Whatever their decision, ballplayers will have to talk

Usually when you receive an invitation, it's to a party.

Unfortunately for some of the biggest names in Major League Baseball, they have been subpoenaed to appear before a congressional committee investigating the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Because they turned down the committee in the last two weeks, the seven current and former players are required to attend the March 17 hearing and give testimony.

It's no accident that the House committee is beginning its hearings just as another baseball season arrives. By subpoenaing the likes of Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, and Sammy Sosa, the committee knows that the hearings will be highly publicized in the media. Its intention is to send a message that steroid use cannot be tolerated in sports, while informing the public -- especially young athletes -- of the health problems brought on by their use.

By now the names of the ballplayers -- the others are Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas -- are sadly familiar. What is strange though, is that Barry Bonds hasn't been called. Both Bonds and Giambi testified before a San Francisco grand jury that eventually issued a criminal indictment against BALCO and its principals for supplying steroids to sports figures.

Not even a first-year law student would have let either testify before the grand jury if they were not first given immunity from prosecution by the U.S. Attorney's office. Immunity generally protects a person from prosecution except if it is proved that the person lied to the grand jury. Reports claim that Giambi owned up to knowing steroid use; Bonds reportedly said he unknowingly used a steroid.

Perhaps the committee simply doesn't want to hear Bonds' rather-hard-to-believe testimony.

As for the others who have been subpoenaed, they will have to decide whether to ask the committee for immunity before they testify, or just throw caution to the wind and go ahead without protection. I don't think that they are in much danger of having criminal problems -- as long as they tell the truth. Prosecutors seem to be interested only in those who were the suppliers, rather than the users, of steroids.

If any evidence emerges during testimony that these men were selling or furnishing steroids to others, it could become a problem for them.

Roger Cossack is ESPN's legal analyst.