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Inside Politics

McGwire mum on steroids in hearing

Sosa, Palmeiro deny use in front of House panel

Jose Canseco wrote a book alleging widespread drug use in baseball.
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Baseball stars testify on steroids before a House panel.

Ten high school football players were caught using steroids.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer talks to Jose Canseco about steroid use.
Which ballplayer's testimony before Congress was more convincing?
Jose Canseco
Mark McGwire

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire refused to answer questions about steroid use during his playing career at a congressional hearing Thursday, repeatedly telling a House committee he was "not here to talk about the past."

McGwire, who broke Roger Maris' single-season record for home runs in 1998, was among a panel of current and former all-stars who appeared before the House Government Reform Committee to discuss the use of steroids in the majors.

Two other witnesses -- Baltimore Orioles outfielder Sammy Sosa, McGwire's rival in the 1998 home run chase, and Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro -- denied using steroids.

Asked by St. Louis congressman William Clay whether he could assure fans he had played "with honesty and integrity," McGwire said, "I'm not going to go into the past or talk about my past. I'm here to make a positive influence on this."

He also refused to address allegations of steroid use leveled against him and other ballplayers by his one-time Oakland A's teammate Jose Canseco -- the author of a recent tell-all book on the issue -- and said he would not be "naming names."

"My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family and myself," McGwire said.

Canseco told the committee that steroids were "as acceptable in the '80s and mid-to-late '90s as a cup of coffee." And he urged Congress to take action to stop the use of steroids.

"I think it would be a major mistake to let the league police itself, no ifs or buts about it," he said. "We'll be back here quicker than quick."

But baseball Commissioner Bud Selig vowed "zero tolerance" for performance-enhancing drugs, saying drug-test rules negotiated with the players union have been toughened over the past four years.

"I will suspend any player who tests positive for an illegal steroid," Selig said. "There will be no exceptions. The union is aware of that, and they accept it."

Canseco bashed

McGwire retired in 2001. He has previously admitted using androstenedione, a precursor to anabolic steroids and a legal substance at the time.

When Clay, a Democrat, asked what other substances he may have used, he said, "I'm not here to talk about the past."

McGwire acknowledged that "there has been a problem with steroid use in baseball" and said he is willing to help lawmakers combat the use of performance-enhancing drugs by younger players.

But he did not directly address Canseco's allegation in his remarks.

"It should be enough that you consider the source of the statements," he said.

In another jab at Canseco, who was just a few seats away, McGwire said his testimony could be used by prosecutors willing to rely on "convicted criminals who would do or say anything to solve their own problems."

Canseco received probation in 2001 after a brawl outside a nightclub in Miami, Florida, and was jailed in 2003 for violating his probation after testing positive for steroids.

Canseco had asked for immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, but that request was refused. In his book, he also accuses Sosa and Palmeiro of using steroids.

Palmeiro told members of the House committee that Canseco is lying.

"I have never used steroids. Period," Palmeiro said. "I do not know how to say it any more clearly than that."

Sosa said in an opening statement read by his lawyer: "Everything I have heard about steroids and human growth hormones is that they are very bad for you."

In 2001, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants hit 73 home runs to break McGwire's record. Bonds, who has testified before a grand jury in a California steroids case, was not subpoenaed by the House panel.

Chairman: 'Cloud' over game

Earlier, committee members said officials of the national pastime have failed to confront the problem of performance-enhancing illegal drugs.

"There's a cloud over the game that I love," said Republican Tom Davis of Virginia, the panel's chairman.

"I would hope that baseball would see this hearing as an opportunity."

But Selig blamed the "cloud" on critics "who, although well-intentioned, are not well-informed about baseball's multifaceted campaign against such substances."

Lawmakers said they are concerned about steroid use because of the perception it creates among college and high school athletes, pointing to studies showing increased steroid use in youths.

In their testimony, the players offered condolences to the families of young players who committed suicide after taking steroids.

Donald Hooton of Plano, Texas, provided emotional testimony about his 17-year-old son Taylor, who used steroids and killed himself in 2003.

"Let me implore you to take steps to clean up this mess," he told the panel. "Please help us to see that our children's lives were not lost in vain."

"Players that are guilty of taking steroids are not only cheaters, you are cowards," he said.

Panel formed

Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and Chicago White Sox designated hitter Frank Thomas, outspoken critics of steroid use, were named to an advisory panel, along with committee leaders. Palmeiro volunteered to serve on that body.

Schilling warned lawmakers against "glorifying the so-called author" or "indirectly assisting him to sell more books."

"A book which devotes hundreds of pages to glorifying steroid usage, in which he contends steroid usage is justified and will be the norm in this country in several years, is a disgrace, was written irresponsibly and sends the opposite message that needs to be sent to kids," he said.

He disputed Canseco's assertion that the major leagues and its players would be unable to police themselves, saying the more than 90 percent of players who don't use steroids want those who do to be exposed.

"I think the fear of public embarrassment and humiliation upon being caught is going to be greater than any player ever imagined," Schilling said.

And even Canseco said that the fact that ballplayers were sitting in front of a congressional committee "is going to be a major deterrent."

The antipathy toward Canseco by his former teammates and rivals was such that committee leaders agreed to swear in the witnesses one-by-one, since the other ballplayers objected to the image of being sworn at the same time as Canseco, said a top committee aide who asked not to be identified.

Questions about punishment

Selig said the players union took an "unprecedented step" in December by reopening its current labor agreement to discuss a stronger policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

President Donald Fehr said the union does not support or condone "the use of any illegal substance."

"We are committed to dispelling any notion that the route to becoming a major league athlete somehow includes the taking of unlawful performance-enhancing substances," he said.

Sen. Jim Bunning, a baseball Hall of Famer, was the first witness. The Kentucky Republican said the league's penalties for a positive steroid test "are really puny."

Players who break the law should be severely punished, and their records should be wiped out, he said.

But Davis and California Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat, said a key loophole suspends baseball's steroid policy in the event of a government investigation.

They also blasted baseball officials for hailing the drug policy as the "gold standard" in sport, when its standards fall short of those used by the Olympics.

And despite baseball officials' calls for full public disclosure, the actual policy says all testing results should "remain strictly confidential," they said.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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