A panel assembled by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform agreed unanimously on final recommendations Wednesday aimed at decreasing steroid use among professional, collegiate and youth athletes.
One panelist, Mary E. Wilfert, associate director of education outreach for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, told the committee's chairman, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), that reports of drug use among college athletes have been on the decline in recent years. A report issued by the NCAA this summer confirmed that assertion, although statistics suggested that other types of drug use by athletes appear to be increasing.
This summer, the NCAA began randomly conducting out-of-season drug tests of college athletes, some of whom were not on campus. Wilfert said results of those tests won't be available until next year.
Charles Yesalis, professor emeritus of health policy and administration, and exercise and sport science at Pennsylvania State University, said the NCAA needs to be more transparent about its drug testing limitations. "What hasn't been addressed are the gaping loopholes for growth hormones and other known substances," he said. "Given the easy availability of these drugs, this presents a major problem for them. The NCAA has been allowed to skate on this deal."
Yesalis, an author of numerous books about steroids and sports, was invited to the meeting but did not attend. He said he would like to see more money spent on comprehensive testing and undercover sting operations on college campuses. "How any objective person can say drug testing right now is at all successful bewilders me," he added.
Wilfert and other participants in the "Zero Tolerance Roundtable" had a more upbeat take on the situation. She said that 90 percent of Division I colleges conduct their own drug tests on campus, and that the NCAA has a "strong stance on the use of banned dietary supplements."
Wilfert said the NCAA is developing a handbook for coaches so that they can present a consistent message to their players about the harm of performance-enhancing drugs. The Government Accountability Office is set to conduct a study into teenage steroid use, and Wilfert said the results should be telling.
At the meeting, representatives from various professional sports leagues announced partnerships with foundations and trumpeted new anti-doping public service announcements. Some panelists promised more arduous testing. The National Football League Players Association promised to continue meeting with college football players, coaches and NCAA administrators at universities with football programs that often produce professional prospects to explain the league's substance abuse policy.
"The best thing here is the collaborative approach," Wilfert said. "We are most interested in using proven methods to get our message out."
Davis said he was disappointed by the lack of player participation in speaking to younger athletes about the dangers of using performance-enhancing drugs. Wilfert said the NCAA encourages college athletes to speak to youth athletes about the risks.
The Zero Tolerance Roundtable was created by the House committee in March 2005 as a response to a hearing on eradicating steroid use in Major League Baseball.