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Why do fans care about doping in low-impact sports but not high-impact ones?

By Zach Arnold | December 12, 2011

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So, on Saturday night, Twitter had a meltdown. Ryan Braun reportedly tested positive for synthetic testosterone in his urine sample, or at least the A sample (as opposed to the B sample). Will Carroll at Sports Illustrated breaks down just how hard it is going to be for the Braun camp to attack the positive drug testing result.

The issue of synthetic testosterone in a urine sample is something that Victor Conte recently talked about with Jack Encarnacao of Sherdog when he mentioned that the various state athletic commissions should employ Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) tests on urine samples as part of a panel of methods to catch doping in MMA. (His other suggestion is to measure basic hematocrit levels in standard blood samples.) I don’t know if a CIR was used to detect synthetic testosterone in Braun’s case, but it would seem to be likely.

What was so fascinating to see online last Saturday was the reaction to the news. Twitter was in full meltdown mode. Baseball fans went nuts and screamed for Braun’s head. It made me think and wonder the following:

Why is it that sports fans get upset about doping in sports with the least amount of physical contact (soccer, baseball) and don’t care so much about doping in ‘hurt’ sports like hockey, football, boxing, and MMA where having testosterone injections & blood doping treatments can impact just how much more physical trauma you can inflict upon an unsuspecting opponent?

I have, for a long time, stated my case as to why aggressive drug testing for both PEDs and pain killers is needed in the sport. On this subject, I”m not interested in arguing morality. What I”m interested in arguing is protecting guys from themselves when it comes to making horrible decisions (as Dr. Johnny Benjamin recently stated about Chris Leben) that could cause them to drop dead or have their opponents get permanently damaged both physically & emotionally. If you don’t think the issue of pain killer abuse in MMA is serious, think again. The amount of pain killer abuse is high. It’s addictive, hard to break, and can cause severe physical damage.

The counter-argument I hear about aggressively minimizing doping & pain killer abuse in MMA is that if you want to see guys last more than a few years in such a physically demanding sport, then you better accept the doping that comes along with it. Sorry, but that’s just not a compelling argument against a Wild West-style policy of drug testing enforcement. MMA is a hurt game involving athletes with incredible physical tools at their disposal. Having someone locked inside a cage with T/E ratios of 10:1 is flat out insane. We already have examples of deaths & permanent physical damage on display from excessive doping & pain killer usage in other sports, so why invite & encourage it in Mixed Martial Arts?

Which brings us to the rumors floated by Kevin Iole & Josh Gross that Alistair Overeem could be out of his UFC 141 fight on 12/30 in Las Vegas against Brock Lesnar because he didn’t take a pre-licensing drug test in Nevada. Today at 3 PM local time in Las Vegas, there will be a Nevada State Athletic Commission hearing to determine whether or not Overeem will get licensed to fight. My guess is that given how much money is on the line with the UFC show on NYE weekend that the commission will license Overeem… unless the extinuating circumstances are so egregious that they have to make a last-minute decision to not license Overeem to fight in Nevada. If that happens, Frank Mir wants to fight Brock Lesnar for a third time. On a medical & administrative level, that’s an absurd idea to have happen given that Mir got rocked by Nogueira before ripping the guy’s arm off over the weekend in their Toronto fight. The Ontario commission so far has been pretty good when it comes to medical testing of fighters and it would be very hard for me to see Ken Hayashi’s crew give UFC the green light to clear Mir to fight on short notice against Brock.

I just find it fascinating that when it comes to the fight game that guys like Chael Sonnen not only get a pass but are celebrated for openly & unapologetically lying about everything while sports fans in games like baseball are horrified about their superstars getting caught doping. Where are we at right now as far as the level of credibility of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts itself and of the behavior/psychology that MMA fans demonstrate to serious scandals?

All of this is great timing for the launch of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency. They’re also now on Twitter and Facebook. Background information on VADA can be read here.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 27 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

27 Responses to “Why do fans care about doping in low-impact sports but not high-impact ones?”

  1. Adam says:

    Interesting point overall, but Soccer is a false example. Firstly because there’s plenty of physical contact, and secondly because PEDs aren’t really an issue. Drug problems in soccer tend to be recreational (Maradona, Mutu), missing tests (Ferdinand) or the bizarre (Toure’s diet pill).

    A much better example would be athletics in general, where PEDs are obviously a bigger and more emotive issue than in any other sport, while also involving almost no physical contact.

  2. sammy says:

    Well, in my humble opinion it is because these “low impact” sports require less variety of skills and movement. For instance, in baseball, PEDs will only help with throwing, running, and hitting (and all the physical requirements to consistently do these actions). In MMA and boxing there are literally innumerable different and specific movements and skills required to be at the top level.

