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The politics of MMA’s testosterone push & California’s coming collapse

By Zach Arnold | June 7, 2012

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John Frierson barely survived a county committee election in Los Angeles on Tuesday

The Octogenarian chairman of the California State Athletic Commission has had a hell of a week.

John Frierson, the four-decade long political ally of Governor Jerry Brown and ally of state senator Curren Price (head of the Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development committee), has had quite a political battle on his hands. He barely won a seat for a 7-member Democratic county committee panel in Los Angeles on Tuesday. The day before, he presided over an explosive dual hearing session for the California State Athletic Commission in San Diego.

The June 4th San Diego hearing was going to determine what the course would be for the athletic commission in regards to how to handle the testosterone issue for combat sports in regards to handing out Therapeutic Use Exemptions. I voiced my opinion two months ago against such a procedure given that the testosterone scam in combat sports is more or less a legalized method of approving doping. Given the high stakes involved in having fighters on testosterone during bouts and what it means for health & safety, it’s hard to come up with a reason to support testosterone usage in MMA.

There is a civil war going on right now amongst politicians and staff members at top state athletic commissions in regards to the testosterone issue.

In some quarters, the battle is quietly being waged. In other quarters, the battle is starting to spill out into public display. California is one such state that has an intense political fight over the issue. The DCA (Department of Consumer Affairs), which technically oversees the CSAC, does not want to see TUEs for testosterone unless there are WADA-style guidelines. Given that there’s only been two TUEs for testosterone for Olympic athletes over the years, you can see where the DCA is coming from here.

In recently released public documentation, here is how the DCA’s opposition to loose guidelines for testosterone usage was characterized:

Tracy Rhine, Deputy Director of Legislative and Policy Review read a letter from Department of Consumer Affairs (Department) Director, Denise Brown. The Department has concerns that the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) request does not make specific what is needed to complete the process, what tests will be used/considered and who will make the final review and approval. The policy appears to allow the legal use of a prohibited substance, including steroids. The Commission risks allowing fighters, with a medical condition, to enter into a situation where they will be subject to severe bodily injury which may cause further deterioriation of a known medical condition. It also potentially puts the opponent of anyone who has been given a steroid TUE at a disadvantage. Essentially, the adoption of regulation 303.1 undermines the mission of the Commission which includes the health and safety of a fighter. The Department urged the Commission to delete proposed Rule 303.1 from the regulation.

The politicians and bureaucrats know what the score is regarding the testosterone scam. At the June 4th hearing, the CSAC decided to have a couple of its members create a sub-committee to come up with their own guidelines to handle the TUE situation. These findings will be introduced at an August hearing in Sacramento for further discussion.

At the same hearing on Monday, CSAC Executive Director George Dodd discussed with CSAC Chairman John Frierson the finances of the athletic commission. Based on findings from a note by the DCA, the commission is facing a financial crisis. In other words, they’re about to go broke if the financials don’t improve. If events like the UFC shows on July 11th (San Jose), August 4th (Staples Center), and this Fall do not produce the revenues expected as planned, the commission will be full of red ink. I can only imagine right now how much they really wish the Victor Ortiz/Andre Berto fight would have happened in Los Angeles.

In fact, the commission is in trouble right now. The agency is heavily under revenue projections and they are laying off several staff members and severely cutting back on the number of inspectors they are sending to run events to stay within budget. If this sounds like a nightmare scenario to you, that’s because it is. For health & safety reasons alone, this should be sounding alarm bells.

What happens if the California State Athletic Commission runs out of money and goes broke? There won’t be any boxing or MMA events in the state. Given the current financial predicament of the state and the declining drawing power of MMA live events, this is now a real possibility.

These new developments come on the heels of a sunset review that the CSAC is preparing for with Curren Price’s SBP committee. As we detailed in our two-part investigation about the California State Athletic Commission (read our reports here and here), the checks & balances that normally are in place for the CSAC have been eroded. The DCA is controlled by Governor Jerry Brown. Given that his buddy is chairman of the CSAC, you’re not going to see that politically symbiotic relationship get sabotaged. Curren Price Jr., head of the SBP committee that oversees the sunset review process for the CSAC, also has a politically symbiotic relationship with Chairman Frierson.

So, it’s hard to see a scenario where Frierson is in political trouble here… unless the commission goes broke.

This is where the testosterone issue comes into play for politicians who are under pressure to bring in shows and generate revenue. You don’t generate revenue if fighters are on the sidelines due to drug usage.

Legally, we have been advised to not directly name names in regards to who is pressuring politicians into pushing for testosterone usage in various states. It is horribly frustrating for us because we know who is very aggressive in pushing for testosterone usage. We know what the story is. Last April, I warned that several big name MMA fighters would get outed soon for getting hall passes to use testosterone. However, for legal reasons we can’t name drop names because we don’t want to get sued. So, what’s about to proceed is a drip torture treatment on fans that will continue to raise the levels of public disgust.

