Big-league response necessary

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

They've promised vigilance in front of Congress, hashed out testing policies with their unions and declared their intense commitment to rooting out doping in their sports.

Publicly, the National Football League and Major League Baseball have said they will do whatever they can to fight performance-enhancing drugs.

And now that they have their chance, a real chance, we are going to find out just how serious they are. Anything less than everything isn't going to be enough.

The DEA claims it is compiling a database of thousands of names associated with "Operation Raw Deal," an 18-month investigation into the global trade of anabolic steroids, human growth hormones and other performance-enhancing drugs.

In a series of raids around the world last week, the DEA and other federal agencies gathered a mountain of evidence that can implicate everyone from wholesalers to individuals who were sent even a single shipment of drugs in the past two years. A DEA spokesman said the amount of steroids seized "could have supplied hundreds of thousands of people."

Some of the names, it is believed, will be professional and college athletes, especially football and baseball players, the two mainstream sports most linked to doping.

This is potentially the most significant breakthrough in the fight against performance-enhancing drugs in American sports.

The NFL and MLB must gain access to the database and run the names of their players, coaches, doctors, trainers and other personnel. Perhaps the NCAA ought to do it too. The results could range from clearing the sports from the perception of widespread cheating to blowing the lid off of everything and implicating hundreds of current athletes.

Since the focus of the investigation involves Internet and not street sales, there is a question about how many sophisticated buyers will be involved. Professional athletes, especially, should be able to obtain drugs online without using their names or paying with their credit cards. Even so, common sense suggests that at least some professional athletes are caught up in this.

Prior to Raw Deal, the most significant development in the fight against doping was the federal prosecution of the BALCO Laboratory in California.

But that was just one lab that produced a list of less than three dozen clients. This is hundreds, if not thousands, of sales and distribution platforms that will link hundreds of thousands of individuals.

This is BALCO on steroids, and then some.

Both the NFL and MLB, the two leagues presumably most affected, were trying to hash through just what this might mean in the wake of the raids.

A MLB official told Yahoo! Sports that if there is a way for baseball to get access to the names, it will do it.

If form holds, the NFL also would be aggressive. A raid a few weeks ago by federal authorities resulted in the suspensions of New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison and Dallas Cowboys assistant coach Wade Wilson for receiving shipments of HGH.

As a blueprint, the NFL and MLB should try to be as proactive as the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which oversees drug-testing for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Travis Tygart, USADA's chief executive officer, was an advisor to Raw Deal and told Yahoo! Sports on Monday that his organization is already "in tune with a lot of evidence" and confident that there will be few, if any, Olympic athletes implicated.

Neither Tygart nor the DEA would admit he had access to the database, but his significant cooperation with federal authorities must be helpful, something the NFL acknowledges.

"Consistent with our policy of fully cooperating with law enforcement, we will work with the DEA and other federal agencies in support of their investigations," Aiello said.

For its part, the DEA says it will be up to the U.S. Justice Department to hand over the list.

"We are not going to be the ones that make the decision whether to provide names to organizations and leagues," DEA spokesman Rusty Payne told Yahoo! Sports. "Those decisions are going to be made by the individual U.S. Attorneys who are doing the prosecuting."

That presents two courses of action for the leagues. First, they need to get out in front of this because if there really are hundreds of thousands of potential cases here, federal prosecutors will have to pick and choose whom to prosecute. Traditionally, the most effective way to curb widespread crimes such as this is to go after high-profile cases and hope it results in a chilling effect.

It is difficult to imagine anyone more high profile involved in this than professional athletes.

Second, it again shows how the NFL and MLB can follow USADA's lead on acquiring the evidence.

Back in 2003, the Justice Department rejected a request from USADA to hand over the names associated in the BALCO case. Undeterred, USADA appealed to Arizona Sen. John McCain, who long has fought for the cleaning up of sports. McCain used his power to subpoena the information for USADA.

"I think BALCO pioneered the breakdown of a lot of the walls that used to exist," Tygart said. "But you also have to remember that in BALCO we saw the records during a pending indictment, so the timing is absolutely everything in these types of investigations."

For the sports organizations this potentially is the Holy Grail in what once seemed to be the impossible task of cleaning up their games.

It comes, of course, with the risk of finding out its worst fears of widespread doping. The NFL, with its precedent of suspending Harrison for a nonanalytical positive, has the most to lose.

But even a worst case isn't worse than losing all credibility and authority on this issue. The NFL needs to team with MLB, the NCAA, NBA, NHL and everyone else to push to get those names, either through the DEA, the Justice Department or any and every avenue in Washington.

We've heard bold talk and big promises about snuffing out doping by these commissioners.

The time to walk the walk is here; just follow the steps of USADA.

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