On drug testing, MMA, the Diaz brothers, invasions of privacy, etc.

One thing I enjoy, perhaps more than I should, about my weird career path is the intersection of Olympic sports and MMA when it comes to the ever-entertaining world of drug testing. I did a lot of grunt work on the topic back in the day for USA TODAY, and I like finding a use for that otherwise useless knowledge:

  • The BALCO timeline, where we learned athletes can be suspended for doping without failing a test. (This piece is cited in a surprising number of scholarly papers.)
  • The Jerome Young case, a classic example of an athlete who had plausible deniability until he didn’t. (That might remind you of Marion Jones or Floyd Landis, another case I followed in detail.)

But I also learn a lot from the MMA community’s response. MMA writers and fans are often looking at drug testing with fresh eyes. And hopefully most people have lost their perception of MMA writers and fans as just a bunch of know-nothing “dudebros.” I’ve written for USA TODAY and a bunch of other big brand names (ESPN, The Guardian, etc.), and I’ve written for Bloody Elbow. I’ve seen Bloody Elbow do a lot of journalism I wish USA TODAY would do.

But my USA TODAY colleagues have done some terrific reporting on drug testing over the years, including this funny collection of anecdotes that show how drug testers can show up pretty much anywhere at any time. The formatting has broken down over time, so I’ll copy the first few paragraphs — follow the link, and you’ll see the rest, including a really funny story from Adam Nelson that I incorporated into a blog post when he finally got his gold medal.

Imagine being an athlete who’s off on a fishing trip, out in the Missouri countryside at a remote pond, and up drives a member of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to get a urine sample for drug testing.’s off on a fishing trip, out in the Missouri countryside at a remote pond, and up drives a member of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to get a urine sample for drug testing.

That happened to U.S. shot putter Christian Cantwell, who says, “We did it right there, in the woods.”

Cantwell also was tracked down recently for random testing while going into a casino. The USADA representative arrived when a dehydrated Cantwell wasn’t ready to produce, and during the ensuing two-hour wait he was certain he was missing out on a hot roll at the dice tables.

“When I got to the table they had just paid out $30,000 in a half-hour,” Cantwell says. “Next time I see that guy, I’m going to tell him he owes me money.”

Such anecdotes are common for U.S. athletes who compete in Olympic sports, and who are subject to year-round drug testing by USADA. And those stories are a reminder that, despite the few Americans who have been caught up in the BALCO steroids scandal this year, there are thousands of U.S. Olympic hopefuls who pass drug tests monthly, or even more often.

All of those athletes must keep USADA informed of their whereabouts at all times, and they all have to be willing to head for the bathroom — or woods — when USADA comes knocking. Which can be at any hour.

The MMA community is still somewhat new to this sort of drug testing, and they don’t find it quite as funny. Not yet, anyway. Maybe when they get used to it. And maybe when it doesn’t involve Nick Diaz, who has already documented an unpleasant exchange with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

The Diaz case is unusual by any standards. Nick and his brother Nate are among the most vocal marijuana advocates in sports. Nick once turned a Strikeforce conference call into a freeform discussion of the merits of pot. (Disclaimer: I’m a little biased here because the smell of pot makes me nauseous, ruining many a good concert for me, and I have a enough life experience to know the “hey, it’s harmless” lobbyists are overstating their case. That said, I don’t see the legal case to treat it any differently than alcohol, and I’m certainly not a fan of draconian penalties, whether it’s prison time or the five-year suspension — later dropped to 18 months — Nevada handed Nick Diaz, prompting enough justifiable outrage to make the White House take note.)

Worth noting here: As USADA explains in a Marijuana FAQ that I’m sure the pro-pot lobby will not enjoy reading, pot is only prohibited in competition. The out-of-competition testing is designed to catch people filling up on every form of steroid known to man, all of which can give athletes an unfair advantage even if the drug has passed out of their system when they compete. Marijuana doesn’t work that way.

And Nick is back in the news now because he has three “whereabouts” failures. Yes, as the story above points out, athletes have to share their whereabouts with USADA, but the good news for athletes is that there’s an app for that. Under USADA’s agreement with the UFC, which is similar to but not exactly identical to USADA and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) agreements with other organizations, he’s subject to a possible suspension of 6-24 months.

