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The PED Mess: Part Two

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Scott Hale runs a small website called HaleStormSports.com. On Thursday, October 18, 2012, at approximately 8:30 a.m. Pacific Coast Time, Hale got a telephone call from a source in New York who told him that Erik Morales (who was scheduled to fight Danny Garcia two days later on a Golden Boy Promotions card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn) had tested positive for a banned substance.
 
“I knew they were about to start the [final pre-fight] press conference,” Hale recalls, “and I assumed the fight would be canceled. Four hours later, I went online and saw that the fight was still on and the story hadn’t broken. So I made some follow-up calls and a second source confirmed the story. Then a third source called me to confirm, but I still didn’t know what the drug was.”

“At that point,” Hale continues, “I called USADA and Golden Boy. Neither of them would confirm the story. One of my partners called the New York State Athletic Commission. They said they didn’t know anything about it, but our sources were solid. All three of them are reliable. So we decided to go with the story.”
 
The snowball rolled from there.
 
Initially, Golden Boy and USADA engaged in damage control.
 
Dan Rafael of ESPN.com spoke with two sources and wrote, “The reason the fight has not been called off, according to one of the sources, is because Morales’s ‘A’ sample tested positive but the results of the ‘B’ sample test likely won’t be available until after the fight. ‘[USADA] said it could be a false positive,’ one of the sources with knowledge of the disclosure said. ‘But from what I understand, they won’t know until the test on the ‘B’ sample comes back. That probably won’t be until after the fight.’”
 
Richard Schaefer told Chris Mannix of SI.com, “USADA has now started the process. The process will play out. There is not going to be a rush to judgment. Morales is a legendary fighter. And really, nobody deserves a rush to judgment. You are innocent until proven guilty.”
 
Also on Thursday, Schaefer told Rick Reeno of BoxingScene.com, “I think what is important here is that there is not going to be a witch hunt against Erik Morales. Let’s allow the process to play out.”
 
The New York State Athletic Commission was blindsided on the Morales matter. The first notice it received came in a three-way telephone conversation with representatives of Golden Boy and USADA after the Thursday press conference. In that conversation, the commission was told there were “some questionable test results” for Morales but that testing of Morales’s “B” sample would not be available until after the fight.
 
Then, on Friday (one day before the scheduled fight), Keith Idec revealed on BoxingScene.com that samples had been taken from Morales on at least three occasions. Final results from the samples taken on October 17th were not in yet. But both the “A” and “B” samples taken from Morales on October 3rd and October 10th had tested positive for Clenbuterol. In other words, Morales had tested positive for Clenbuterol four times.
 
Clenbuterol is widely used by bodybuilders and athletes. It helps the body increase its metabolism and process the conversion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into useful energy. It also boosts muscle growth and eliminates excess fats caused by the use of certain steroids.
 
Under the WADA code, no amount of Clenbuterol is allowed in a competitor’s body. The measure is qualitative, not quantitative. Either Clenbuterol is there or it’s not. If it’s there, the athlete has a problem.
 
After the positive tests were revealed, Morales claimed that he’d inadvertently ingested Clebuterol by eating contaminated meat. No evidence was offered in support of that contention.
 
Nor was any explanation forthcoming as to why USADA kept taking samples from Morales after four tests (two “A” samples and two “B” samples from separate collections) came back positive. Giving Morales those additional tests was like giving someone who has been arrested for driving while intoxicated a second and third blood test a week after the arrest. The whole idea behind “cycling” is that it enables an athlete to use illegal PEDs, stop using them at a predetermined point in time, and then test clean in the days leading up to an event. A fighter shouldn’t be given the opportunity to test again and again until he tests clean.
 
Also, Richard Schaefer vigorously attacked Dr. Margaret Goodman and VADA for not advising him that Lamont Peterson’s “A” sample had come back positive. But not only did Schaefer fail to notify Lou DiBella (Andre Berto’s promoter) in a timely manner that Berto had tested positive for Norandrosterone, Schaefer didn’t tell the New York State Athletic Commission in a timely manner that Morales had tested positive for Clenbuterol. Rather, it appears as though the commission and the public were deliberately misled with regard to the testing and how many tests Morales had failed.
 
The moment that the “B” sample from Morales’s first test came back positive, that information should have been forwarded to the New York State Athletic Commission. The fact that USADA had positive test results from two “A” and two “B” samples and didn’t transmit those results to the NYSAC raises serious questions regarding USADA’s credibility.
 
