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Newer focus on the issue of steroids and PED usage

By Zach Arnold | July 15, 2010

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Since Floyd Mayweather’s fight against Shane Mosley, we’ve seen the debate in the media about steroid usage take some interesting turns.

With a growing sense of ‘libertarian’ thought about the War of Drugs and decriminalization of marijuana and other drugs, you can sense that those who support the usage of steroids and PEDs are starting to speak up on the matter because they feel the public is on their side. Certainly, there’s a lot of push-back against people who are anti-doping in nature. This, in turn, has led to some second-guessing both personally and from a distance.

Take for instance MLB (Major League Baseball). The All-Star Game drew terrible ratings on Tuesday night for Fox. There are plenty of issues as to why the concept of a baseball all-star game is not as attractive as it once used to be. (Fans are able to watch 162 games all season long plus playoffs and interspersed in between that schedule is Interleague play, along with the fact that you can watch all the highlights from every game on ESPN each night during the season.) However, quietly being discussed, is the issue of steroids in relation to fan interest in baseball. Skip Bayless of ESPN brought this up last night:

All-Star baseball ratings all-time low. Do some fans miss Steroid Era? No HRs last 2 All-Star gms. MLB attendance, runs down last 2 yrs.

What Skip touched upon is something that Ken Shamrock tried to claim when he was on Mike Straka’s HDNet show a few weeks ago. That was the show where Ken made his admission of steroid usage. (Read transcript here.) Shamrock said that the fans want to be entertained and that there are hypocrites in the media who know athletes using steroids but won’t discuss it until there’s a positive test or someone else touches the story first.

Ken Shamrock has recently argued that steroid usage should be allowed but in a ‘controlled’ manner. And yet, he denies that steroids should be legal. What’s interesting about this argument is that his ‘allowed but not legal’ argument is similar to what is happening in California with the issue of medical marijuana. You have dispensaries opening up everywhere and you can sell marijuana to anyone who has a card for it (issued with a doctor’s recommendation). However, the Feds have been going after growers of marijuana because the Federal laws go against what the state has decreed to be legal.

In the case of allowing steroid usage in a ‘controlled’ setting, how can you expect a state governmental body to allow this to happen when steroids are technically illegal on the books? It won’t happen. That’s not to say that Ken’s argument doesn’t have supporters — it does. There’s quite a few fighters in the game who are users who would love to see steroid usage allowed. One reader recently pointed out to me that since the veterans of MMA were heavy steroid users that we shouldn’t take their arguments seriously. I would disagree with that because the usage of PEDs in MMA is high and with increase amounts of money to be made in the sport (as with other sports), you end up with designer steroids that the drug testers haven’t been able to detect yet along with growth hormone which is nearly impossible to catch on a standard drug test.

Ken has received a lot of heat for his statements on this matter but in many ways I think he sees himself as someone who is speaking publicly for a larger group of fighters who simply don’t want to politically get in hot water. You may not agree with what he has to say, but at least he is advancing the argument for his cause and putting those of us in the anti-doping camp into a position where we need to strength our arguments.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Keith Kizer. He is a walking PR disaster every time he talks. During the Mayweather/Mosley saga involving USADA, it was Kizer who said that a standard urine test was “adequate” to catch drug abuse. Then he had the testimony from several people regarding the drug tests that the NSAC is currently using and whether or not they are really effective. The hearing came off more like a defense of the NSAC as opposed to actually advancing the way drug testing is done (my opinion). He can call that opinion of mine a mischaracterization of the conversation, but I’ve listened to the audio from that conference hearing. (Audio and notes here.) On top of that, it was Mr. Kizer who touted that the state would do out-of-competition drug testing. Well, they haven’t been doing it for a while now, have they? Every time I see the media report from the NSAC that the drug tests for events came back clean, you don’t hear in those reports that the out-of-competition drug testing never took place. Why? Because that makes certain people look bad, that’s why. Yes, the financial situation is bad in a lot of American states, but you can’t honestly look at someone with a straight face and say that a UFC event that attracts millions of dollars isn’t an event that could finance out-of-competition drug testing. Please. Take for instance UFC 116 — the main event featured Brock Lesnar, who did get caught with steroids in the past, and the semi-main event featured Chris Leben who failed a UFC-administered drug test in the UK. From the conference call the NSAC hosted last June:

Travis Tygart referred to “the money excuse” and said to the NSAC commissioners (paraphrasing), “The money is there. You just have to decide how you want to prioritize it. You could take one dollar, or one percent, from every PPV buy of the Mayweather/Mosley fight and that could fund your drug program for the next five years.”