    What I’m saying is that MMA and boxing require more complex skills that are very difficult to “perfect.” Steroids will help someone hit a homerun or throw a strike, when they have been practicing these very specific motions for their entire lives, but they will not help someone perfect a knee strike or overhand right. They may make these strikes harder, but they wont necessarily improve the technique.

    I know there are flaws to this argument, but I think that the history of verified PED use in MMA and boxing has shown that often it is the loser who gets caught, supporting the idea that the PED’s did not really help him. Furthermore, it is rarely the very top, elite fighters who are caught for PEDs. Conversely, some of the best and most successful of other sports (baseball, cycling, etc) have been caught (after and during record-setting years).

    • Fluyid says:

      Good, sensible post. I’d vote it up if we had that functionality here. Just know that I’ve voted you up in my heart, Sammy.

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    1) Baseball has 100+ years of records and tradition. So steroid use is seen as something more then just your results in 2011. It is also a measuring stick to the past. That is why getting 3,000 hits, 300 wins, or various other long term records mean so much. I think that is where so much of the frustration comes from.

    Trust me, it is completely irrational. The sport just isn’t the same as it was even 50 years ago. Doctor’s can fix athletes to go much longer in their careers. 4 vs. 5 man pitching rotations. The DH. The game has changed so much that long term records are sort of pointless.

    But still, that is why people freak out so much when it comes to steroids in sports like baseball.

    2) I think to some level, it is sort of expected of guys in boxing or MMA to be juiced up. Just look at what they do for a living. So it’s not shocking when a guy gets popped.

    3) Should be interesting to see what is happening with Overeem. The guy is obviously taking a PED. But at the end of the day, that won’t fix his heart or his chin. Something that has been smashed multiple times in his past.

    For the UFC, it’s not a huge deal if Overeem is out. They could use Mir. They could maybe even use Roy Nelson or Cheick Kongo if they had to. People come to see Brock Lesnar fight. As long as he is there, it will do solid numbers. If anything, Lesnar/Mir 3 is the biggest fight possible right now for each of them.

    • Isaiah says:

      When skimming this, I momentarily misread you as saying that his heart has been smashed multiple times, and I thought “poor guy. I hope he can let himself love again.”

  4. RST says:

    I dont think that Sonnen is celebrated for his “doping”.
    People pay attention to him because he’s a spectacle.

    In fact other then his arguably entertaining ramblings, he’s often sonnenymous (TM) with shrunken teste jokes as far as I can tell.

    I dont think anybody wants to get celebrated for that.

    “Why do fans care about doping in low-impact sports but not high-impact ones?”


    If its a popular sport, maybe Golf, and there’s more money involved, corporate sponsors, gambling, etc thats when it becomes an issue.

    • RST says:

      “My guess is that given how much money is on the line with the UFC show on NYE weekend that the commission will license Overeem…”

      I agree.

      I figure it works both ways.

      The money might bring enough attention that it become a bigger concern to some people, but the money can also make it preferable to not dig too deep.

      If there is only 1-2 big boxing events a year, they’re not going to try too hard to poke around for things to derail it.

      That was also how I assumed barnett got liscenced for his last fight.
      They just decided not to ruin the card.
      (Just a theory.)

      Its a big fight, there are more jobs on the line then just Overeems. And money to be made.

      I figure they’ll let him through.

  5. EJ says:

    I disagree with the idea that fans care at all about doping in any sport. Sure you have the reactionary hardcores that will rant and rave about it until they’re guy gets popped. But overall people are tired of the hyperbole and witch hunting that has taken over sports these past couple of years.

    As far as Mir being cleared to fight Lesnar there’s nothing wrong with that unless he’s hurt in some way. Guys are going to get hit but Mir aside from being rocked a bit didn’t take some sort of beating against Nog, if he passes any test they give him there should be no problem with him stepping in to fight Lesnar in a couple of weeks.

    • RST says:

      “I disagree with the idea that fans care at all about doping in any sport.”

      I do.

      Unless everyone is allowed to do it then its just not fair.

      I dont know much about what kind of damage steroids do. I’ve heard that other then your private parts that they help you heal the damages you accumulate during training and after a fight.

      Which seems like a good thing.

      But on the other hand I’ve seen what appears to be roid rage on a few guys and its pretty gross.

      It looks like a bad PCP trip or something.

      A sweat oozing wildeyed Thiago Silva mauling Brandon Vera comes to mind.

  6. Sean P says:

    Meltzer thinks there is a huge problem Steroids in the UFC

  7. Mr.roadblock says:

    My take is that people in the media who aren’t good enough athletically to play the sports they love make a huge deal out of PEDs. On a psychological level it lets them say ‘see this guy isn’t good enough either without drugs, gotcha’.

