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Bill Simmons and the Trouble with Selective Journalism

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Image by © Chee, MaxBoxing.com

Article written by Gabriel Montoya, MaxBoxing.com


On February 1, 2013, ESPN and www.grantland.com’s Bill “The Sports Guy” Simmons posted a lengthy piece called “Daring to Ask the PED Question” (http://grantland.com/features/daring-ask-ped-question/). In it, Simmons declared that after many years in the business, with access and financial support most writers could only dream of, he was finally going to start using a long dormant piece of standard issue journalism equipment: skepticism. In the piece, Simmons wrote about a list he has of athletes he feels are PED cheating that ESPN would not let him publish. Instead, he printed a portion of the criteria in which to begin suspicion of an athlete:

At the Grantland office, it’s been something of a running joke: I call it my “Pee In The Cup” list. I never wrote about that list because ESPN Me overruled Sports Fan Me (smartly, in this case). Just know that it doesn’t take much to get added to the list. Some of my favorite ways include …
 
• Skip the Olympics (which has much stricter drug testing) in your prime for any dubious reason and you’re on the list.
 
• Enjoy your best season in years in your late 30s, four or five years after your last “best season,” and you’re on the list.
 
• If you’re a skinny dude who miraculously managed to add 20 pounds of muscle to your scarecrow frame, you’re on the list.
 
• If you chopped down the recovery time of a debilitating injury to something that just didn’t seem possible a year ago, you’re on the list.
 
• If you were really good and really ripped at a really young age, and now your body is breaking down much sooner than it should be breaking down, you’re on the list.
 
• If you’re exhibiting a level of superhuman endurance that has little correlation to the endurance of any of your competitors, you’re on the list.
 
In the modern era of sports, post-BALCO, post-Jose Canseco (spilling the beans about the underbelly of performance-enhancing drug use in baseball), you could call that criteria “common fan sense.” But how about creating a list through - oh, I don’t know - gathering data beyond common fan sense? As much as it is a fact that there is a large segment of athletes, pro and amateur, who cheat in one way or another using PEDs, randomly throwing suspicion on athletes without anything tangible because you got fooled by the baseball era and Lance Armstrong is irresponsible at best.
 
Further in that February 1, 2013 column, Simmons took an ignorant shot at drug testing in boxing when he became a witch-hunting fan and pointed out the appearance of Juan Manuel Marquez in the lead up to his last fight with Manny Pacquiao as proof of nefarious activity. In the criticism of Marquez, Simmons mentioned Angel “Memo” Heredia, a former PED dealer who now works as a conditioning coach for Marquez and others. Rather than explain who Heredia is, Simmons simply told his readers to use the Google and have a fun 10 minutes reading about Heredia. How lazy can you be, Bill? Here’s a link to a New York Times profile on Heredia.
 
While Heredia’s presence in boxing should be paid attention to, the fact is Marquez has not tested positive for anything. Simmons wasn’t supplying anything more than popular fan opinion with zero intel behind it to support what was claiming with little to no sublimity. I am not defending Heredia or Marquez. I am defending good journalism.
 
Of boxing’s drug testing, Simmons wrote:
 
For the record, Keith Richards in 1978 after a night at Studio 54 could pass one of boxing’s drug tests.
 
Maybe in 1978, Bill. But after a night of cocaine, heroin and/or cannabis (drugs Richards might have had in his system at Studio 54 in 1978), Richards would be caught even in most states including Nevada (which began testing for steroids in 2002 and where Pacquiao-Marquez IV occurred) in 2012 when the fight happened. The claim Simmons makes, even if he is simply having a goof, is misleading.
 
Don’t get me wrong. Nevada and every other state athletic commission that oversees testing in combat sports (that’s one commission per state, each with its own set of rules) is way behind the times when it comes to drug testing. New Jersey is the only state taking blood and hair samples along with the standard urine samples other commissions collect pre- and post-fight.
 