Nick doesn’t seem too interested in fighting these days, anyway.  But athletes are generally responsible for filing retirement papers if they don’t want to compete any more, as USA Track and Field warns its athletes in a list of doping suspensions that happens to include a lot of “whereabouts” infractions. In fact, that list includes at least one athlete who hadn’t filled out his retirement papers and then refused to give a sample. He was suspended, but that just means un-retiring would be complicated.

So the MMA community has raised a few questions:


Good question. As is this:


I’ve never understood the random test process, either. But USADA is certainly transparent about the number of tests it conducts. A few random facts:

  • Your current 2017 drug-testing leaders, with 7 tests each: Vitor Belfort, T.J. Dillashaw, Mark Hunt, Stipe Miocic, Alistair Overeem, Valentina Shevchenko, Tecia Torres.
  • 2016 leaders: Anderson Silva (15), followed by Eddie Alvarez and Dominick Cruz with 14 each.
  • Ronda Rousey was tested nine times (cue Ferris Bueller reference) in 2016.
  • Rio 1,500-meter gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz was tested 17 times in 2016, more than any other track and field athlete.

And USADA tests a lot of sports, mostly but not limited to Olympic and Paralympic sports. Yes, Paralympic — the current list of sanctions includes athletes in sitting volleyball, wheelchair curling, paralympic judo, paralympic table tennis, etc.

In discussing all this yesterday, this Tweet came up:

This ties into another issue in MMA today — UFC fighters, like most athletes in individual sports, aren’t employed by the organization in which they compete. It’s a bit much to cover in a post that’s already too long — look up coverage of fighter unions and so forth. Labor lawyers are going to have a field day with this for a while.

So we were discussing possible ramifications and this came up:


Thereby establishing that all three of us in the conversation are DMV residents who’ve had their hearts broken by the Capitals every year. *%^##@ing Crosby …

And Backstrom was indeed kept out of the Olympic final, though the case was a bit complicated, and it did indeed not affect his play with the Capitals.

Of course, in the world of MMA, you can always fight somewhere else. See Mirko Cro Cop, who’s on USADA’s suspension list until November but has recently been fighting in Rizin overseas.

In the Olympic sports world, forget it. Lance Armstrong’s cycling ban even carried over to triathlons and swimming for four years.

Which raises one question: Will the Diaz brothers’ attitude toward anti-doping eventually limit their triathlon options? Or do they just plan to do recreational triathlons, which aren’t subject to the same scrutiny? (Which seems only fair. Anyone who’d juice up to win a recreational triathlon has some issues.)

In any case, it’s going to be interesting to see over the next few years how the MMA world adapts to anti-doping reality. Or maybe whether the MMA world forces a few changes in anti-doping. Maybe future fighters and shot putters won’t be awakened by someone carrying a badge and a couple of bottles.


Washington Spirit 1-0 Portland Thorns: Rivalry?

The driving distance from Providence Park to the Maryland SoccerPlex is 2,785 miles. Google Maps says I can do it in 41 hours.

But is the relationship between the Portland Thorns and the Washington Spirit a rivalry?

“For me, yeah,” said former Spirit and current Thorns midfielder Hayley Raso with little hesitation. “It’s hard to leave a club the way I did, so coming back here, I feel like I have something to prove.”

Raso is a young soft-spoken Australian who was happy to see Boyd, the SoccerPlex’s field-maintenance dog — “he’s cute,” she said — and doesn’t seem like the sort of person who’d be in the middle of controversy. She had a few fouls tonight and picked up a yellow card (which I missed because I foolishly thought the Thorns might dart through the press area before I got there, so I was heading down to the field) at the final whistle. But this was nothing like the professional agitators so many NWSL teams employ.

And yet, there was an incident immediately after the whistle (again, I missed it) between Washington coach Jim Gabarra and Portland coach Mark Parsons — who was, of course, the man who led the Spirit to consecutive playoff appearances before Portland hired him away. I understand Gabarra didn’t comment (I missed the last part of his comments to catch Raso), but Parsons …

Bear in mind — Parsons didn’t turn up to the postgame interviews with a bright-red face and a hoarse voice from screaming. He thought we didn’t want to talk with him, the result of a miscommunication between some non-PR Spirit staffers and Nadine Angerer, the Thorns’ goalkeeper coach/visiting PR contact. When I suggested to him that perhaps the Thorns could invest some of their gate receipts from their five-figure home crowds in an actual PR contact who isn’t also the goalkeeper coach, he gave me a playful pinch on the arm.

And he was gracious to his former team.

