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Drug experts take issue with Selig's declaration

Mark McGwire finally admitted to using steroids on

Mark McGwire finally admitted to using steroids on Jan. 11, 2009. Credit: AFP / Getty Images (2001)

Far more shocking to anti-doping experts than Mark McGwire's belated admission of steroid use were declarations, including the one by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, that the "so-called steroid era . . . is clearly a thing of the past."

"The irony for me," Manhasset-based sports and drugs authority Dr. Gary Wadler said by phone from Mobile, Ala., "is that I'm here, testifying at a trial [of 10 men] on steroid distribution. Steroids are still a major problem. We have to remind people of that."

Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), is a key prosecution witness in the Alabama trial, where he testified that the only legitimate medical use of steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) is treatment in children suffering from growth deficiency, adults with an inability to produce growth hormone naturally and treating patients with AIDS or other wasting diseases.

McGwire, in Monday's confession to major news outlets in which he confirmed that he used performance-enhancing drugs for much of his career, expressed regret and sorrow. But he insisted that he did not take the substances to build strength, using them only to facilitate recovery from injury. And he argued that he would have set his slugging records without the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs.

Wadler and other experts years ago made it clear that steroids and similar substances, such as HGH - all prohibited in Olympic sports for decades - are "training drugs." That is, they give users the ability to train longer and harder without physically breaking down, thereby extending careers and increasing athletes' abilities to perform.

Though McGwire's mea culpa was met with widespread skepticism - in and out of baseball - Selig issued his statement, claiming "the use of steroids and amphetamines amongst today's players has greatly subsided and is virtually nonexistent, as our testing results have shown." Selig pronounced the steroid era to be over.

"He said that?" U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart asked The New York Times. "If so, it sounds like the same stick-your-head-in-the-sand approach that led to this whole mess."

WADA president John Fahey told The Associated Press in London that Major League Baseball should take the McGwire admission as a signal that it must be tougher on drug cheats.

Fahey called baseball's anti-doping program, put in place only after revelations by Jose Canseco and the 2003 BALCO scandal, to be one that has shown only "incremental progress" and is well short of "universally accepted standards" set by WADA.

Wadler has been arguing for years that sports must guard against "steroid fatigue" and "realize how widespread this problem is. It's big business. Baseball has come a long way since 1998, obviously. But we're still not where we need to be. I applaud baseball for taking the steps they've taken, but they can't stop here."

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