What we should have learned from Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis or BALCO: testosterone and EPO use more often than not is an essential part of elite, record-breaking performance. In order to catch those drugs, you need to 1) use Carbon Isotope Ratio testing to insure detection of synthetic testosterone and 2) do blood testing in order to curb blood doping (blood transfusions and/or EPO use). Nevada doesn’t do CIR testing and it doesn’t do blood testing. It barely started testing for steroids at all in late 2002.
Sports in general have a drug problem. If cyclists are pulling over to the side of the road between race stages and, as a team, do blood transfusions in a team van, why would boxers want to win any less than that? So it seems simple; right? Upgrade the testing across the board.
But as Henry David Thoreau once said, the problem with society is that it tries to fix simple problems with complex answers.
Right now, two groups are attempting to be the testing organization for boxing. The United States Anti-Doping Agency, which handles doping control for U.S. Olympic athletes as well as various amateur sports, in recent years, has been hired to oversee various fights for Golden Boy Promotions, Al Haymon and Floyd Mayweather Jr. So far, USADA’s stay in boxing has been a controversial one. Testing has been contracted in at least two fights only to later be canceled, leaving the underdog fighter wondering why but never quite receiving satisfactory answers. There was also a rumor, according to a Golden Boy Promotions legal document sent to this reporter, that Mayweather had tested positive three times under USADA but it was covered up. Why would a testing group such as USADA allow its name and reputation to be sullied in this manner? Would they? Both excellent questions.
The Voluntary Anti-Doping Association is a relatively newer entity, headed up by Doctors Margaret Goodman and Flip Homansky, the man responsible for successfully lobbying for steroid testing in Nevada in the first place. Its Science Director was initially Dr. Rodrigo Aguilera who was later succeeded by Dr. Don Catlin. Both men are credited with creating the CIR test. In addition, Dr. Catlin opened and ran the UCLA Olympic Testing Lab for 20-plus years. Thus far, there have two criticisms of VADA.
The first criticism was made by Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, who blamed VADA for not disclosing sooner to him and his company the positive test of Lamont Peterson. Schaefer railed on VADA in the press, threatening a lawsuit that never came. The simple truth is that VADA was under no legal obligation to tell Schaefer the results. A key agreement delineating who would be informed in the event of a positive test was never signed, leaving VADA handcuffed by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act) law and unable to disclose the results until after the Peterson “B” sample had been tested. By then it was too late to do anything but cancel the card featuring his rematch against Amir Khan. The complaint is that VADA did something wrong, that they somehow held the results erroneously. That would be wrong.
In what appears to be a related story, Dr. Goodman was fired by The Ring magazine, owned by Golden Boy Promotions. An adequate explanation has yet to be given. And like with the Mayweather story, no reporter appears to have grilled Golden Boy about it. We simply let Dr. Goodman down by letting her be vilified and then dismissed by Schaefer, in my opinion. His company’s treatment of Dr. Goodman and her company was shameful at best. And after all that bluster and name-trashing, Schaefer recently intimated his company might be out of the independent drug testing business. All that damage to Goodman for nothing.
Another criticism is the association between Victor Conte and VADA. Conte, former Tower of Power bassist, founder of BALCO and current SNAC supplement company owner, is a polarizing figure in boxing. You either get him or you don’t. To this writer, Conte is an exercise in forgiveness and enlightenment. Not everyone can see the present reality as it truly is. Yes, Conte juiced Barry Bonds with his game-changing “The Cream” and “The Clear.” Yes, he gave Shane Mosley the same stuff as well as EPO in his training camp leading up to the rematch with Oscar De la Hoya. Yep, he juiced Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery. But the BALCO case was 10 years ago. Conte did his time and took full ringleader responsibility, as well he should.
Since then, Conte has been a steadfast anti-doping advocate. If you’ve never seen the interview, here is Conte discussing his role in BALCO on “20/20,” against the advice of his lawyers. Soon after, he decided to come clean about his role in the case.
A more in-depth interview from 2013 hosted by Joe Rogan is here:
I offer you, the reader, these links for a few reasons, not the least of which is to show a consistency over time but also how Conte’s attitude has subtly changed from “It’s not cheating if everyone is doing it” to a more honest (mainly with himself) outlook. Cheating is cheating. Rules are rules. But more, I offer the readers this as a way of seeing this person for themselves. Too often we accept the media’s perception of who someone is. The problem with that is the media doesn’t allow for personal growth. Boxing is trapped so deeply in its own dark ages that it misses the fact that Conte has been endorsed by World Anti-Doping Agency founder Richard Pound and has consulted for USADA, Major League Baseball and the Olympics. When a scandal breaks in baseball, cycling or track-and-field, who does CNN, ESPN or any other major news outlet call? Conte. Why? One reason might be that he is an expert on both sides of this issue. The other might be that he appears to be right in telling the sports world that synthetic testosterone is a drug of choice for athletes. He called the impending suspension for PED use epidemic in MLB last year when Melky Cabrera tested positive. When it comes to PEDs in sport, Conte was ahead of the curve when he was administering them and he is ahead of the curve as an anti-doping advocate.
