Anti-doping and the evidence card

Is it fair to ask for a little fairness when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs?

In general, yes. But a lot of devils lurk in the details.

Blame Luke Thomas for this post. The outstanding MMA analyst loves to raise tough questions about drug testing, so this morning, he retweeted an interesting series from Roger Pielke Jr., a Colorado environmental science professor who isn’t afraid to go against the grain — he’s been labeled a “climate misinformer” by Skeptical Science and wrote about his “unhappy life as a climate heretic” for The Wall Street Journal. He’s actually not a climate-change “denier,” and he’s the son of a scientist who has some complaints about being painted as a “denier” when he quite clearly is not. He is also, like me, a Guardian contributor.

(Ideally, when we in the media seek “balance” in climate change reporting, we’d quit looking for “deniers” vs. “everyone else” and demonstrate the spectrum of legitimate climate change science — “not that big a deal” on one extreme, Pielke Sr. somewhere in the middle, and “holy crap we’re all gonna die” on the other extreme. But I digress.)

That said, maybe Pielke Jr. was simply wrong, and when called out on it, he played the “victim of political correctness” card. This exchange certainly offers considerable evidence to support that conclusion, though like a lot of evidence, it’s incomplete. Maybe it’s not his fault he wound up as a poster boy for the “Yeah, I TOLD you all this ‘global warming’ stuff was crap” crowd, but he seemed to be reveling in the attention to a degree. (I’ve been accused of that sort of thing when I’ve gone against the orthodoxy in women’s soccer, too, but I’ve hopefully made it quite clear that I’m not on the side of the “don’t give gay women rights” people.)

So it appears Pielke has turned his attention to issues in sports, where we could use a bit of healthy skepticism. Sounds good. Maybe he can take whatever lessons he learned from his experience in climate debates and apply them here.

His series of tweets on anti-doping, taken from a presentation he gave in Norway, raises some strong points but also shows the pitfalls of setting too high a bar for evidence. Pielke wants everything to be black and white. I’m not sure that’s possible, in climate change or in anti-doping. (Or in criminal justice — where “the CSI effect” is a headache for prosecutors who can’t deliver the “aha!” moments that their fictional counterparts can.) Humans will never be omnipotent, nor will we be able to anticipate every eventuality. There comes a time in which we simply have to assess the information we have and make the best decision we can.

So are we splitting hairs because bad decisions are being made? Or do we just enjoy splitting hairs? (I admit — I’m sometimes overly pedantic myself.)

Let’s take a look, starting here with a clever (and apt) cartoon:

https://twitter.com/RogerPielkeJr/status/857640936066744321

He’s clearly not anti anti-doping, which some in the MMA community are. (Not Luke Thomas, who simply takes a skeptical stance, but some MMA fans wax nostalgic for the days of steroid-sculpted bodies colliding in PRIDE.)

He raises a good point in passing with the meme of old white guys laughing at the concept of each country testing its own athletes. I wish he’d gone into more detail on that, because it’s certainly a issue — at least until athletes compete outside their home countries and start getting tested by other agencies. Check out the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency site, and you can see how often athletes are being tested. (Katie Ledecky, the most dominant female athlete today, has already been tested 11 times this year.) Jamaica, on the other hand, is considerably less comprehensive. Being tested by your home country’s independent agency is an improvement over the days of the inherently conflicted sports federations doing it themselves (“Why, yes — we’ll happily disqualify our top medal contenders!”), but we still have inherent inequalities between the mammoth agencies in big, rich countries and the agencies in smaller countries with less money to spend on pee tests.

But Pielke’s main argument — one absolutely worth weighing — is that drug testing and its sanctions are too arbitrary. They’re not “evidence-based.”

 

One good example: the Prohibited List himself is governed by a process ripe for abuse. That’s a sound argument that bears repeating.

But the flaw here is that he often sees malice where others would simply see limitations. Classic example:

https://twitter.com/RogerPielkeJr/status/857651583441612800

It’s the same problem we see in a lot of media criticism. “Oh, you guys wrote that bad story about New Hanover High School because you all went to Hoggard,” a caller to the Star-News once told our sports staff — none of whom had gone to high school anywhere in Wilmington.

Here’s the problem: Drug testing is not simple.