What Simmons failed to either learn or mention is that since 2010, an anti-doping movement in boxing has been underway. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has tested five of Floyd Mayweather’s fights since May of 2010. The most aggressive testing program in sports happens to be done by a company named the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA). More on them later. Canada’s two most successful boxing promoters, GYM and Interbox have implemented a stringent random drug testing program that includes a combination of the latest anti-doping policies and tests. MLB, NBA and the NFL aren’t doing what VADA and the GYM-Interbox Protocol are doing. Those are facts.
 
Simmons then went on to mention an excellent column by a reporter named Henry Abbott who wrote a great piece on testosterone and the NBA (http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/gaps-in-nba-drug-testing). See, Bill; what Henry did is what you should have done instead of unburdening your guilt on the public by giving them the go-ahead to throw suspicion around without gathering real facts such as positive drug tests, eyewitness accounts, client lists of age clinics or testimony from drug cheats and/or former steroid dealers. Instead we get the “Pee in the Cup List” and piggybacking off a real reporter’s work such as Abbott’s.
 
Abbott accurately described “bio-passport” as such:
 
Biological passports are a different approach to anti-doping efforts. An athlete’s blood profiles are assessed year-round, looking for the kinds of fluctuations that come with cheating, whether with blood boosters, anabolic steroids, stimulants, among others. When oddities arise, the athlete’s blood can be subjected to further scrutiny, including more expensive batteries of tests that do a better job identifying chemical supplements.
 
Simmons, further showing he is a fledgling to this subject, refers to “bio-passport” as “the single best way to catch cheaters right now.” Wrong, Bill.
 
Bio-passport is a solid tool but if the problem is synthetic testosterone, (and Biogenesis, “A-Rod,” Ryan Braun, Alistair Overeem, Lamont Peterson, Mickey Bey, Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton and a host of others have shown us time and again that it is), then Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) testing on every urine sample collected year-round both in and out of competition is the obvious solution.
 
Currently, most sports use the standard Testosterone-to-Epitestosterone test, known as the T/E ratio test, to determine if an athlete is under or over the World Anti-Doping Agency-approved 4:1 ratio limit. It is still an outdated 6:1 in some states. Like Bio-passport, the T/E ratio test is merely a red flag test. It’s looking for signs of drug use. CIR, designed to detect exogenous testosterone outright, is looking for a specific drug. That drug, synthetic testosterone, just so happens to be the drug of choice for modern athletes. If the testosterone in your system isn’t yours, CIR will catch it.
 
Keith Richards in 1978 could pass boxing’s drug testing, Bill? Really?
 
Remember, I was going to mention VADA and the GYM-Interbox Protocol again. VADA’s protocol, reportedly mimicked by GYM-Interbox, is revolutionary and as aggressive as the cheaters they are trying to detect. VADA is the first company in any sport to make using the CIR method on every sample collected part of its policy. Their first sample, collected from Lamont Peterson, yielded a positive result for synthetic testosterone. As it turned out, Peterson had gotten a slow release testosterone pellet inserted into the skin under his buttocks by Dr. John A. Thompson of the Desert Oasis Clinic in Las Vegas, NV prior to beating Amir Khan for various junior welterweight titles in December 2011. His T/E ratio, even with that pellet in him, was 3.75:1, thus allowing him to pass the standard T/E ratio test. Had CIR been used heading into that fight, the synthetic testosterone would have been detected. VADA testing was used voluntarily by Peterson and Khan in the rematch. The rematch never happened because CIR detected synthetic testosterone in Peterson’s system and the fight was called off.
 
VADA has gone on to detect Nandrolone metabolites and DMAA in two other boxers. At the same time, it has raised the standard for anti-doping testing in all sports by testing for EPO every time and implementing a stricter “missed test” policy than any other sport. More than one missed test and you’ve got yourself the equivalent of a positive result. Not even the Olympics is that strict.
 
Beat that, 1978 Keith Richards. Or even better, 2014 athletes.
 
VADA now boasts two fighters, Nonito Donaire and Edwin Rodriguez, who are voluntarily undergoing random year-round testing, Donaire for the second year in a row. WBO champions Tim Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov are also doing VADA testing for their fights. Former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre underwent VADA testing in his last fight. So did Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios. Saul Alvarez and Shane Mosley have done it. So have Amir Khan and Victor Ortiz. More are coming.
 
