Worried about protecting a national past time, the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform Committee will hold hearings today concerning the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. In reality, the committee is merely pursuing another national past time: political grandstanding. Although committee members have insisted that the hearings are merely fact-seeking endeavors that do not constitute a witch hunt, the hearings and the manner in which they are proceeding clearly indicate that the committee is unnecessarily overstepping its bounds.
In a well-publicized affair, the bipartisan committee announced that it was issuing subpoenas for seven of the MLB’s past and current superstars: Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi (who was recently exempted from testifying because of his involvement with the on-going BALCO grand jury investigations and indictments), Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Frank Thomas. To enforce the subpoenas, the committee has threatened to hold resisting ballplayers in contempt of Congress and has even mentioned revoking the antitrust protection granted to the MLB if the players ignore the subpoenas. While some of the players have criticized the subpoenas, noting the similarities with the subpoenas Congress issued under the McCarthy era, many of the players have looked forward to the hearings as an opportunity to “set the record straight” — a motive the committee has also sought from the hearings.
Although the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs is deplorable and may currently constitute a public health epidemic among teenagers, Congress’ decision to call for these hearings was not warranted. It is not the role of Congressional hearings “to set the record straight.” Individuals should not be compelled to testify without due process and should never be placed in the position to testify against them selves. While the ballplayers can invoke Fifth Amendment rights, these types of public hearings have already done damage by creating a cloud of suspicion and the perception of guilt among those called on to testify.
Furthermore, these hearings create a dangerous precedent. In January, the MLB and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association acted to control the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs by establishing a new drug testing and suspension policy. Congress should afford the MLB and the MLBPA the autonomy it deserves to police itself and await the results of the collective bargaining agreement. If Congress intrudes on the autonomy of the MLB and the MLBPA, there may be no end in sight to the regulations Congress posits on agreements between employers and employees — even a national drug-testing policy would be plausible.
Congressmen need to put political aspirations on hold and commit themselves to their responsibilities. Congress has already made the use of certain performance-enhancing drugs illegal. Instead of trying to hit a home run and score quick political points, Congress and the committee should focus on much more pressing concerns.