Earlier this month, former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal released a statement regarding his recent positive test for drostanolone, saying that he unwittingly imbibed the substance when it was mixed in to a new supplement he was taking. Last week, in an interview with Heavy MMA, Lawal clarified his statement. According tLawal, the supplement in question had the carbon chain for drostanolone listed among its ingredients and, not being a biochemist, Lawal was unable to identify the organic chemical details as the banned substance in question.
Lawal clearly learned a lesson about using cheap supplements that try to sneak one of the most expensive and in-demand designer steroids on the market into their product, which somehow equals out to a profitable business plan.
This was the same lesson that former Strikeforce women’s 145 pound champion Cristianne “Cyborg” Santos learned when she accidentally took in a massive amount of stanozolol, apparently also mixed in with an over the counter supplement.
I first heard this sad story of deception and victimized athletes having their good name ruined by shady supplement companies in the mid-90’s. Apparently, nearly half the players in Major League Baseball were being deviously snuck performance enhancing anabolics without their knowledge.
This problem of supplement companies slipping performance enhancing drugs into their over the counter products has, following the stories of professional athletes who have tested positive, been ongoing for twenty years. As many of these banned substances are illegal to purchase in bulk in the US, one would think that this two-decade charade would be a matter for the DEA. And, if the story was provably true even half the times that an athlete has uttered it, the authorities would be involved.
In truth, “I was unaware it was in a supplement” has become code in the world of professional athletics for “I use banned substances, get over it.” Every time I hear that particular bit of encryption, I gain more respect for Thiago Silva.
After his victory over Brandon Vera in UFC 125, Thiago Silva returned a urine sample to the athletic commission that wasn’t exactly human. As far as stories about drug tests go, having a urine sample that could easily belong to a member of the great ape family is pretty low-hanging fruit on the comedy tree. But amidst the jokes circulating the internet, Silva did something entirely unexpected.
He was honest.
After taking a second test that came up positive, Thiago Silva issued an apology in which he not only explained the circumstances behind his using of performance enhancers, but encapsulated why any athlete uses them.
In his apology, Silva stated that his recurring back problems, which he partially blamed his loss to Rashad Evans on, were flaring up again, and he was afraid that another pull-out or sub-standard performance could forever damage his ability to support himself as a professional fighter. So, he used recovery-enhancing substances which aided him in continuing to train while minimizing the problems he had with his back.
This is perfectly reasonable. Professional sports, especially MMA, are incredibly taxing on the body. And, while the spirit is willing, the muscles grow weary, and the joints may fail. The majority of artificial testosterone and other common performance enhancers used by athletes are done to aid in recovery, rather than types that are used to gain mass and explosive power. A true competitor wants nothing more than to work as hard as he possibly can and put in the best performance he is able. That mentality is why athletes are viewed as role models. Performance enhancers are just an unfortunate side-effect of wanting to put in the work that the will is capable of sustaining but the body is not.
I’m not advocating the free use of performance enhancing drugs in sports. As I’ve said in other editorials, the widespread use of PEDs is untenable to athletic competition. The goal of any combat sport is to make as even a playing field as possible for the athletes to compete in. Some PEDs are within the price range of a champion but not a contender. There are plenty of medical conditions, such as naturally thinner arterial walls, that an athlete can safely compete with but become unsafe when mixed with anabolics. The list of reasons why allowing everyone to use PEDs will still only provide an advantage to some just goes on.
The wholesale approval of PEDs does not jive with the idea of fair and even play. But, pretending that professional athletes only use them by accident isn’t making them go away. What happened to Thiago Silva after a heart-felt apology that clearly lays out the temptations a respectable athlete has to cheat?
Pretty much the same thing that happened to Dennis Hallman when he said he doesn’t apologize for taking PEDs to help him recover and that 75% of the sport is secretly on them: suspensions were administered and it was quickly and quietly forgotten.
The only way that the problem with PEDs in MMA, or any professional sport, can be addressed is with an honest airing of concerns like those in Silva and Hallman’s statements. The use of anabolics and other banned substances can only be blamed on the individual athletes for so long before we have to admit that we have created a culture where these athletes are not allowed to get hurt, sick or have a bad day. Those are nearly impossible standards for even the best of us to meet while playing by the rules.
Peter Lampasona is the most opinionated and high-horsed writer on The Fight Nerd.com. The ideas expressed in his editorials are not necessarily those of The Fight Nerd. He claims he wrote the above editorial because if he was forced to write the 15th article, today, about Chandella Powell’s past hard core porn career making her unsuited for her present soft core porn career, he was going to puke.