WOULD USADA HANDLE THE TESTING OF AN OLYMPIC ATHLETE THE WAY IT HANDLED THE MORALES TESTING?
 
“The Erik Morales case is a travesty,” says Victor Conte. “Golden Boy and USADA seem to have made up a new set of rules without telling anyone what they are. What are the rules? Explain yourself, please! In ‘Olympic-style testing,’ you don’t have an ‘A’ sample and a ‘B’ sample test positive, and then another ‘A’ sample and ‘B’ sample test positive, and keep testing until you get a negative. What happened with Erik Morales should put everything that USADA and Golden Boy have done in boxing under a microscope. This is more than suspicious to me. It’s outrageous.”
 
Incredibly, Garcia-Morales II was allowed to proceed. This, in effect, amounted to a “Get out of Jail Free” card for Garcia. Morales, a heavy underdog, was knocked out in the fourth round. But had Erik won the fight, the positive drug tests (which had been concealed prior to the leak on Halestorm Sports) could have been used to overturn the result and give Garcia back his belts.
 
Garcia is managed by Al Haymon and is considered by Golden Boy to be one of its future stars.
 
Since the Morales incident, people in the PED-testing community have begun to question the curious role played in boxing by USADA. When someone hears “USADA testing,” the assumption is that it’s legitimate. In that light, the reports that Erik Morales’s “A” and “B” samples tested positive for Clenbuterol on two occasions without notification to the New York State Athletic Commission are extremely troubling.
 
Don Catlin founded the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory in 1982 and is one of the founders of modern drug testing in sports.
 
“USADA should not enter into a contract that doesn’t call for it to report positive test results to the appropriate governing body.” Catlin states. “If it’s true that USADA reported the results [in the Morales case] to Golden Boy and not to the governing state athletic commission, that’s a recipe for deception.”
 
When asked about the possibility of withholding notification because of inadvertent use (such as eating contaminated meat), Catlin declares, “No! The International Olympic Committee allowed for those waivers 25 years ago, and it didn’t work. An athlete takes a steroid, tests positive, and then claims it was inadvertent. No one says, ‘I was cheating. You caught me.’”
 
But more importantly, Catlin says, “USADA is a testing organization. USADA should not be making decisions regarding waivers and exemptions. That would make USADA judge and jury.”
 
Ryan Connolly is in accord and adds, “There is no such thing in the Olympic world as an inadvertent use waiver. Athletes are strictly liable for what they put in their bodies. Inadvertent use might affect the length of an athlete’s suspension, but the athlete would still be disqualified from the competition that he, or she, was being tested for.
 
“I’m not sure what rules USADA is following,” Connolly continues, “but under WADA protocols, you wouldn’t see samples being destroyed and you wouldn’t see retests for Clenbuterol positives.”
 
In other words, USADA seems to have one set of rules for testing Olympic athletes and another set of rules when it tests fighters for Golden Boy.
 
“It looks to me like USADA and Golden Boy are making up the rules as they go along,” says Victor Conte. “One of the things that enables them to do it is that there’s no transparency to USADA’s testing for any of the fighters. What drugs are they testing for? What tests have been performed? What were the results? Why is Travis Tygart doing this?”
 
One might also ask why Golden Boy and Richard Schaefer are doing this.
 
“I think that Richard really wanted to be in the forefront on drug testing when he first got involved,” one Golden Boy employee (who, for obvious reasons, wishes to remain anonymous) says. “He knew it would ingratiate him with Floyd. It would get him some good PR. And it was a way to stick it in [Bob] Arum’s ear. But talking with him, I also felt that he thought it was the right thing to do. Then he realized that things were a lot more complicated and, probably, a lot dirtier than he’d thought. And at that point, his priorities changed.”
 
It would be a stretch to say that Schaefer is trying to install himself as boxing’s drug czar. But he certainly doesn’t want drug testing to interfere with Golden Boy’s fights. That’s evident from his assault on VADA and Margaret Goodman after Lamont Peterson and Andre Berto tested positive.
 
“Richard Schaefer saw what happened when somebody tests impartially with sophisticated testing methods,” HBO commentator Jim Lampley observes. “I haven’t spoken with him about these issues, but it would certainly appear as though he has decided to stay away from Margaret Goodman.”
 
