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Robinson Wants Ephedra Banned

Mar 13, 2003 | The Globe And Mail

Frank Robinson says the U.S. government should ban over-the-counter sales of dietary supplements containing ephedra, but until then he believes the Major League Baseball Players Association and the commissioner's office need to ban the substance from the game.

"Anything that's harmful to someone, I don't think there should be any ifs, ands or buts about it, just because it's legal and available over the counter," said Robinson, the Hall of Fame player who stepped down as the commissioner's czar of discipline in order to become manager of the Montreal Expos.

"The players' association and the commissioner's office should do something about this, and the sooner the better. I wish our government would just take the stuff off the shelves, but in the meantime, I believe the players' association will do the right thing.

"The phrases you hear in the clubhouse are ones like, 'It's legal,' and 'I know I can handle it.' Well, how do you know you can handle it?"

Toxicology tests on the body of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler were released in Fort Lauderdale yesterday by Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper. Bechler collapsed from heatstroke on Feb. 16 after running drills at the Orioles spring training site, and the toxicology tests confirmed that "significant amounts" of Xenadrine, an over-the-counter supplement containing ephedra led to the heatstroke.

Ephedra is banned by the National Football League, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the International Olympic Committee. Health Canada has issued a voluntary recall for products containing the substance. The toxicology analysis of Bechler's blood also showed smaller amounts of two other stimulants, pseudoephedrine and caffeine.

After Bechler's death, commissioner Bud Selig banned players with minor-league contracts from taking ephedra. The players' union, meanwhile, sent out a memo on March 5 urging players not to take the amphetamine-like stimulant.

Selig issued a release yesterday saying he remained prepared to discuss the matter with the players' association, whose executive director, Donald Fehr, is in the middle of a tour of spring training sites. Fehr hasn't closed the door on a discussion, but he would prefer the federal government take the lead in any change since the product is legal and easily available over the counter.

Fehr also issued a release yesterday after the report was made public, stressing that the report said "multiple-risk factors," in Bechler's death, "among them Xenadrine, a food additive containing ephedra." Other factors included "his overweight condition, abnormal liver function, mild hypertension and the physical activity in which he was engaged on the day of his death."

In Dunedin, Vernon Wells, the Blue Jays player representative, pointed out that Bechler was using the drug not to improve performance but to lose weight. Wells said that he stopped using dietary supplements containing ephedrine after a discussion with his wife. Blue Jays general manager J. P. Ricciardi said he felt it was a matter of individual choice.

"I don't care really what you take it's not going to help you in this game," Wells said. "You can either hit a baseball or you can't or you can throw a strike or you can't. I've tried it before and you feel definitely a difference in your energy level but you have to be careful. You have to go by the directions that are on the bottle and don't exceed the limit. I don't think there's anybody in this clubhouse that uses it right now. I think everybody knows the dangers behind it."

Some teams have tried to ban the substance from their clubhouse, but have run afoul of the players' association. The Expos asked their players not to bring supplements containing ephedrine into the clubhouse. If the players are still using it, they keep it out of sight.

Robinson dismissed any suggestion that the matter needed to be resolved by education more than legislation.

"It shouldn't take any more education," Robinson said, tersely. "How much more do you need to be told about it?"

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