Unfortunately, Keith Kizer continues to stuff his foot in his mouth. A.J. Perez at MMA Fighting did a story about Michael Kirkham’s death and asked Kizer about safety issues in MMA. Here’s how it was presented:

In the end, much of the onus for a fighter’s safety lies with the fighter, according to Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer.

“You rely on the fighter to tell you the truth,” Kizer said.

On his entry form, Kirkham left blank a question that asked if he had ever been suspended in any state.

To be fair, the NSAC Executive Director was more or less being asked about general fighter safety by the reporter. However, the truth is that drug usage is also a matter of health and safety as well as medical testing of fighters.

When it comes to medical testing, medical history, drug tests, and other administrative matters, there is no way an athletic commission should ever believe that a fighter will tell them the truth about such matters. That’s a completely absurd viewpoint because it’s not realistic at all. How many times have we seen fighters go outside the country to try to fight while on suspension? How many times have we seen ‘commission shopping’ in order to book a one-sided fight or a fight with guys who have histories of failing drug tests?

Plus, fighters go into fights not revealing what kind of injuries they have. (Think Forrest Griffin and the broken foot last November). It’s hard to forget about the controversy regarding Matt Hamill. Relying on a fighter to say what’s going on there and not have a dermatologist or specialist check it out (as opposed to an emergency room doctor) is disconcerting to say the least.

As I noted in the Shamrock article about ‘controlled’ usage of steroids, I know what reader opinion on this topic is and I understand that viewpoint. However, there’s a lot of shamelessness and deception going on with the conversations taking place about PEDs in sports, especially the sport of MMA. It’s a violent sport and having more drug usage isn’t going to improve the quality of anything. I don’t care if steroid users lose as much as they win fights in MMA. For me, it’s the concept that you have someone doping and applying peer pressure on clean fighters to take drugs just to keep up with ‘standard protocol’ in the industry. It’s a health and safety issue to me, but for others steroids is purely viewed as a performance issue with health and safety as a secondary concern.

Topics: Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 3 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

3 Responses to “Newer focus on the issue of steroids and PED usage”

  1. In the case of allowing steroid usage in a ‘controlled’ setting, how can you expect a state governmental body to allow this to happen when steroids are technically illegal on the books?

    Better yet, with “controlled steroid use”, how do you stem the use of newer designer steroids that will be uncontrolled? Or of steroids deemed “too dangerous”? You can’t do cost containment with the top 1%, and they’ll use any potential edge they can to win. Its the dumbest idea ever presented.

  2. Mark says:

    Of course it is horrible to have “clean” fighters feel pressured into taking something that could affect their health (and maybe kill them in their 40s if pro wrestlers are any indication) because they know their opponent could be doping. But it’s such an ingrained part of professional sports by now it is as useless to get angry about as complaining fighters these days cut weight too much to get unfair size advantages. Athletes have been experimenting with PEDs forever. Even though Jose Canseco likes to believe he’s the innovator of it, even the beloved Babe Ruth was known to be experimenting with steroids. So if you’re looking as far back as the 1920s to find dopers, how much of any sports “purity” can you really believe?
    Really, it is all about perception: some people believe everybody is using because there’s easy ways to cheat the tests, some people believe practically no one is using because they all pass drug tests.

    Kizer is such a joke. He doesn’t even put much effort into pretending like he’s there to be an authority figure, he just shows every time he opens his mouth he’s there to let promoters do whatever they want as long as they pay them some of their gate. Of course that is what most Athletic Commissions are, but I’ve never seen someone be so open about it as Keith Kizer is on a daily basis.

  3. Rohan says:

    Erm. When did Lesner get caught with steroids?

    Ed. — http://www.thesmokinggun.com/mugshots/lesnarmug1.html

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