By Zach Arnold | November 11, 2013
Imagine Roger Goodell, David Stern, Bud Selig touting their athletes getting anabolic steroid passes. Media would destroy. This is UFC now.
— FightOpinion (@FightOpinion) November 10, 2013
In 1998, Fox Sports & MLB made outrageous amounts of cash on the backs of steroid-using athletes who whacked baseballs out of ballparks. In 2013, Fox Sports is making some curious history by building a cable channel (FS1) around the first modern semi-major American professional sports organization openly declaring support for anabolic steroid usage.
As Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa enthralled the masses in 1998 with their record-breaking home run chase to surpass the great Roger Maris, Associated Press writer Steve Wilstein dropped the stink bomb of all stink bombs on the proceedings. He wrote about seeing a bottle of Androstenedione in McGwire’s locker. Wilstein wrote this article during the time in which McGwire’s chase of 70 home runs was being touted as the thing that saved baseball from it’s doldrums of the 1994-1995 strike. Skip Bayless, a newspaper beat writer at the time, noted that the heavy majority of baseball writers were completely clueless about steroids and buried their head in the sand. Steve Wilstein may have not known everything about steroids, but he knew enough to take notice of McGwire using Andro and wrote about it. He wrote his AP article at a time when the major television partners for MLB (Fox Sports & ESPN) were cashing in big time. For Fox Sports, baseball was a key ingredient in building up their RSNs (regional sports networks) with each market’s team having their games shown on the respective RSNs.
When Wilstein wrote his Andro article for the Associated Press, all hell broke loose. To this day, Wilstein has been attacked for creating a hysteria in the press & with the Feds over steroid usage in professional sports. Not even Wilstein could expect what was coming next.
McGwire continued using Andro but the heat became too much and he gave using Andro a year after Wilstein’s AP report on the matter. Androstenedione is a precursor to testosterone, which happens to be the base chemical of anabolic steroids.
After Sosa & McGwire came Barry Bonds & BALCO and Ken Caminiti’s demise. Then came the Congressional hearings and the Mitchell Report. You know the rest of the story.
To this day, drug usage in baseball remains the number one scandal topic. Ask Alex Rodriguez all about that right now with his arbitration hearing in New York. However, the testosterone issue is just as prolific in the other major American sports. Bill Simmons has openly talked about NBA players using testosterone patches and aids to recover from injuries caused by the grueling road schedule. We know all about the exploits of idiots like Von Miller for befriending drug testing guys who alter the urine samples collected for testing. And, yet, Miller’s suspension barely caused a ripple. Meanwhile, the media can’t get enough of Alex Rodriguez.
There’s a twisted level of cognitive dissonance amongst the writers & fans — the more physical the sport, the more numb people are to drug usage. And, yet, logic would tell you otherwise — that the more physical a sport is, the more dangerous drug usage is in terms of health & safety.
Even as drug scandals have rocked the major sports leagues, one thing has been certain — facade or not, bosses like Bud Selig & David Stern have presented an image of being opposed to steroid usage. Selig had his public foils in Don Fehr & Gene Orza.
MLB helped Fox build its RSNs into cash cows with cable carriage fees. Since the implementation of drug testing over the last decade, ratings for baseball on national telecasts has declined. Chicks dig the long ball.
15 years after MLB & Fox benefited from steroid users doing amazing feats, Fox Sports finds itself trying to build a rival to ESPN on cable with Fox Sports 1. A significant cornerstone of FS1’s plan for growth is the all-season, omnipresent UFC. The hope is that UFC programming will be able to draw good enough ratings so that FS1 can demand higher carriage fees from cable & satellite providers in the future. A lot of money is at stake.
However, the circumstances between 1998 and 2013 when it comes to the public’s knowledge of steroids in professional sports is very different. Awareness is much greater. Whether fans actually care enough to do something about the problem is a different matter altogether. It depends on which athlete is using drugs and then you’ll find out which way the wind is blowing.
In 1998, Fox used a steroid-fueled MLB to build up their empire of RSNs. In 2013, Fox Sports is using the anabolic steroid-fueled UFC to build up their FS1 channel to rival ESPN. The difference between 1998 and 2013? The UFC has now positioned themselves as the first modern semi-major American sports organization whose management is publicly supportive of anabolic steroid usage amongst its top athletes.
The list of fighters in Mixed Martial Arts using testosterone is growing by the day and it includes some significantly high-profile names. Never have we seen a sports entity vying for mainstream credibility openly take the position of being pro-steroid. Not only is UFC taking the position of supporting anabolic steroid usage amongst fighters who ask for testosterone, they are effectively using their political muscle to lobby for approval of such usage across the United States and throughout the world.
It is the money of Fox Sports that helps fuels the UFC along with PPV buys. Follow the money.
Who in the sports media is going to apply pressure to Fox Sports executives like David Hill about their financing of a pro-steroid sport that is seeking mainstream legitimacy? Talking about steroids isn’t fun and it is certainly not full of jockularity. Fox Sports doesn’t want to be pushed on this subject but they are the ones who are financing the game in which the players (athletes) are partaking in right now. Fox Sports cannot claim ignorance about anabolic steroid usage in MMA because UFC’s permissive stance on the issue was well known before the Fox TV deal was signed. From the time UFC signed their contract with Fox Sports, the testosterone epidemic has only gotten worse.
I have had a couple of MMA writers tell me, on background, that they were… advised… by Fox Sports not to mention the issue of testosterone when interviewing UFC fighters.
Fox wants to build FS1 around the UFC? Then you own whatever controversy comes your way. Fox Sports money is financing a sports operation that is openly pro-anabolic steroids. Emphasis on sports — otherwise, we would be talking about pro-wrestling territory here. Oh, wait… many of UFC’s fans come from the professional wrestling world.
Dana is living proof of why you CANNOT allow PED testing to be influenced by promoters. They're NOT trying to stop anything that sells tixs
— Dr. Johnny Benjamin (@DrJCBenjamin) November 10, 2013
If there was any doubt that the public relations attempt by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to have the UFC pay $20,000 for “enhanced” drug testing of Josh Barnett was as shallow as it appears to be, then all you needed to do was watch Dana White’s post-fight press conference behavior on Saturday night in Brazil. He ripped the mask right off as to how the steroid game is currently playing out. If you’re a fighter and use anabolic steroids, just pretty please ask us for permission to use testosterone. And if you don’t ask us for permission, then you’re on your own with the IQ (drug) test.
Applying pressure individually to fighters is a losing way to clean up the UFC of anabolic steroid usage. Whenever Vitor Belfort fights, Twitter explodes in rage over testosterone usage. Testosterone was the #1 trending topic on Twitter after Belfort beat Dan Henderson. However, when testosterone king Chael Sonnen fights, he’s the #2 draw in the UFC and is treated as a babyface on Fox television while making jokes about Rihanna & Chris Brown. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
The UFC has enabled this system of few checks & many imbalances. It is Fox Sports that controls the television purse strings. Fox Sports is paying UFC around $1.8 million USD a week. You own this mess, Fox.
Just as Fox Sports didn’t want to broach the steroid subject in MLB in 1998, Fox doesn’t want to discuss the hunger of anabolic steroid usage amongst UFC fighters in 2013. The difference is that thanks to writers like Steve Wilstein, the public is more aware of what is going on now. Just like MLB’s 1998 legacy is tied to anabolic steroid usage, the UFC’s legacy in 2013 is being built on the backs of testosterone users like Vitor Belfort & Chael Sonnen getting high profile bookings. Steve Wilstein may be heading to the Hall of Fame while Fox Sports is bankrolling the UFC’s Hall of Shame.