By Zach Arnold | March 6, 2014
Nobody covers the happening with athletic commissions and the politics like we do, for better and for worse. Which is why I’m entirely amused that whatever spin from whatever commission is dished, many media writers run with the spin without actually looking at the nuances of the claims being made. Case in point: the Sacramento behemoth known as the Department of Consumer Affairs sent out a press statement today quoting Andy Foster saying that he supports Nevada’s recent reversal on testosterone permission slips for fighters.
The testosterone debate in California, which really was set into motion in April of 2012, is how we got involved in California politics in the first place. I issued a public comment against any sort of Therapeutic Use Exemption protocol for testosterone with boxers and MMA fighters. This comment, combined with an internal response from Consumer Affairs, killed any dreams of Dr. VanBuren Ross Lemons from getting the policy he wanted implemented. After the Chael Sonnen debacle with doctor Czarnecki in 2010, he was rightfully pissed that Sonnen (and UFC) made the commission out to be a joke. But allowing permission slips to fighters was not a policy that should have been suported. So, Lemons’ initial push got spiked.
However, during the time when the Sonnen debacle started in 2010 until mid-2013, fighters were being given the go-ahead of use testosterone but it was being done discretely. The issue blew up in the face of Consumer Affairs when DCA lawyer Michael Santiago told Andy Foster and company to knock it off. Santiago said that unless there’s a rule or reg on the books allowing for testosterone permission slips, then the current under-the-table process of California allowing fighters to use testosterone should stop immediately. This pissed off a lot of people. After Santiago came out with this position, he has not been seen since at any Athletic Commission meetings. Long-time DCA lawyer and commission fixer Spencer Walker re-emerged as a top face.
And then came the re-emergence of Dr. VanBuren Ross Lemons with his TUE policy for testosterone, which the Athletic Commission and DCA is now trying to push through the Office of Administrative Law pipeline. However, I have not seen the policy listed so far for consumption on OAL’s February/March 2014 Register or emergency regs section (yet). You can read the text of Lemons’ policy here.
Will the TUE proposal make it harder for a fighter to get a permission slip to use testosterone? Sure, harder than say an arbitrary case-by-case yes-or-no policy discretely handled behind the scenes. Michael Santiago told CSAC to stop allowing testosterone usage last Summer. So, there was already a ban. It wasn’t a ban that many people involved wanted to see, but Santiago told them the law and he was absolutely right. The new policy Lemons is pushing isn’t a testosterone ban. It may make it harder for a fighter to get permission, but it’s not the current ban that has been ongoing. And since Santiago read the legal riot act, he’s nowhere to be found. Coincidence?
So why is it being spun as a ban? Because the Nevada State Athletic Commission reversal on testosterone has put other athletic commissions in a bad public relations position and if there’s one thing we know uber political fixer Sig Rogich is good at, it’s public relations campaigns. And once Rogich got the ball rolling on the reversal for the NSAC, then came the UFC in orchestrated lock-step. And once UFC, who basically gave the impression of fighters using testosterone as an acceptable practice given the main event pushes of fighters like Chael Sonnen and permission slips given out on shows they self-regulated, decided to come against testosterone usage then all the people they had influenced suddenly are trying to race to the punch to look tough on steroids, too.
As for many MMA writers falling under the spell of Consumer Affairs through Andy Foster, I would give this friendly advice: the same writers fell under the spell of Bill Douglas, too, in 2009. Douglas loved to do the media rounds and had convinced so many that he was the man for the job. And he barely lasted two years before getting replaced by George Dodd. And Douglas would end up getting investigated by the California Highway Patrol, criminally charged, and cutting a plea deal which cost him any future employment with the state of California. Putting any sort of politico on a pedestal is not a smart look on anyone’s behalf.
There’s a reason we cover all the Athletic Commission meetings and focus on the little details — because they matter. It’s politics. If you can’t keep up with the moving parts, then your coverage simply devolves into bureaucratic spin. I saw it with the Los Angeles Times when they used DCA PR talking points to talk about George Dodd’s ouster and I’m seeing here in action again.