Right now, there are third parties (representing mark doctors, fighters, movers & shakers) who are essentially reading politicians & other doctors the riot act in terms of the testosterone issue. To paraphrase what is being told to these politicians, the best way to characterize the sales pitch is the following:

A lot of the fighters are using testosterone. It’s legal. They have prescriptions. Either you make it easy for them to fight in your state while using testosterone or else they will fight in another state.

What’s so damn ugly about the situation is that you have a combination of shameless/desperate fighters, aggressive mark doctors who are confident they will not get in any trouble for writing prescriptions, promoters that don’t care about combating the drug crisis on a serious level, and politicians starving for cash & freebies (tickets to shows to peddle influence). The end result is that you have civil wars brewing between spineless pols versus staffers who actually believe in doing their job ethically and with good governance in mind.

Understand that the California State Athletic Commission, without official guidelines for testosterone usage, has let at least one fighter (that’s been documented publicly) fight while using TRT in a monitored process. It puts the issue regarding TUE guidelines for testosterone into a curious context.

With influence peddlers in MMA pushing politicians to an either/or scenario in regards to testosterone usage, we are starting to see a systemic pattern of testosterone abuse in the sport. This systemic pattern is not being discouraged by those in positions of power, either.

Dana White publicly told Ron Kruck that he thinks the athletic commissions are doing a good job in regards to the testosterone issue. It’s a completely two-faced argument to make when you claim you are serious about cleaning up the sport of Performance Enhancing Drugs. Newsflash: if testosterone didn’t have performance enhancing benefits, none of the fighters would want to use it.

What makes the testosterone issue so frustrating for us is that there are plenty of people who see the scam for what it is and either aren’t speaking out about it or don’t know what to say or do. Those who are benefiting from this charade are publicly the loudest in terms of saying that there is nothing wrong going on here. And you know who is aiding such public discourse? Big Pharma and the media. When Chael Sonnen’s testosterone debacle occurred in California, the now famous “Is it Low T?” ad campaign started sweeping the nation. Suddenly, every man was told that they had low testosterone. Then, you had the bombardment of radio ads for Ageless Male. Now that ad campaign is on television as well. To top of it off, ESPN has been airing ads the last couple of weeks for Andro Gel which, you guessed it, is a testosterone product. With Big Pharma pushing testosterone products and a compliant media willing to take the ad money, you have the environment we are currently in.

There are two kinds of events left that will raise the stakes on the testosterone issue in combat sports.

  1. A high-profile testosterone user will win a title, causing a firestorm over the legitimacy of such a win given the drug usage and what impact it had in the respective fight.
  2. A fighter will get seriously injured, paralyzed, or killed and if the person inflicting the damage is outed as a testosterone user, every media outlet that has hated MMA will attack the sport with a vengeance. Sponsors will flee in horror, feigned or not.

The first scenario is one that could happen with Chael Sonnen if he beats Anderson Silva in Las Vegas. Dana White can say all the positive things he wants about testosterone usage and how it’s legal, but traditional sports fans are sophisticated enough to know that testosterone is the base chemical of anabolic steroids. Doping is doping, whether it’s legalized or not.

With politicians going along with the testosterone scam, I want you to think about the direction MMA is heading in as far as drug usage is concerned. With the NFL & MLB heading towards blood testing for growth hormone & other PEDs, we are now witnessing MMA moving in the opposite direction of the spectrum. Given the proliferation of PED usage & now legalized testosterone usage in the business, MMA is now moving more towards industries like cycling & horse racing in terms of credibility. Here’s the top story in horse racing right now. You want MMA to head down this same path for publicity? That’s a terrible path for the sport to be on.

Is this what you want the future of the business to be?

Topics: CSAC, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 29 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

29 Responses to “The politics of MMA’s testosterone push & California’s coming collapse”

  1. Weezy02 says:

    Question 1: Rouhgly how many licensed MMA fighters compete annually in the U.S. and for what percentage of them is there evidence showing they compete on testosterone replacement therapy right now? I’m just trying to ask question and gauge how pervasive this is.

    Question 2: Are you including boxing in this testosterone crisis? My initial thought is that the problem of unwarranted testosterone usage and PEDs could be equally as pervasive there. The only difference is that it has alrady reared its head more at the world championship level in that sport. Do you think we’ll see an exodus of fans and sponsors from boxing in the near future due to this?

