Whitfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville, spoke during a televised hearing entitled, “Drugs in Sports: Compromising the Health of Athletes and Undermining the Integrity of Competition,” which was held during a meeting of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
National Thoroughbred Racing Association president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop was scheduled to testify later Feb. 27 in the second of two panels comprised of major sports commissioners and executives. The first panel heard in the morning included commissioners Bud Selig of Major League Baseball, David Stern of the National Basketball Association, and Roger Goodell of the National Football League, among others.
In his opening remarks, Whitfield chastised United States racing leaders for failing to adopt a uniform policy of banning steroid use, noting most major international racing jurisdictions have already done so.
“Trainers and vets make the decisions, and the horse cannot say no,” he told the panel. “England, France, all of Europe, Japan, South Africa, Dubai, Australia: All of the major racing jurisdictions have banned the use of drugs still commonplace in America. England, for instance, banned steroids in racing over 30 years ago.
“Through the years … horsemen’s groups, who claim that they represent every trainer and every horse owner, have been in the forefront to stop the adoption of more stringent drug rules,” he continued. “And they have been, and continue to be successful, to the detriment of the sport.”
Whitfield cited the recent inflammatory remarks made by Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, which were published last month in the New York Post.
“Last month in an interview, Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who has won more races than any living trainer, said he had seen enough,” Whitfield said. “He said drugs ranging from medications like steroids and clenbuterol to prohibited substances like EPO (erythropoietin) are slowly destroying horse racing in America.”
Whitfield also shared an anti-drugging presentation made by former U.S. Sen. Charles “Mac” Mathias Jr. at The Jockey Club Roundtable in 1981. The Maryland Republican was backing proposed legislation called “The Corrupt Practices in Horseracing Act,” Whitfield said, an act he said would have banned the use of all drugs in horses, as well as other practices such as nerving, numbing and freezing.
“State racing commissioners descended on Sen. Mathias’s office after that speech, and they assured him, (27) years ago, that they were going to address the problems, that they were going to crack down on the use of these drugs in racing,” Whitfield said. “Here we are 27 years later, and not much has changed.”
While citing statistics that claim between 2,500 to 3,000 horses die on the racetrack each year, Whitfield closed his remarks by asking a rhetorical question he attributed to Mathias.
“Is it time to call in the federal cavalry and send it chasing into your stables with guns blazing to clean up the sport of horse racing?,” he asked.
Whitfield later asked for unanimous consent to enter into record a “multitude of e-mails” he received from owners and breeders "from around the country" that ask for federal action to ban steroids in racing. The motion was approved without objection.
Among other scheduled to testify in the afternoon panel that includes Waldrop were Jim Scherr, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee; and Myles Brand, president of the National Collegiate Athletics Association.