I once tried to explain this to a fellow journalist. His response: “Yeah, I think zero tolerance is the only way to avoid all that.” In other words, let’s avoid the muddy water by just making everything cut-and-dried.

That’s simply not going to work.

For one thing, we’re going to have cases of substances taken accidentally. Human beings can’t write a code that takes every possibility into account. Suppose we have an Olympic competition in which all the food was cooked with trace amounts of clenbuterol? We’re going to have to apply sound guidelines from the Code and precedent built through case law.

Then we get the stunning proclamation from Pielke — “Education. Doesn’t. Work.” If I were in one of Pielke’s classes at Colorado, I’d be tempted to write that on my final exam and walk out of the room.

He’s basing that on a quote from a WADA survey several years ago. Check the summary, and you find this: “Anti-doping education is a relatively young research field with few examples of best practice.”

Also noteworthy from this study: It’s based on efforts to combat bullying, alcohol, tobacco and social drug use. If Pielke is really suggesting education is useless in all of these efforts, we’re going to need to see much more evidence. (I actually couldn’t find the quote he cites in the report — I’m guessing it was included with some supplemental material that’s no longer there? I’m not going to conclude anything from WADA’s labyrinth of a website.)

In other words — it seems rather odd to accuse anti-doping efforts of not being “evidence-based” and then jump to a whopper of a conclusion based on … very little evidence.

All that said, a lot of Pielke’s recommendations are difficult to argue against:

https://twitter.com/RogerPielkeJr/status/857656653180751872

https://twitter.com/RogerPielkeJr/status/857657027631484930

But again, the devil’s in the details. And those details may have some gray areas that we’re going to have to navigate.

(Naturally, Saturday Night Live‘s site doesn’t have the sketch in which Johnnie Cochran responds to critics saying he’s playing the “race card” by complaining that the O.J. prosecution is playing the “evidence card.”)

 

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What I’m watching: July 21-31

Friday, July 21

6:10 a.m.: Water polo, men’s Worlds, USA-Russia, NBC Sports online

11:45 a.m.: Women’s Euro 2017, Sweden-Russia, ESPN3

2 p.m.: Track and field, Diamond League Monaco, NBCSN

2:30 p.m.: Women’s Euro 2017, Germany-Italy, ESPN3

11:30 p.m.: Australian rules football, Essendon-North Melbourne, FS2

Saturday, July 22

7:30 a.m.: Tour de France, time trial, NBCSN

11:45 a.m.: Women’s Euro 2017, Iceland-Switzerland, ESPN3

2:30 p.m.: Women’s Euro 2017, France-Austria, ESPN3

3:30 p.m.: NWSL, Chicago-Orlando, Lifetime

4 p.m.: MLS, Minnesota-NY Red Bulls, ESPN

6 p.m.: UFC Fight Night, Fox

10 p.m.: Gold Cup semifinal, USA-Costa Rica, FS1

Sunday, July 23

Ongoing: Golf, British Open, NBC

9:30 a.m.: Field hockey, Women’s World League semifinal final, USA-Germany, ESPN3