While the VADA program is done on a volunteer basis, more and more athletes are inquiring each day as an answer to any given state commission’s refusal to step up its testing game. Combat sports are the most dangerous games in the world. It’s not about hitting the long ball or running faster. It’s about extending careers and making your ability to hit much stronger and for longer periods of time.
 
USADA continues to test boxers, though its testing philosophy as compared to VADA’s clear plan of attack is unclear.
A couple weeks after Simmons’ initial column ran, he “followed up” by posting a mailbag column in which he shared some of the “nearly 10,000 emails” he had received about his beloved column.
 
 
Great. Way to give readers an unimpeded chance to throw athletes under the bus while you stay out of the way and keep your hands somewhat clean, Bill.
 
Simmons’ initial piece was passionate, self-righteous and ultimately impotent grandstanding. Why “impotent’? Because the follow-up was weaker than diluted bathtub gin.
 
In the year since Simmons declared war on turning a blind eye to PEDs in sports, this is what a search of ESPN’s website for “PEDs Bill Simmons” yields - a very short list:
 
 
Has there been a major investigation headed up by his boutique site, “Grantland” with its budget and ESPN-connected powers? Nope. We did a get a piece about possible PED use on MTV’s “The Challenge.”
 
 
Hard-hitting, risk-taking journalism? Nope. The rest of Biogenesis’ list of boxers, NBA and MLB players? Not even close. Instead, we get self-indulgent crap that makes a columnist feel better about being part of a generation of sports writers who blindly rode along on the Steroid Express, powering baseball’s resurgence in the wake of the MLB strike. I liken Simmons to that same group who found its “courage” years later by voting no one from the steroid era into MLB’s Hall of Fame. Way to crack down, fellas. Hindsight bravery is a weak tonic for the cowardice you displayed in the past.
 
All that said, welcome to the fray, Bill. We need guys on your level in this fight. “Dare to ask the PED question,” by all means. But how about doing it consistently and responsibly? Myself? In the four years I have been covering PEDs, with none of the resources afforded a star writer backed by a major network such as yourself, I’ve written roughly 50 articles on the subject (http://pound4poundireland/montoyas-stories-on-drugs-in-one-place), had my work summarized and referenced by a well-known mainstream writer in Thomas Hauser and made a ton of radio appearances discussing different aspects of PED testing and the various stories that have come up during the years. I’ve broken stories, challenged the complicit powers that be and consulted with GYM and Interbox about their testing protocols. It’s put my health and career at risk regularly. But I stand by every story because the info gathered has been done correctly and responsibly.
 
Yes, even this piece http://www.maxboxing.com/news/max-boxing-news/the-correspondence, which came knocking on my door the same day that Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer claimed the testing for this fight - http://www.maxboxing.com/news/max-boxing-news/winky-wright-same-field - wasn’t happening.
 
“The Correspondence” still begs the questions: Where did Golden Boy hear this rumor I was allegedly spreading and why haven’t they sued me for posting it?
 
The anti-doping war rages on every day, Bill. Yes, our eyes tell us more than facts do sometimes but it doesn’t give us the right to attack or let the readers run wild in our columns. We have access and resources to varying degrees to get the job done. Most important, we have a set of rules. When trying to catch cheaters, we don’t get to be hypocrites and break the rules laid down for us. Passive/aggressively throwing athletes under a bus full of suspicion through your readers’ emails is dirty pool.
 
 
An Anti-Doping Solution Suggestion…
 
Yes, Bio-passport is an excellent tool but if you are a true, knowledgeable supporter of anti-doping, you need to educate your readers on the real facts, Bill.
 
CIR and EPO testing on each sample collected must be done.
 
Blood samples must be collected.
 
Let’s throw hair samples into the mix too.
 