“The Spirit were very good. Packed house (attendance over 4,000) for them tonight, and I know what a packed house does — we have it at home. It pushes you. They caused us some problems, and we struggled to break them down.”

Indeed they did. The Thorns had 62.7% of the possession but generated few chances.

“I don’t think they had any clear possession in our final third,” Gabarra said. “It was all the middle of the park or their half.”

This week may bring a screeching halt to goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe’s weekly nomination(s) for Save of the Week.

“That’s GREAT news!” Labbe laughed. “I guess? I know, they’re killing my saves here, you know? But that was awesome. I can’t even remember having to make a dive at all. Defensively, I thought we played so well and kept everyone in front of us. With so many attacking threats, I think it was almost a good thing for us because we didn’t have to focus on one person, we focused on the whole team.”

Spirit fans are used to seeing Estelle Johnson’s magical recovery power, and they can trust in Shelina Zadorsky’s steady presence at center back. The improvement has been a collective effort, but Zadorsky’s central partner Whitney Church deserves special mention. The thought of putting Church up against Christine Sinclair might’ve seemed frightening in the past. But Church was steady tonight.

Midfielder Tori Huster: “I thought we had really tight lines for the most part. I thought our back four did perfectly. They were dropping when they needed to drop, and I think Whitney had probably 20 headers that we really needed her to have, and they could’ve been a lot more dangerous had she not headed them. I thought she had an outstanding game.”

And yes, that’s Huster, the midfield rock who has been missing with an injury for the last few games. She was so happy to be back on the field that she was still signing autographs 45 minutes after the whistle.

Washington is one of two NWSL teams that doesn’t have a midweek game on Wednesday. Portland has to face perplexing but dangerous Kansas City.

“Individually, we have to look at our performances and examine how we did and go back to work and make sure we’re fixing those things we didn’t do well,” said defender Meghan Klingenberg, who spent much of the game pressed forward on the flank. “And collectively, figure out what we didn’t do well. And fix those things for Wednesday, because it’s a quick turnaround.”

But Klingenberg declined to make any Carli Lloyd-style comments about her teammates. “My teammates are amazing! They work their butts off. I don’t care if we win or lose, I would choose to play with them more than any other team.”

And in any case, the game would’ve been much different if not for this:

Ordega and Cheyna Williams were magnificent up front. Williams forced the best Portland save of the night, and Ordega had a sick nutmeg among other sweet moves.

Ordega was especially inspired:


That goal certainly changed the Thorns’ approach.

Raso: “We went down a goal, so I guess we got a bit anxious out there. From the start, we were chasing the game. We probably could’ve played more simple, but when you’re chasing the game, you’re just trying to do what you can do.”

And the Thorns simply looked tense, making a lot of clumsy turnovers and failing to connect in the final third.

Parsons put it in simple terms: “We were just a little bit off tonight, and when you’re playing a team with a bit of momentum, it’s going to be a rough one.”

Other notes from the game:

Spirit owner Bill Lynch heckled Parsons and a few Thorns during the game. But Parsons didn’t seem to notice anything from the stands this time around.

“Last year, I heard a lot of negative, which was pretty cool and fun. That’s when you know women’s soccer’s growing, when players and coaches come back and get harassed in a good, healthy way.”

But things have changed since last year, when the Spirit had most of the same players from Parsons’ last year.

“It’s been a changeover in players, fans and staff. But it’s great coming back. This is a special place for me that I had some great, unbelievable moments with, and I’ll always hold on to that and know that this gave me an opportunity to get in this beautiful game and work with these great female athletes.”

Tony DiCicco’s passing was observed with a moment of silence and armbands. I missed what Gabarra said about him — check with Caitlin Buckley or Jordan Small. Parsons hailed him as a “person and face and heart of women’s soccer,” and he shared a personal anecdote:

“I remember going to watch his NSCAA Convention sessions when I first got here and wanted to learn. I finally had the opportunity to talk to him when I was trying to sign a Japanese girl here at the Spirit. I reached out to Tony. He didn’t have to help me, and he sat there for an hour on the phone telling me everything I needed to know about this Japanese international and walked me through everything. He didn’t know me, he had no tie to the Washington Spirit, he probably had closer ties to other teams. … Now you read what everybody else is saying about him. I experienced that first-hand. He was all about helping anyone in the women’s game and outside the women’s game. We’ve lost a great there. If we can grab the special qualities that he had consistently every week and keep spreading that love and support for everyone in the game, I’m sure he’d be proud.”