Do you know what Victor Conte isn’t? An employee of VADA or somehow in control of that organization, an accusation some writers have actually given credence to.
That accusation is insulting to Doctors Goodman and Homansky. These are two professional who have a reputation in boxing as people who care about the fighters. Why would Homansky fight so hard for steroid testing in Nevada only to later in life decide to have a sham testing company? Unlike USADA, which is amassing some interesting clouds over it in boxing, VADA has done its job effectively, lives up to the WADA code and even exceeds its standards in some regard.
Another criticism is that the “voluntary” in VADA is somehow a hindrance. In fact, the “voluntary” goes both ways. It’s not just fighters volunteering to join. Dr. Goodman sent a full proposal to the UFC volunteering to waive all administrative fees in order to test all their fighters for a year and provide educational counseling as well as other services. They have yet to receive a reply but the point is VADA is volunteering to help us with our drug problem. They simply keep getting ignored.
Someone should ask what problem or problems Top Rank’s Bob Arum and Keith Kizer of the NSAC have with Dr. Goodman and VADA. I imagine it would make for an interesting answer.
The choice seems clear. It seemed clear to Arum, who told me during the Tim Bradley-Provodnikov presser that all his fighters would be doing VADA and not USADA for the very reasons I stated. But again, boxing likes to be complicated when the answer is simple.
Now Arum thinks that simply paying the Nevada commission, with its therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone and 6:1 T/E ratio, is the right way to handle the testing for the upcoming Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez fight. The only thing this new development does is create more questions and confusion.
What about the fact that Bradley’s contract calls for both VADA and USADA testing?
Who will handle the testing fund?
What are the protocols? It isn’t as simple as saying, “Do it like VADA or USADA.” Both have different testing procedures and policies.
What T/E threshold will be used? WADA’s 4:1 or Nevada’s 6:1?
Can any of this be accomplished by the proposed July 12 testing start date? Not likely.
After Nevada procures a WADA-accredited lab, who will collect the samples? You need WADA-trained and approved sample collectors. Nevada doesn’t use those.
Who will they assign to put this protocol together?
Nevada’s expert on Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) is UFC light heavyweight Chael Sonnen, who tested positive for synthetic testosterone use in California. I’m not making this up. Will Sonnen be responsible for putting the legal and lab aspects of this together?
Recently, Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports wrote that Nevada was the “perfect solution” to handle the Bradley-Marquez testing. Nothing could be further from the truth. From their standards to Sonnen, the NSAC seems anything but prepared to handle this testing.
In a sport and commission rife with political leanings, bad decisions and poor doping standards, it should be obvious that a random drug testing program, the results of which could kill a fight before it ever happens, should be handled by an independent organization. The Nevada commission doesn’t want to lose that revenue. The promoter certainly doesn’t. A group like VADA only has to worry about testing the athletes.
In my opinion, the NSAC’s track record shows it incompetent at best and complicit at worst in PED use in its state. USADA also has a lot of questions to answer about its time in boxing. VADA, while young, has shown itself to be capable and willing to pull the trigger on a positive test that puts a fight in jeopardy before it happens. It seems simple enough to endorse a group with a proven clean track record designed to test combat sports athletes in charge of this testing and future gigs in Nevada and elsewhere. It’s simple if you look at facts, history and, most importantly, the present day.
But we don’t generally don’t heed such logic. Instead, we engage in Conte’s past while ignoring his current message. We allow Schaefer to use bluster, insults and threats of cutting off access and instead let him trash Dr. Goodman while stripping her of her informative The Ring columns on fighter safety. As a sport, we let that happen. We ignore what is important in favor of riding the “This week’s fights” story treadmill and favor quantity over quality or in-depth reporting. No one is covering the Gary Shaw and the allegedly fixed IBF rankings story. No is asking Mayweather, “What about those alleged positives?” or Schaefer, “How come you heard Montoya was spreading that rumor and no one else did? Where did you hear it? How come you never sued him after he printed that legal document?”
Yes, the fights in 2013 have been great. But in the process of ignoring that which is important, we let ourselves and the sport down. At some point - preferably sooner than later - we should stop that.
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