    You see the same thing in politics where the analysts attack candidates personal lives rather than discussing issues.

    It’s sad.

  8. edub says:

    Demarco Murray is out for the year. I figured I would vent my frustration for my star RB on two fantasy teams and favorite team going down to all of you. Playoffs ruined.

  9. 45 Huddle says:

    Overeem skipped out on a random drug test for multiple days.

    I guess it’s better to plea ignorance then it is to piss hot.

    Lesnar took the test on time and pissed clean.

    Overeem is a roider, as we all knew already. This is why testing in the states changes the game. He didn’t have to do this stuff in Japan for DREAM or K-1.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      And the test was done incorrectly. And it was done by his OWN DOCTOR.

      He should not be allowed to fight Lesnar at this point. 5 days to avoid a test and then having your own doctor do the testing should be an automatic removal from this fight.

      • edub says:

        Too much money.

        I look forward to seeing what reason (excuse) comes out from all parties.

        Where you getting the stuff about the uncredited test.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Different people’s twitter’s accounts.

          He took a blood test instead of a urine test. So he had to resubmit it. They still don’t have the test results for the urine test.

          To me, the results don’t mean anything. He obviously dodged the test because he was going to piss hot.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Think about this…. He has almost 50 fights in MMA…. And is 1 fight away from a title shot…. And this is really the first time he has been tested properly for a MMA fight.

          This is very unlikely to happen in the future. Most of the rest of the title challengers will come through the Zuffa system and will have likely had 3 to 5 drug tests minimum (if not many many more) before even getting to this position.

        • edub says:

          This always makes me wonder about Pride too. Half their damn roster was probably on Roids.

  10. Alan Conceicao says:

    People who watch combat sports aren’t generally concerned with steroid use because they’re interested in seeing carnage. Its one thing to say “I’d like to see regulated use of performance enhancing substances among MMA fighters to provide an even playing field and better the sport.” It sounds all philosophical and intelligent. It also means exactly the same thing as “I want to see a bunch of juiced up meatheads tearing each other apart in a steel cage, and pumping them full of roids makes the fight even better.”

    • mr. roadblock says:

      At the end of the day if anyone of the people who are up in arms about PEDs really cared about long term fighter safety they’d be trying to ban the sport of MMA.

      • Alan Conceicao says:

        This is pretty much true. Says something about us as fans, but true.

      • Chuck says:

        I can’t completely disagree with this comment. If anything, we, as fans, should speak out against consistent weight cutting if we use the excuse of “caring for the health of the fighters”. That is what leads to most of the health problems (including brain damage) of fighters.

        Fighters get brain damage in fights because when fighters cut weight they dehydrate and lose precious electrolytes and…….ah just look it up for yourselves. I don’t feel like looking up more to make sure I don’t sound like a moron. It’s dangerous overall, the end.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          Fighters don’t get brain damage purely because of a reduction of cerebrospinal fluid caused by weight cutting. It is believed that it may increase the risk, but there’s no real clinical evidence proving a link there. OTOH, its pretty well accepted by everyone in the medical community that getting punched in the head (weight cut, having the flu, being susceptible to migraines, etc etc etc or not) cases traumatic brain injury. A knockout is a concussion by its very nature.

        • Chuck says:

          There we go! Cerebrospinal fluid. Thanks Alan! I couldn’t think of the term (hence why I said what I said in my first post). Good post there.

          Here’s a favorite claim of mine on head injuries! Using a mouth guard will protect against head injuries! Oh the laughs I had with that claim throughout the years. How anyone came up with that nugget of knowledge is beyond me.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          There’s a few guys that swear by specialty mouth pieces that are intended to bust up or “pop” when someone gets hit hard enough in the head. Think of it like an attenuator on a race car that is intended to do nothing more than break apart and absorb impact rather than have the g-force transfer through to the driver’s body. But the first guy I heard that used one regularly in combat sports was Scott Pemberton – he was adamant that it helped him get through the wars with Omar Shieka. Didn’t seem to help against Jeff Lacy or Manfredo though.

        • Chuck says:

          Yeah I remember Scott Pemberton claim that. It has NEVER been proven that specialty made mouth guards prevent head injuries. How would it work? A shot to an unprotected head is a shot to an unprotected head. Shots to the jaw? Still doubt that. Hell, it’s been proven that boxing head gear exacerbate head injuries rather than prevent them, so how a small piece of plastic in someone’s mouth can prevent head injuries is beyond me. Man, the combat sports/martial arts world can be fucking retarded at times!


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