2 p.m.: Swimming, World Championships, NBCSN

2:30 p.m.: Women’s Euro 2017, England-Spain, ESPN3

6:30 p.m.: MLS, Vancouver-Portland, FS1

Monday, July 24

11:30 a.m.: Swimming, World Championships, NBCSN

2:30 p.m.: Women’s Euro 2017, Belgium-Netherlands, ESPN3

Tuesday, July 25

11:30 a.m.: Swimming, World Championships, NBCSN

2:30 p.m.: Women’s Euro 2017, Russia-Germany or maybe Sweden-Italy, ESPN3

Wednesday, July 26

11:30 a.m.: Swimming, World Championships, NBCSN

7:30 p.m.: International Champions Cup, Barcelona-Manchester United, ESPN2

9:30 p.m.: Gold Cup final (might include the USA, might not), FS1

Thursday, July 27

6 a.m.: Cricket, England-South Africa, first day of third Test, ESPN3

11:30 a.m.: Swimming, World Championships, NBCSN

2:30 p.m.: Women’s Euro 2017, no idea which game, ESPN3

10 p.m.: Women’s soccer, USA-Australia, ESPN

Friday, July 28

6 a.m.: Cricket, England-South Africa, second day of third Test, ESPN3

11:30 a.m.: Swimming, World Championships, NBCSN

2 p.m.: Cricket, T20, Sussex-Middlesex, ESPN3

Saturday, July 29

6 a.m.: Cricket, England-South Africa, third day of third Test, ESPN3

11:45 a.m.: Women’s Euro 2017 quarterfinal, ESPN3

2 p.m.: Swimming, World Championships, NBC

2:30 p.m.: Women’s Euro 2017 quarterfinal, ESPN3

10 p.m.: MLS, Los Angeles-Seattle, ESPN

11 p.m.: Darts, Las Vegas Masters, FS1

Sunday, July 30

6 a.m.: Cricket, England-South Africa, fourth day of third Test, ESPN3

8 a.m.: Formula One, Hungarian GP, NBCSN

11:30 a.m.: Swimming, World Championships, NBCSN

11:45 a.m.: Women’s Euro 2017 quarterfinal, ESPN3

2 p.m.: MLS, Toronto-NYCFC, ESPN

2:30 p.m.: Women’s Euro 2017 quarterfinal, ESPN3

5 p.m.: BMX, World Championships, NBC Sports online

8 p.m.: Women’s soccer, USA-Brazil, ESPN2

Monday, July 31

6 a.m.: Cricket, England-South Africa, fifth day of third Test, ESPN3

There’s also cricket and cornhole. Yes, cornhole. And Battle of the Network Stars.

(All times ET. Olympic Channel events are pending a dispute with my cable/Internet company, which rhymes with “horizon.”)

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:

https://twitter.com/MichaelTocco/status/880627132816338944

Good question. As is this:

https://twitter.com/_dacofty_/status/880760502770651136

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:

https://twitter.com/HockeyandBeers/status/880607776661278722

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.

 

The definitive word on participation trophies …

From a Cracked piece responding to a rant about Millennials:

Simon, let me tell you about my participation trophies. I got them for playing soccer, and they were handed out from a bag at the end of the year with all the ceremony of communist factory workers getting their lunch rations. My response was not “Well, clearly I’m going to be handed a six-figure job as an adult.” It was “Neat, a trophy! Now I’m going to go back to thinking about Pokemon or farts, because I am a child.” Later it was a nice reminder of time spent playing with my friends, and as I got older, eventually only the teams that won were rewarded. This did not shock and sadden us — it was what we expected, and wanted, because we were actually capable of observing adult society, and we noticed that pro sports teams weren’t handed many trophies for constantly losing.

Source: This Millennial Rant Deserves A Trophy For Being Most Wrong

Did you know?: Major cricket event in USA

If your stereotype of cricket is that it lasts several days, you may be in for a shock. More and more cricket is being played these days in its abbreviated forms — the “one-day” format and the even shorter “Twenty20” game, which can easily be shorter than a typical baseball game.

And yet its competitions go on for years and years.

So when we tell you the World Cricket League Division 4 will be in Los Angeles, starting this weekend, we need to give a bit of context.

First, this is neither Test cricket nor Twenty20. It’s one-day cricket, which takes pretty much the whole day.

“Division 4” implies promotion and relegation. And indeed, there is. But it’s really more of a rolling tiered qualifier for the 2019 World Cup.

The 2019 World Cup will have 10 teams, down from 14 in 2011 and 2015. It will feature:

  • 8 teams from the One-Day International (ODI) Championship — basically, the 12 teams with full “ODI status,” which are the 10 nations with “Test” status (see below), plus Ireland and Afghanistan.
  • 2 teams from the World Cup qualifier.

The World Cup qualifier, in 2018, will feature:

  • 4 teams (the bottom four) from the ODI Championship.
  • 4 teams (the top four) from the World Cricket League Championship, an ongoing (2015-17) competition for the second tier of national teams.
  • 2 teams promoted from Division 2.

Division 2, in 2018-ish, will feature:

  • 4 teams relegated from the World Cricket League Championship.
  • 2 teams promoted from Division 3

Division 3, next year, will feature:

  • 2 teams already relegated from when Division 2 last played in 2015.
  • 2 teams that kept their place when Division 3 last played in 2014
  • 2 teams that will be promoted from Division 4.

Which brings us back to Los Angeles. And you guessed it — in addition to the two teams that will be promoted to Division 3, two will remain in Division 4, and the bottom two will play in Division 5 whenever this whole cycle starts again.