Stripped of its rhetoric, Schaefer’s main objection to VADA and Dr. Goodman appears to have been that they wouldn’t empower him in the testing process. He talks about VADA failing to notify him of Peterson’s positive “A” test in a timely manner. But if early notification is so important, why didn’t Golden Boy advise the New York State Athletic Commission that Erik Morales’s “A” and “B” samples had tested positive for Clenbuterol - twice?
 
In fairness to Golden Boy, no other promoter has made a serious effort to rid boxing of PEDs, or even pretended to. And Schaefer himself acknowledged recently, “I think that ultimately it should be up to the athletic commissions to adopt a more updated drug-testing protocol and really not up to a promoter.”
 
That latter point is particularly well-taken. The problem is that the state athletic commissions, as presently constituted, are woefully unsuited to the task. In many instances, boxing is barely governed at the state level. Everything has a loophole. Illegal PED users vs. the state athletic commissions is one of the biggest mismatches of all time.
 
Most state athletic commissions don’t have the resources, the technical expertise, or the will to deal effectively with the PED problem. People go along to get along. No one wants to make waves.
 
There’s no uniformity with regard to standards, degree of testing, or punishment from state to state. Testing on the day of a competition is notoriously ineffective in the face of sophisticated drug use. But that’s the only testing that most states utilize. Some states don’t drug test at all.
 
The Nevada State Athletic Commission has long been considered to have one of the best drug-testing programs in the country. Two years ago, Travis Tygart was asked, “How easy is it to beat a testing program like Nevada’s?”
 
“As simple as walking across the street,” Tygart answered. “It’s good for PR, to give the appearance that you’re testing, but nothing more.”
 
After Lamont Peterson tested positive with VADA, Zach Arnold of FightOpinion.com spoke with Keith Kizer (Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission).
 
Kizer admits that a standard Nevada State Athletic Commission drug test would not have caught Peterson using synthetic testosterone,” Arnold reported afterward. “He admits that the reason the VADA test caught Peterson is because they use the Carbon Isotope Ratio standard for urine testing, which does in fact catch synthetic testosterone usage.”
 
The Peterson camp, as earlier noted, says Lamont tested positive because of the surgical implantation of testosterone pellets to correct a testosterone deficiency known as hypogonadism. Jeff Fried (Peterson’s attorney) says the implantation occurred on November 12, 2011.
 
Four weeks later, on December 10, 2011, Peterson fought Amir Khan in Washington D.C. The tests administered by the local commission failed to detect the testosterone. That’s a pretty good indication that PED testing in Washington D.C. is deficient.
 
California hosts more fight cards than any other state in the country. On October 9, 2012, the California State Athletic Commission upheld a one-year suspension imposed on Antonio Tarver in the wake of his testing positive for Drostanolone.
 
“The commission heard both sides of the issue and upheld Mr. Tarver’s suspension,” Kathi Burns (interim executive officer of the CSAC, told ESPN.com). “I think the commission’s actions speak for itself. It’s well-known that the commission has among the toughest anti-doping standards in the world, and that we have zero tolerance for doping.”
 
Not true.
 
California then turned 180 degrees and, without a full hearing, licensed Andre Berto for a November 24th fight (to be promoted by Golden Boy) against Robert Guerrero, despite the fact that Berto tested positive for Norandrosterone in May of this year. The explanation given by commission personnel was that Berto’s positive drug tests were administered by VADA and not by the commission itself.
 
“How can they not recognize VADA?” Margaret Goodman asks. “Our program is in accord with WADA protocols. Our scientific director was recommended to us by WADA’s medical chief.  We use internationally-recognized sample collectors. We even use the same laboratory [the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory] that the California commission uses.”
 
Then there’s the case of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Following his November 14, 2009 fight against Troy Rowland in Las Vegas, Chavez tested positive for Furosemide (a diuretic and steroid-masking agent). He was fined $10,000 by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and suspended for seven months. Four of his next six bouts were in Texas, one in California, and one in Mexico. Texas has a reputation for being lax in the area of drug-testing. Mexico is Mexico.
 
On September 15, 2012, Chavez returned to Las Vegas to fight Sergio Martinez. After the bout, it was revealed that Julio had tested positive for marijuana.
 
Marijuana is illegal, but it’s not a performance-enhancing drug. Chavez’s explanation for the positive test was as follows: “I have never smoked marijuana. For years, I have had insomnia, so I went to the doctor and he prescribed some drops for me that contained cannabis. I stopped taking them before the fight with Martinez, and I didn’t think I was going to test positive.”
 
