Contact: Kathy Chu/Bob Weiner 301-283-0821 or 202-329-1700
Bob Weiner Statement at Congressional Black Caucus Judiciary Braintrust on Drug Testing, African American Athletes, and Fairness, Rep. John Conyers, Jr., Chairman
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2004, 9:00 am
- USADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which conducts and enforces U.S. drug testing in Olympic sports) and WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) must pursue their mission of testing and evaluating for doping in order to assure clean sport and the right message for youth, and they should be strongly supported by the USOC and the IOC. This isn’t just about elite athletes’ cheating and health but about the kids who follow their lead. A million American teens a year now use steroids. I think it shows great progress that at the Athens Olympics, over 20 athletes who tested positive lost medals, several gold, or high places, and were thrown out.
- But our world and national drug testing bodies must do a better job of protecting athletes’ due process rights and clearing the innocent. When it comes to athletes, drugs, and justice, African Americans are often the hardest hit.
- Athletes including 5-Gold medal winner Marion Jones are properly complaining vigorously about USADA’s adjudication process as asserting guilt by association rather than actual evidence, and not understanding when evidence clearly points to other individuals rather than to them.
- Jones, for example, points out that even in their meeting with her, USADA mistook her times for a man’s – if it were her time, she would have broken the world 100 record by a full second - - impossible -- and claimed she was tested at the very time she was on an all-day flight to Sydney. The drugs and the log had to be someone else’s. USADA at first denied these assertions but she quotes statements from the meeting – which USADA will not reveal and for which no recording or transcript was kept. The press has now reported Jones’ experience with corroborative witnesses at the meeting, and I’ve verified it too with people who were there. Some press stories properly made a joke of the USADA incompetence on this, sending three USADA supposed sports-drug experts to the meeting with her and her lawyers and not recognizing that the 100 meter time in the drug log was obviously a man’s. But it wasn’t funny to Jones.
- If USADA is going to act in the manner of a judicial body – its charter says it will develop an adjudication program -- it needs to follow U.S. Justice principles, including keeping a recording and transcript, and allowing disclosure and a public meeting if requested by the athlete.
- Both a colleague at USADA and David Howman, the Director of WADA, asked me why I got into athlete’s rights when I am a strong advocate of drug testing and outing cheaters and at the White House Drug Office was involved in creating both USADA and WADA. Former USADA Chair Frank Shorter, a running buddy and friend, came to my White House farewell a few years ago and said I was responsible for his job. I am a runner in national masters competitions, am involved with US track and field as an elected masters officer and organizer, and I don’t like people cheating with drugs. But I also want people’s due process protected.
- A few years ago, when I worked at the White House drug office, Ken Starr harassed my wife and me for making private phone calls from our house congratulating our old friends in Columbia, MD, where my wife had lived and Linda Tripp still did. We told our friends we agreed with the press release they had put on television saying Tripp’s one-party consent tapes were illegal under Maryland’s two-party law. Starr subpoenaed me to testify before his Clinton Whitewater-Lewinsky grand jury arguing we’d interfered with his investigation, and he later also subpoenaed Pat’s and my home phone records. I lost a lot of sleep over Starr’s harassment. After my forced testimony, Pat and I went on the courthouse steps to decry what we believed was Big Brother at its worst for attacking our clear freedom of speech and First Amendment rights. Must athletes, including in the sport I love, also suffer this legal torture and be harassed if an agency has zero evidence of any wrongdoing?
- Who knows if Marion Jones would have done better at the current Olympics without the pressure applied from USADA and WADA?
- And what of the absurd case of Torri Edwards, our world 100 meter champion, who was banished from the Olympics because, at an obscure track meet in Martinique in April, her physical therapist bought Edwards the regular glucose that she always took safely, but when bought from the drug store on that island, was laced with a stimulant not on the label and which was not included in the product here at home. Neither Edwards not her therapist had a clue anything was wrong. They certainly would not have risked it for an irrelevant exhibition meet. The follow-on drug test became an automatic death sentence in sports despite the fact that her prior record was spotless. Edwards was devastated – and ruined with no consideration of circumstances, unlike a true legal proceeding.
- In both Jones’ and Edwards’ cases, by unmerited harassment and banishment, we probably denied ourselves Olympic gold medals for the sake of overarching law enforcement techniques by non law-enforcement agencies. I also believe we were aiming to mollify foreign countries’ America-bashing, instead of our standing up for our athletes.
- The USADA written vision calls for "an adjudication program that will be fair and sustainable when an athlete is found… in violation" but it must also be fair before any violation is found.
- The USADA Charter also says that athletes’ rights will be protected -- this includes due process, as we know it. As someone who helped create USADA, I’m concerned they are violating both their charter and mission when they overreach against athletes with no sustainable evidence of violations.
- It is understandable that some athletes will want to keep their proceedings private, but for the athletes that need and want their records in the public to defend themselves, there must be a vehicle to do so -- ensuring that USADA cannot claim that something happened which did not, deny the accuracy of defense on specific points, or assert that they have more evidence than they actually do.
- Another critical point: There is now no "end game" for the innocent, and there must be. Someone under investigation must be cleared quickly if there turns out to be inaccurate or no evidence of doping. After charges are investigated, a letter should be sent to the individual in a timely manner stating that there is no evidence of doping and the athlete remains clear to compete although the testing and assessment will continue as for all athletes.
- Equally important, if someone is found guilty of a performance-enhancing drug violation, then mandatory, monitored, and publicly acknowledged drug treatment may be just as or more effective a penalty, if enforced well, as pure banishment from a sport. That is the lesson we’ve learned with the now 800 drug courts in America, up from just eight a decade ago, which provide mandatory treatment rather than imprisonment for traditional drugs. Recidivism drops by more than half compared to imprisonment. The same strategy can and should be employed in sports. WADA and USADA do offer strong drug education and prevention programs, but no real drug treatment or linkages to drug treatment.
- It’s as though if we catch you, we won’t save you, we’ll send you into the inferno, because you are hereby worthless. USADA and WADA need to develop a tough-love strategy of treatment and recognize it’s both a penalty and a tool.
- To sum it up, youth need to see justice, not just a hammer, as the right message.
(Robert Weiner, Former Spokesman and Director of Public Affairs, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy 1995-2001 under Drug Czars Lee Brown and Barry McCaffrey, directed White House drug policy press at the Sydney Olympics, World Anti Doping Agency press at the Salt Lake Olympics, and now is president of a public affairs and issue strategies company with opeds and commentaries on sports and drugs throughout the national media. Weiner earlier served as Communications Director for the House Government Operations Committee under Chairman John Conyers for five years and for the House Narcotics Committee under Chairman Charles Rangel for four years. He remains an avid runner and won a silver medal in the 3000-meter steeplechase at this summer’s National Masters Track Championships, attaining all-American status by bettering the age group standard by 16 seconds.)