Let’s add the World Anti-Doping Agency Code rules to all sports. No more separation between amateur and pro rules. That includes the “No Needle” policy prohibiting athletes from using any sort of injections from IVs to any other kinds of injectables. Stricter rules on peptides must be implemented.
 
Tests for IGF-1 should be developed.
 
The available test for epinephrine (a drug used by cutmen to stop bleeding but can be inhaled and used as a powerful pre- and in-fight stimulant) must be added to the standard drug testing panel.
 
Bar none, every sport must implement random, year-round anti-doping testing of the highest standard. And it shouldn’t stop at a certain number of tests so the athletes know they are free and clear to cheat.
 
The UFC should pick up VADA’s standing offer to test all of their athletes for one year, administration cost-free, and see what is under that rock.
 
Boxing and MMA promoters should help fund the state commissions to hire VADA - called by many in the industry including commentator Brian Kenny, “The Gold Standard” of testing - to oversee their fights.
 
When the UFC’s Dana White comes out on TV and says, “Boxing and MMA have the hardest testing in sports,” the interviewer and every sports pundit need to jump all over him and clarify what he said by saying, “Only if by that, you mean when the athlete is being tested by VADA.” Otherwise, Dana, that’s pure bullsh*t. Some states don’t even test for PEDs on a regular basis. There is no universal system of testing in combat sports. Just a voluntary testing movement started by the fighters’ needs and answered by Dr. Margaret Goodman of VADA, who does the work not only pro bono but using much of her own personal savings.
 
When a fighter such as Georges St. Pierre offers to pay for the testing of his opponent so they both can prove their cleanliness and Dana White calls GSP “insane” “weird” and “stupid” for doing so, let Dana know that the only thing weird, stupid or insane is his reaction to what GSP offered.
 
Improve or abolish therapeutic usage exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy in all combat sports. If you have such low testosterone that you can’t fight without it, guess what? You’re retired.
 
The idea that the cheaters will always be ahead of the testers is simply not true. If those running and covering the sport want a clean sport and an even playing field, the tools and rules are available.
 
Snarky and lazy aren’t going to get this job done. Hard work and fearless dedication to this important issue will.
 
Speaking of Selective Journalism…
 
Lem Satterfield of RingTV, which is owned by the company that has promoted Erik Morales’ last few fights,  Golden Boy Promotions, wrote this about the Mexican legend’s impending return:
 
 
Erik Morales will end a 17-month ring absence against Jorge Paez Jr. in a welterweight bout on March 22 at Arena Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico, according to Sean Gibbons of Zanfer Promotions.
 
Morales (52-9, 36 knockouts), a 37-year-old former four-division titleholder who has lost three of his past four fights, was last in the ring in October of 2012 for a fourth-round knockout loss to RING junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia.
 
Paez (37-4-1, 22 KOs), the 26-year-old son of the popular former featherweight beltholder, has won 10 straight fights, five of them by stoppage, since losing split decision to Jose Lopez in May of 2001.
 
Morales-Paez will be contested at a contracted weight of 144 pounds.
 
 
As a result of the surgery, Morales had withdrawn from his originally scheduled match up with Garcia that was slated for January of 2012 and came in overweight for their return bout at 142 pounds.
 
Prior to the loss to Garcia Morales became Mexico’s first fighter to win four belts over as many different weight classes with last September’s 10th-round TKO over the previously unbeaten Pablo Cesar Cano.
 
Morales’ glorious career has been highlighted by his winning one of three bouts in separate trilogies with eight-division title-winner Manny Pacquiao and three-division title-winner Marco Antonio Barrera.
 
Call me crazy but Satterfield seems to have missed a major detail. You know, Morales was banned for two years for testing positive (via USADA) for Clenbuterol twice prior to fighting Garcia in that ill-fated rematch. The ban was issued March 25, 2013.
 
You’re better than that, Lem.
 
For more on that story, follow the link. These links incidentally address the first accusation Golden Boy made to me in that cease-and-desist letter.
 
 

 

You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoyaand catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextroundor via iTunes subscription at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/leave-it-in-ring-radio-blog/id316004573?mt=2. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PT.
 
 
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