That explanation strains credibility. Chavez might have been better off claiming he ate tainted beef from a cow that ate a marijuana plant. Still, before the NSAC rules harshly on Julio, it should consider testing all commission personnel (including the five commissioners) for recreational drugs. Boxing has a drug problem, but the drug isn’t marijuana.
 
As for Erik Morales and New York, on the day of Garcia-Morales II, the New York State Athletic Commission issued the following statement: “The New York Athletic Commission has taken into consideration the testing of Erick [sic] Morales conducted by USADA, an independent non-governmental organization contracted by Golden Boy Promotions to conduct testing on its boxers. Based upon currently available information and the representations made by Mr. Morales that he unintentionally ingested contaminated food, it is the Commission’s opinion that at this time there is inconclusive data to make a final determination regarding the suspension of Mr. Morales’s boxing license. The Commission will continue investigating the allegations and will wait until official laboratory results are available before making a final decision.”
 
Let’s give the NYSAC the benefit of the doubt and assume that enormous political pressure from above was brought to bear on well-intentioned administrators. Garcia-Morales II was the main event on the first fight card at the new billion-dollar Barclays Center, an anchor for economic redevelopment in Brooklyn.
 
Still, Kieran Mulvaney summed up nicely when he wrote on ESPN.com, “The way in which the situation was handled was borderline farcical. Morales failed tests twice, yet was allowed to take a third, which he passed, and faced no real consequences. Why have a drug-testing program if testing positive means nothing? If commissions are going to stand on the sideline, will failing a drug test become like missing weight: an inconvenience that can be smoothed over with some extra money changing hands?”
 
It should also be noted that the world sanctioning organizations are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
 
Four days after Garcia-Morales II, World Boxing Council President Jose Sulaiman declared, “The time of getting urine samples for the anti-doping tests is absolutely none other than in the dressing rooms before going into the ring or after the fights. The WBC only wants to test how a fighter is at the time of his performance and no other time unless it is a special circumstance. The tests are done by the local boxing commissions, most with which we have excellent relations and amicable agreements of mutual cooperation. We are, and have been, testing against drugs in boxing since 1975 and we have had only 15 positives in 37 years and about 1,600 fights. Boxing is a clean sport, as our data proves.”
 
If Sulaiman weren’t so adept at gobbling up sanctioning fees and crushing reform movements within the WBC, one would be inclined to dismiss him as a buffoon.
 
As for what comes next, the signs aren’t promising. This Saturday (November 24th), Andre Berto will fight Robert Guerrero in Ontario, California, on a card promoted by Golden Boy.
 
Guerrero asked that the fighters be tested for PEDs by VADA. Walter Kane (Guerrero’s attorney) says that Richard Schaefer and Al Haymon (Berto’s manager) refused and would only allow testing by the California State Athletic Commission and USADA.
 
In other words, Berto said he’d do drug testing, but not with the people who caught him earlier this year.
 
Guerrero had two options. He could accept USADA and a career-high payday or lose the payday.
 
“I’m not happy about it,” Kane says, “but in the end, we really didn’t have a choice. Golden Boy controls the purse strings, and they’re calling the shots.”
 
Would the National Football League let Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones dictate drug-testing terms for games the Cowboys play? Of course not. But in essence, Golden Boy (which has a vested interest in the outcome of the fights it promotes) is doing just that.
 
Once again, the playing field has been tilted. There are times when it appears as though, not only does Golden Boy dictate which drug-testing organization is utilized, it can also influence whether or not there is random blood and urine testing for a fight.
 
Indeed, Golden Boy might even be able to use its influence over the drug-testing process as a bargaining chip in signing fighters. Andre Berto tested positive and, soon after, was licensed to fight in California in a big-money fight. Erik Morales tested positive and New York said, “No problem. He can fight here right now.”
 
Meanwhile, Golden Boy is refusing to use a drug-testing agency that plays by the reporting rules (VADA) and is giving its business to an agency (USADA) that appears to have ceded a certain amount of reporting authority to the promoter.
 
The problems are overwhelming and there are no easy answers. Even state-of-the-art tests often fail to uncover PED use.
 
Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones was tested more than 160 times during her track-and-field career and none of the tests came back as a confirmed positive. As the BALCO investigation widened, she admitted she’d used steroids prior to the 2000 Olympics and lied to federal investigations about it. She pled guilty to federal charges and spent six months in prison. The tests have gotten more sophisticated since then, but so have the cheaters.
 
Should boxing even try to curtail PED use?
 
