Few noticed, but the UFC recently became the first major professional sports organization to turn over its entire drug-testing program to an outside entity, the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
It was a stunning decision from the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion and a nod to the fact that too many of its competitors have been trying to gain an advantage by using PEDs.
The only real difference between the UFC and any of the other pro sports leagues right now is that Dana White and Co. stopped playing the public-relations card in an attempt to clean up their sport as much as possible.
The solution is no panacea, however, because what you have heard is true, the cheaters will always be ahead of the testers, a reality that has the NFL and others throwing up their collective hands and playing a spin game, designed to
dupe an uneducated public.
For instance, the NFL and its players made headlines last year when they finally added human growth hormone testing to its own PED policy, something that was actually approved in the collective bargaining agreement signed in
2011 but postponed for three years as both sides dragged their feet, fearful of what they may find.
Matt Chaney, a former college football player who authored the book, “Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football,” explained why HGH is so popular among athletes.
“One reason is the drug’s rapid rejuvenation of depleted muscles,” Chaney, one of the foremost experts in the country regarding PEDs, said, “and many athletes believe HGH helps restore joints from wear and tear, even injury.”
NFL testing started in October of last year, with what the league claims is about 40 random blood tests a week during the regular season and five per team in the playoffs.
To date no one has been caught, something each side can click their heels over and point to while claiming HGH abuse is not a problem in professional football, a specious and deceptive argument.
“It’s not that we thought there was rampant use of HGH. It’s just that the deterrent value is important.” NFL legal chief Adolpho Birch claimed.
The truth is far darker … ensnaring HGH users is nearly impossible.
“Well, if you know the guy’s going to shoot up this morning, and you arrive at noon, OK,” Dr. Don Catlin, a former tester for Olympic and pro sports who operates the non-profit Anti-Doping Research laboratory in Los Angeles, once said when discussing the test.
A tougher biomarker test which can catch use up to three weeks out is thought to be close but some dispute that.
“If I were a football player today, I would be utterly confident in beating (the isoform test) and I would find the ways to beat (the) biomarker, were it deployed the league,” Chaney said. “The isoform would be of non-consequence for stopping my HGH use, and if chopsticks ever caught a fly in me, so to speak, I would crush that test in court.”
Either way Catlin and Chaney were being kind when it comes to testing for growth hormone and efficacy. In the far tougher USADA testing last year there were still zero positives in all Olympic sports because the science says HGH is not going to be found after the six-hour mark. WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, has caught less than 20 users in its history of testing.
One HGH proponent told me this: “You just do it at bed time and by the time you wake up, you’re clean.”
To combat that, starting in July all UFC competitors will be required to be available 24 hours a day and seven days a week for testing, informing the USADA of there location at all times.
“It’s the top policy in any professional sport,” the USADA’s Travis Tygart said when discussing the UFC’s decision.
That doesn’t mean you should expect a lot of growth-hormone failures in UFC moving forward but at least the USADA model puts the possibility of getting caught in the back of the user’s mind, a real deterrence.
It also threatens harsher punishments. The first offense in the new UFC policy is a two-year recommended suspension, which could spike to four years if the offense is considered flagrant. A second offense results in a four-year suspension and an eight-year window for flagrant violators. The third offense is a lifetime ban. Conversely, the NFL’s penalty, if anyone proves to be dumb, is four games, a blip on the radar.
Those who understand fighting comprehend two years might as well be a lifetime ban so when you put together penalty plus procedure, it’s plainly evident that the UFC’s policy has far more teeth than the NFL’s.
The goal of any PED policy should be to create a level playing field, an end game that most understand is a Pollyanna.
That said, by handing off testing to an independent group in a transparent manner, the UFC has gained a foothold in the octagon of public relations, the only platform the NFL has ever been concerned with.