President Bush's call for athletes and pro sports leagues to eliminate the use of performance-enhancing drugs was welcomed by a number of sports officials.
But Gene Upshaw, the head of the NFL players' union, said the president must not have been speaking about pro football and insisted no drug problem exists in the NFL.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was among the invited guests at the State of the Union address Tuesday night, during which Bush called on major sports leagues to implement stringent drug policies and reminded athletes that they are role models for America's youth.
''Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example,'' the president told Congress.
''The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character.''
Bush's remarks come as athletes in two sports are testing positive for the new steroid THG, which was unmasked last summer by drug officials. Five track and field athletes face two-year suspensions for THG use, and four members of the Oakland Raiders flunked tests for the steroid.
Also, a parade of athletes in sports from baseball to boxing appeared this fall before a San Francisco grand jury probing a nutritional supplements lab that is accused of providing THG to athletes.
Bush said that ''to help children make right choices, they need good examples.''
''So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.''
Frank Uryasz, president of the National Center for Drug Free Sport, said he was ''delighted'' by Bush's remarks.
''Given the weighty issues of the world right now, I think it's fantastic that it was addressed,'' said Uryasz, whose Kansas City, Mo., company coordinates drug testing for the NCAA and runs a drug supplement hotline for NFL players.
''What was so right about it, he didn't call for any government intervention in this he called for sports to clean up their act. His message was just right on.''
Though Bush proposed an additional $23 million for schools that want to do drug tests, he did not call for any money or new laws to combat drugs in pro sports.
''We shouldn't underplay the importance of the president of the United States speaking out on this issue,'' Uryasz added. ''I think it sends a strong message to sports that government is watching this.''
Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said the president could not have been referring to pro football.
''I don't know who Bush is talking about, but he's not talking about the NFL, because we've already dealt with steroids, performance-enhancing drugs and all of that,'' Upshaw said.
Gene Orza, associate general counsel of the baseball players' union, said he had no comment on the president's remarks. Many steroids are banned in baseball, but other substances such as androstenedione are not.
''We wholeheartedly agree with and fully support President Bush's call to rid sports of the use of steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing substances,'' baseball commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement Wednesday. ''While we at major league baseball believe that our new drug-testing program is a good first step, we recognize that continuing vigilance and evolution are necessary if we are to reach our goal of zero tolerance.
''We will continue to work with the Major League Baseball Players Association in an effort to enhance our program so it can be in compliance with the call of the president.''
Craig Masback, chief executive of USA Track & Field, was unsuccessful in his bid to convene a summit of pro sports commissioners late last year to discuss drug problems. He said the president's call will help sports officials who often have found themselves waging an uphill battle.
''I think it's especially important he focused on young athletes and that cheating by star athletes sends the wrong message,'' said Masback, who was in New York as part of a pre-Olympic promotional tour.
''In order for America to confront this issue, it needs to be raised to a level of importance, and having the president of the United States talk about it can't help but do that. The battle can never be won unless it becomes an important American issue.''
Brady and Tamika Catchings of the WNBA's Indiana Fever sat in Laura Bush's box and were honored for their community service.
John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said he spoke at length with the president a former owner of the Texas Rangers last month about the problem of drugs in sports.
''The president has had a personal involvement with major league baseball and he's particularly concerned that it's bad for players, it's bad for the sport, it's bad for young people and he's calling for them to fix it,'' Walters said. ''It's not a government responsibility.''
Associated Press writer Justin Pritchard in San Francisco, AP Sports Writer Andrea Adelson in New York and AP Sports Writer Eddie Pells in Jacksonville, Fla., contributed to this report.
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