to reach the Major Leagues. So in the respect of talent, these players are different from you and me. But in every other respect, they are just the same. My love for the game has not diminished. The fans want to see them play. The fans would like to know that the competition is fair. They would like to be able to concentrate on what's happening on the field, not on what might be happening off the field in this kind of action. And so, I don't think that baseball is going to come to an end or…or that it's gonna be economically hurt. I do think that the integrity of the game is challenged. And ultimately, if nothing is done, there might be an economic consequence. But I think there is time to deal with this, and I hope they will.

Gibson: But…but was what we saw, up 'til 2002 when baseball banned steroids -- much later, when they got after Human Growth Hormone -- was what we were seeing a level playing field?

Mitchell: Well, Charlie, here is the problem in, in all of life. Hindsight is perfect. You and I sitting here, as we approach 2008, have the benefit of everything that's happened since 2002, since 1998, since 1986. And we can make judgments, that people then couldn't see. I pointed out in the report that I myself, as Senate Majority Leader, didn't stand up to oppose a bill that made changes that have had an effect on this situation that I now wish I had done.

Gibson: Hmmm.

Mitchell: …and I am sure you, and everybody watching this broadcast, has a similar experience. You can spend your life agonizing over the past. But you gotta concentrate on the future. That's what I think baseball should do -- concentrate on the future; deal with the issue now to present it…prevent it in the future. And that'll be the best way to deal with failures of the past.

Gibson: Your report quotes Fay Vincent, the former Commissioner of Baseball, in saying that he thought "this was the worst crisis for the game since the Black Sox cheating scandal in 1919." Do you agree with that?

Mitchell: He has a much better knowledge and grasp of that than I do. I have great respect for him. I have talked to him in this investigation. I interviewed him. But one of the problems with investigations of this type, Charlie -- in which I have been engaged on many occasions -- is the temptation to go beyond what you are asked to do. I was asked to look into what happened, and to report on it. And I have done that, and made recommendations to deal with it in the future. And I think beyond that, I shouldn't go.

Gibson: Sen. Mitchell, I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Mitchell: Thanks, Charlie. Good to talk to you. Take care, Charlie.

Gibson: OK. Thank you.