 

Yes, I’ve had to get all this from Wikipedia, because good luck finding an explanation elsewhere.

Here’s who’s who:

TEST STATUS (10; all also have ODI status): Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies have all participated in all 11 Cricket World Cups. They’re also the only winners (Australia 5, India 2, West Indies 2, Sri Lanka 1, Pakistan 1, England nil, New Zealand nil). South Africa has played all seven since apartheid ended. Zimbabwe has been in the last nine, Bangladesh in the last five.

ODI STATUS ONLY (2): Ireland and Afghanistan. Ireland has been in the last three World Cups. Afghanistan debuted in 2015.

WORLD CRICKET LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP (8; top four advance to World Cup qualifier): In order of current standings, it’s Papua New Guinea, Netherlands, Scotland, Hong Kong, Kenya, Nepal, Namibia and United Arab Emirates. Kenya used to be great in this sport, qualifying for five straight World Cups and reaching the semifinal in 2003, but they missed out in 2015. Netherlands have made it four times, Scotland three, UAE twice, Namibia once.

DIVISION 2 (6): Will be the bottom four from the World Cricket League Championship and the top two from Division 3.

DIVISION 3 (6): Uganda and Canada were relegated from the last Division 2 competition in 2015. Malaysia and Singapore kept their spots when Division 3 last played in 2014. Then it’s the top two from Division 4 …

DIVISION 4 (6): USA and Bermuda were relegated from Division 3. Denmark and Italy kept their spots. Jersey and Oman were promoted from Division 5.

So yes, the USA could make it to the World Cup. Just finish in the top two in Los Angeles, then in the Division 3 tournament, then in the Division 2 tournament, then in the World Cup qualifier.

Piece of cake, right?

All of this is happening just as the USA has yet another plan for a professional league on the table. The problem is that this isn’t the first attempt. Here’s a quick timeline:

2004: American ProCricket. Twenty20 with a designated hitter who doesn’t have to field, plus fewer restrictions on bowlers. San Francisco Freedom? Los Angeles Unity??!!

The final was held on a baseball field with the infield dirt in place:

2000s: Major League Cricket. Had no support from the fractious U.S. federation and never actually played.

2009: American Premier League, also unsanctioned, and federations worked to sandbag it.

2009: USA Premier League, announced by U.S. federation to start in 2011.

2011: American Twenty20 Championship, a tournament pitting region vs. region, played once.

2012: Cricket Holdings America announces franchise process.

2015: American Pro Cricket, announced by Lloyd Jodah of American College Cricket.

September 2016: USA Cricket Association and Global Sports Ventures reach $70M licensing deal.

Will the international tournament on U.S. soil help prod a pro league into existence? We can only hope. But first, maybe someone in the media will notice that it’s actually happening?

 

 

 

Stats work against Cubs (and all regular-season wonders)

The Cubs had the best record in MLB this year, and enter the NL Championship Series as favorites – but history shows such a record is usually a kiss of death.

Story includes references to Spinal Tap and the Washington Spirit.

Source: Is this finally the Chicago Cubs’ year? Sadly, the stats suggest not | Sport | The Guardian

Doping: It’s complicated

“Ban the Russians!”

Like “Equal Play, Equal Pay” or “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” it’s a catchy slogan, but it merits further investigation.

Plenty of columnists have ripped the IOC for allowing any Russian athletes into the 2016 Olympics, arguing that the organizers should’ve issued a blanket ban in the wake of the McLaren report, which unveiled a shadowy state-sanctioned doping and concealment program not seen since the bad old days of East Germany.

The ruling forced each sport’s federation to decide on Russian participation. All track and field athletes, all weightlifters and a handful of others were tossed out.

But others were allowed, and the issue came to the forefront in the Western media not when two Russian men won judo gold, not when three fencers and two shooters won medals for Russia, not even when a Russian in the historically doping-heavy sport of cycling took silver (granted, that just happened this morning), but when American swimmer Lilly King wagged a finger at Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, who trains in Southern California but has served one doping suspension and avoided a second in the muddy realm of meldonium tests.

King won their showdown in the pool, a nice feel-good moment for Americans and anti-doping authorities. And that led to this awkward press conference, in which Efimova was asked whether she should be in Rio and King was asked whether Team USA should expel athletes such as Justin Gatlin, who has been twice punished in doping regulations.