“Yes,” says Victor Conte. “There will always be athletes who escape detection, but when there’s a desperate need, half a loaf of bread is better than none.”
 
One might look to Major League Baseball for parallels. No sport wants to tarnish its image, let alone its major stars. But as baseball discovered, if a sport looks the other way, the use of PEDs can come back to haunt it.
 
Baseball got a huge bounce when Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa rewrote its record book. Now an entire era has been disgraced, and baseball’s most hallowed records (which link fans from one generation to the next) are in limbo.
 
Baseball made significant strides when it decided, finally, to crack down on PED use. Home run statistics are evidence of that. For eight consecutive seasons (between 1995 and 2002), the MLB home run leader hit at least 50 home runs. In the past five years, that mark has been reached only once. In the past two seasons, the four league leaders hit 44, 41, 43, and 39 home runs. Compare that with 1998, when Mark McGwire hit 70, Sammy Sosa hit 66, and Ken Griffey Jr. hit 56.
 
In boxing at present, the users are way ahead of the testers and the distance between them is growing. The only thing that can possibly close the gap is a national approach with uniform national standards and a uniform national enforcement mechanism. If additional federal legislation is necessary to achieve that end, so be it. The notion that boxing can clean itself up one state athletic commission at a time is frivolous.
 
To make real headway, it should be a condition for granting a license in any state that a fighter can be tested for PEDs at any time. Logistics and cost would make mandatory testing on a broad scale impractical, but unannounced spot testing could be implemented.
 
All contracts for drug testing (such as Golden Boy’s contracts with USADA) should be filed immediately with the Association of Boxing Commissions and the supervising state athletic commission for the fight at issue. The ABC and supervising commission should be notified when each test is performed and also of each test result.
 
For a state athletic commission to say (as is the case in some jurisdictions) that it won’t recognize any tests but its own is ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter who does the testing as long as the tests are reliable. Whether it’s a police officer or a private security guard who sees a bank being robbed, the offense is prosecuted.
 
The implementation of sophisticated, unannounced, impartially-administered, random drug testing is the only way to turn the tide.
 
That said, one has to acknowledge that we live in the real world. If a mega-fight is canceled two days before its scheduled date because one of the combatants has tested positive for PEDs, it isn’t like saying, “Number 94 won’t be playing defensive tackle on Sunday.” In boxing, if a fighter is suspended, the fight doesn’t go on.
 
Big events are the economic engine that drives boxing. Canceling a mega-fight, particularly at the last minute, will result in tens of millions of dollars in lost income.
 
For that reason, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that, in certain instances, if a fighter tests positive for PEDs before a fight: (1) his opponent should have the choice of proceeding with the fight or not; (2) if the fight takes place, the fighter who has tested positive should forfeit 50 percent of his purse; and (3) the fighter who has tested positive should be suspended for a minimum of one year after the fight with the suspension being recognized by every jurisdiction in the United States.
 
Meanwhile, one has to ask: How many positive test results similar to those for Erik Morales (and possibly Floyd Mayweather) are there that we don’t know about? How many other samples have been destroyed in the manner of the samples taken from Peter Quillin and Winky Wright? What would happen if federal investigators put key players in boxing’s ongoing PED drama under oath?
 
Victor Conte says flatly, “I think the relationship between USADA and Golden Boy needs to be investigated.”
 
An Internet website isn’t the place to make judgments as to whether or not USADA has acted properly. Congress is. There’s an open issue as to whether USADA has become an instrument of accommodation. For an agency that tests United States Olympic athletes and receives in excess of $10,000,000 a year from the federal government, that’s a significant issue.
 
If USADA has violated appropriate protocols, the consequences could be enormous. If, in fact, USADA has made special accommodations for Golden Boy, one has to wonder how many times it has made similar accommodations for other athletes in the past.
 
This isn’t about a handful of athletes. It’s about the integrity of boxing and the well-being of all fighters.
 
Someday, if it hasn’t happened already, a fighter who has been using PEDs will kill his opponent in the ring. Thus, in closing, it’s worth remembering the thoughts of Emanuel Steward.
 
“Boxing isn’t like other sports,” Steward said several months before his death. “In boxing, a human being is getting hit in the head. None of us like to talk about it, but there’s a very real risk of brain damage. So to my way of thinking, anyone in boxing who’s part of using performance-enhancing drugs – I don’t care if it’s the fighter, the trainer, the strength coach, the conditioner, the manager, the promoter – that person is ruining the sport and doing something criminal.”
 
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (And the New...: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.
 
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