Baseball commissioner Bud Selig called for new talks with the players’ union to ban ephedra, the nutritional supplement that might have contributed to the death of Baltimore pitcher Steve Bechler.
Bechler died Monday, a day after collapsing at spring training with heatstroke. A Florida medical examiner said the death may have been linked to an ephedra-based diet pill, Xenadrine RFA-1.
While ephedra is banned by the NFL, the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee, use of the substance, which is available without prescription, is allowed in baseball.
During labor bargaining last summer, owners talked about banning ephedra, but they did not include a ban in their proposal after the union told management lawyers that it would not agree to it.
“Selig and the clubs have been consistent in advocating the ban of and testing for all illegal drugs as well as over-the-counter dietary and nutritional supplements that pose a health risk to players,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement Friday.
“In light of the apparent circumstances surrounding the tragic and untimely death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, Major League Baseball and the clubs are prepared to meet with the Major League Baseball Players Association regarding the use or abuse of potentially dangerous dietary and nutritional supplements. Also, we will continue and accelerate our efforts to have Congress ban those substances.”
Players have opposed banning any substances that are legal for others to take. The new drug agreement calls for players to be tested for drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, and for illegal anabolic steroids.
New York Yankees pitcher David Wells acknowledged that he uses a supplement that contains ephedra, even after a medical scare seven years ago, the New York Daily News and New York Post reported Saturday.
While with the Baltimore Orioles in 1996, Wells said he was using a product that contained ephedra in an effort to lose weight. He was admitted to a hospital during spring training with an irregular heartbeat, and doctors used a defibrillator to restore a regular heart beat, the newspapers reported.
“They had to use the defibrillator three times to get it back (in rhythm),” Wells told the Post. “I was out for two minutes. The second time I was flat line.”
The New York Times reported Saturday that Mo Vaughn of the Mets acknowledged using supplements that contained ephedra.
Vaughn told The Times he used supplements to build energy, not to lose weight. Vaughn said he once tried the supplement that Bechler was taking but stopped when it made him jittery.
Union head Donald Fehr, speaking earlier Friday in Peoria, Ariz., said it was too early to draw any conclusions on ephedra.
“At some point down the road I’m not personally familiar with how long it takes, we’ll have some scientific reports, which will tell us some things,” Fehr said. “We may be able to draw conclusions from that. We may not. We’ll just have to wait and see. Obviously, it’s something you discuss internally. You take another look at things as circumstances warrant.”
Rep Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat of the House Committee on Government Reform, sent letters Friday to the heads of the NBA, NHL and Fehr asking why they have not acted to ban ephedra. Waxman sent a similar letter to Selig on Thursday.
“I would like to know why this serious safety issue has not been addressed,” Waxman wrote in the letters to NBA commissioner David Stern, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and baseball union head Donald Fehr.
Waxman asked Fehr: “What steps have you taken to educate your members about the potential dangers of certain supplements?” and “Will the Major League Baseball Players Association change its policy soon?”
Sandy Alderson, executive vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner’s office, said Friday at a conference in Nashville, Tenn., that Congress or the Food and Drug Administration may take action. Alderson said owners initially hoped ephedra would be banned in the new labor deal.
“I would hope we’re able to take another look at that with the players’ association,” he said.
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