The vilification of Efimova didn’t sit well with columnist Alan Abrahamson, one of the few Olympic writers who pays attention to Olympic sports outside the Olympics.

Efimova, now 24, is a four-time breaststroke world champion. She is the 2012 bronze medalist in the women’s 200m breast. She has trained at the University of Southern California; indeed, she moved to Southern California in her late teens. This means many things, among them: She has submitted to American drug testing.

Abrahamson goes on to compare Efimova’s suspension to that of U.S. swimmer Jessica Hardy, who used the “tainted supplement” defense to get a reduced suspension, come back to win medals and appear in chocolate milk ads. But Efimova, he says, is somehow beyond redemption.

You have someone whose English was — and remains — not great, who when she bought a tainted supplement at GNC was in her early 20s, who relied on a friendly American clerk to help her — and now she’s depicted as a world-class villain?

AP columnist John Leicester also saw the gray areas.

Foolish, then, but not Lance Armstrong.

The arbitrators noted that Efimova impressed them “as sincere and honest and appropriately remorseful for her mistake. She did not seek to blame others for her rule violation and she accepted responsibility for her actions.”

These all-important nuances got drowned in the Olympic pool.

Meldonium is tricky. It was added to the banned substance list Jan. 1. Then a lot of Russians and a handful of people from other countries — including one American (see below) — tested positive. WADA ruled that trace amounts lingering from pre-Jan. 1 usage would not be punished, and that’s why Efimova is in the Games.

You can make a counterargument on Efimova. You can say she was reckless with supplements a few years ago. You can also argue that all these meldonium users knew they were cheating before WADA banned the substance, and you can argue that’s a second strike that should keep Efimova out of the Games. Legally, I doubt that argument would stand up (in fact, it didn’t — Efimova appealed and was ruled eligible).

Morally? Ethically? Up to you.

How about banning everyone who’s ever run afoul of doping authorities? Tricky.

The Wall Street Journal looked into the issue and counted 11 U.S. athletes who have positive tests in their past. I compared spreadsheets and came up with 11 names:

Screenshot 2016-08-10 at 10.58.34 AM

The first pattern you’ll notice is that there is no pattern. That brings us to the moral of the story:

Every case is different.

You have LaShawn Merritt, suspended because he failed to realize a “male-enhancement product” included something he can’t take. Most likely not intentional cheating, but not smart by anyone’s account.

Weightlifter Sarah Robles has insisted she was using medication to treat polycystic ovary syndrome. Her suspension ended in time for her to make the team for Rio.

Did you forget about Hope Solo? She received a warning when her medication was flagged.

And notice recreational drugs on the list — if you look at the whole USADA list, you’ll see enough “cannabis” to wonder how many athletes you’ll bump into at a Snoop Dogg or Phish concert.

Do you ban Merritt? Robles? Solo? How about Abby Wambach, who has admitted using recreational drugs during her playing career?

Opinions may vary. These aren’t easy decisions.

But you know damn well that a lot of the people speaking out about Efimova and every Russian judo athlete, sailor or gymnast would scream bloody murder if a U.S. sports hero like Wambach or Robles was banned. (They might concede Gatlin or Merritt because track and field somehow isn’t as inspirational to many in the media.)

And in that sense, Efimova is right. We’re still fighting the Cold War. Because we’re too lazy to get into the nuances or find a new narrative.

 

 

 

“Fantastic Lies” and the lessons of Duke lacrosse

Don’t stereotype. Don’t rush to judgment. Those are the lessons of the Duke lacrosse case from 10 years ago. And to my pleasant surprise, the documentary Fantastic Lies covered those lessons pretty well.

Source: “Fantastic Lies” and the lessons of the Duke lacrosse case | SportsMyriad

March 23, 2016

Go Duke! And Go UNCW — except when you’re playing Duke

My first job after Duke was in Wilmington, and I lived just a few feet away from UNCW’s campus. So I wrote something for my old paper about my split loyalties when Duke and UNCW were paired up in the NCAA Tournament.

Source: Two trips down memory lane | StarNewsOnline.com

March 15, 2016

General sports writing: 2010-2015

Selected pieces on chess, football and other sports …