    Question 3: You mention Chael Sonnen. Do you have direct evidence that Sonnen’s doctor misdiagnosed his medical condition? I know it’s been questioned in commission meetings and in the media and I share skepticism of it but I know of no direct evidence. I have only my opinion. So I ask you if you have direct evidence or knowledge that he or his physician are knowingly “cheating”. Or is it merely that his exemption is unwarranted and the commissions that sanction him should have taken a more critical stance?

    • Bix says:

      If everything Dr. Trainor said during the last hearing is correct, then yes, Czarnecki misdiagnosed Sonnen. Normal FSH levels = secondary hypogonadism and Czarnecki had diagnosed Sonnen with primary hypgonadism (high FSH levels).

  2. Weezy02 says:

    “In other words, they’re about to go broke if the financials don’t improve.”

    This statement is very true and is applicable to the state of California (and several others) in general. That state is a basket case. They’ve got such huge, systemic problems in truly important departments that affect the citizenry directly that the Athletic Commission is an afterthought to almost all citizens right now (many of whom likely don’t even realize that there is a state Athletic Commission in the first place). It will take them years to sort through their pressing issues.

  3. Jonathan Snowden says:

    And now we’ve come to the “I know things I can’t say” part of the program huh? Can you substantiate anything in this article?

    • 45 Huddle says:

      How many years has Zach Arnold been writing about MMA? How many times has he shown a lack of journalistic integrity?

      If he has used sources that he can’t name, I would say that he has a near perfect track record that what he is saying should be taken at face value.

      Now you on the other hand….

  4. Weezy02 says:

    “we are starting to see a systemic pattern of testosterone abuse in the sport.”

    Zach, where is the proof of this? I’m not saying you’re incorrect but I’d like to see real evidence. How many fighters do you know (not speculation, but real knowledge) of that are competing on PEDs right now and what percentage of the aggregate number of licensed fighters do they make up? I’m just curious. I’m trying to gather as much data as possible to be able to put this issue in context.

    Ed. — I understand your concerns and it has frustrated me very much that I am restricted to comment (for legal reasons) about what I can elaborate on in detail because of laws regarding medical privacy & disclosure. I cannot put myself in a position to violate laws here, so I’m doing the best I can to tell what is happening but doing so in a clean manner. If you have doubts about what I am writing on, I understand and I won’t hold it against you. This issue is as ugly as the yakuza scandal I covered. The difference is that I had more freedom to comment about the details there, whereas this story is more restrictive (on the surface). In due time, new information will come out via proper channels.

  5. EJ says:

    “There are two kinds of events left that will raise the stakes on the testosterone issue in combat sports.

    1.A high-profile testosterone user will win a title, causing a firestorm over the legitimacy of such a win given the drug usage and what impact it had in the respective fight.

    2.A fighter will get seriously injured, paralyzed, or killed and if the person inflicting the damage is outed as a testosterone user, every media outlet that has hated MMA will attack the sport with a vengeance. Sponsors will flee in horror, feigned or not.”

    I honestly don’t know where you get this stuff Zach, but seriously it needs to stop you sound delusional when you reach this far.

    First off the idea that someone on TRT winning a title is going to cause outrage is laghable. If Sonnen finishes the job he did at UFC 117 and passes all the test there is zero controversy unless of course you’re a delusional Silva fan. Aside from them the great thing about mma is that you can’t fake it, you can be on all the testosterone that you want like Hendo and still get dominated by the better fighter like Jones will.

    Secondly fighter getting killed or paralyzed will be a huge story that will be used by the ignorant mma haters. It doesn’t matter if the guy against his is on TRT, again this is where you sound like a madman yelling about how testosterone will ruin the sport.

  6. Steve4192 says:

    “A high-profile testosterone user will win a title, causing a firestorm over the legitimacy of such a win given the drug usage and what impact it had in the respective fight.”

    This has already happened multiple times.

    Dan Henderson won major titles while on TRT.
    Sean Sherk got busted defending his title on Nandrolone.
    Tim Sylvia got busted defending his title on Winstrol.
    Josh Barnett won the UFC title on Drostanolone.

    The world never stopped turning. The sport kept moving forward. There was no steroid apocalypse.

  7. […] credibility that was left is largely out the window at this point due to the bureaucrats in power. With the commissions seeing declining revenues and on the receiving end of… suggestions… from third parties that they better allow […]

  8. […] The politics of MMA’s testosterone push & California’s coming collapse (June 7th) […]

  9. […] The politics of MMA’s testosterone push & California’s coming collapse (June 7th) […]

  10. […] The politics of MMA’s testosterone push & California’s coming collapse (June 7th) […]

  11. […] The politics of MMA’s testosterone push & California’s coming collapse (June 7th) […]

  12. […] The politics of MMA’s testosterone push & California’s coming collapse (June 7th) […]

  13. […] The politics of MMA’s testosterone push & California’s coming collapse (June 7th) […]

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