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Congress calling league heads to Washington

WASHINGTON -- The commissioners and union leaders for professional sports leagues keep tweaking -- or offering to tweak -- their drug-testing policies. And lawmakers keep hauling them back to Capitol Hill, looking for more.

This time, Major League Baseball chief Bud Selig wanted some backup.

Career home run leader Hank Aaron and four other baseball Hall
of Famers planned to accompany Selig to a Senate Commerce Committee
hearing Wednesday, the latest in a series of sessions on steroids.

Selig invited Aaron, Ryne Sandberg, Phil Niekro, Robin Roberts
and Lou Brock to attend the hearing, a baseball official told The
Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The official was not
authorized to disclose that information.

As of Tuesday night, there were no plans to have the former
stars testify, and none was on the witness list posted on the
committee's Web site.

Selig, baseball union head Donald Fehr, and officials from the
National Football League, National Basketball Association and
National Hockey League were called to discuss two pieces of Senate
legislation that would standardize drug policies across sports.
Three similar bills have been introduced in the House.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, sponsored the Clean
Sports Act, a companion to the House bill introduced by Government
Reform Chairman Tom Davis. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican
and former pitcher elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1996,
sponsored the Professional Sports and Integrity Act.

Both of those call for a two-year suspension the first time an
athlete fails a drug test and a lifetime ban after a second failed
test. The four leagues whose officials were to appear Wednesday
have less strict penalties, though all have toughened or proposed
toughening their programs in recent months -- in some cases, right
before or after congressional hearings on the subject.

"If they would take seriously the bills before the Congress and
negotiate some kind of settlement that is close to the bills in the
House and in the Senate, then I think major league sports and their
unions could get away without having legislation passed by the
Congress," Bunning said Tuesday. "I don't see that happening."

He expects legislation to reach the floor of Congress before the
end of the year.

Bunning was dismissive of Fehr's offer to accept a 20-game
penalty instead of 10 days for first-time steroid offenders, a
proposal outlined Monday in a letter to Selig.

"Basically, he says, 'In your face. Twenty games, take it or
leave it.' That's completely unacceptable to the Congress,"
Bunning said.

Selig called in April for a 50-game suspension after an initial
positive test, a 100-game ban for second-time offenders and a
lifetime ban for a third violation. Selig took the get-tough
approach about five weeks after lawmakers on Davis' panel grilled
Selig, Fehr and players, including Rafael Palmeiro, about steroids.

"If that were enacted into an agreement," Bunning said,
referring to Selig's offer, "we could live with that, because that
is a reasonable approach. What Donald Fehr has proposed is totally
and completely unreasonable."

Asked about Fehr's letter, McCain said: "My initial reaction is
that it doesn't include the 'three strikes and you're out'
provision."

That mirrored Bunning's criticism of other leagues' drug
policies.

"If they give us the excuse that they're tied in to collective
bargaining agreements and they can't do anything," Bunning said,
"then it's up to Congress to change it and make it the law of the
land."