When Is A “Banned Substance” OK?

Earlier this week, there were reports that middleweight boxer, Canelo Alvarez, had a tainted sample regarding a “banned substance” – clenbuterol.  I have no desire to get all pharmacological here, but clenbuterol is a bronchodilator often used by asthmatics as a treatment; it is also used by body builders as part of their “cutting cycle” wherein they seek to lose weight but not muscle mass.  There is evidently insufficient clinical evidence to say that it is an important part of such weight loss regimens, but the IOC – and more specifically – the sport of boxing has put it on the “banned substance list”.  So, you would expect that Canelo Álvarez would be facing some sort of disciplinary action…

His explanation is that he ate “tainted meat” and that was the causative agent that put whatever it was in his bloodstream that caused the failure of the test.  [Aside:  It is too easy to make a comment here using the name of any of a half-dozen fast food pushers and the phrase “tainted meat”, so I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.]  In fact, it appears as if the boxing mavens have accepted this explanation and have moved on.  Oh, there is one other factor that might have some bearing on the matter:

  • Canelo Álvarez is schedule to fight Gennady Golovkin in Las Vegas on 5 May.  Their first fight was huge; this fight is likely to be the biggest boxing event of 2018 – unless Floyd Mayweather decides to challenge the winner of that fight for a payday sometime in December.

So, let me recap all of this.  Clenbuterol is a “banned substance” but its “banishment” is not nearly as ironclad as it might be were it discovered in the bloodstream of a ham-and-egger who is fighting in a 6-round undercard match.  The fight is big money and big money trumps any sort of drugging/doping test anomaly that might occur in the lead up to the big money fight.

Here is the bottom line:

  • Boxing just threw in the towel – so to speak – on PED usage and PED testing in the sport.

As you may recall, back when it was first revealed that the FBI had been investigating college basketball coaches and shoe companies for paying high school prospects under the table to attend certain schools, I wondered what Federal Law had been broken and even if sent to some part of the US Code I wondered if such crimes warranted years of time and effort by the FBI.  I will not rehash here why I do not think that paying these kids or their families to influence their decision is an egregious form of bribery or fraud but clearly the FBI and the US Attorneys do.  While I was gone, news broke that the FBI had used wiretaps to garner information about players and payoffs and schools and the people involved in these activities.  That information means that the FBI had to go before a judge to get warrants to install those wiretaps and collect whatever information they collected.

Presumably, in their representation before whichever Federal Judge(s) who authorized the warrants, the FBI spelled out which laws they believed were being broken – other than the obvious tax evasion laws by the payment recipients who did not declare it as income.  I guess it is too idealistic for me to wonder why one of those judges did not ask – merely for clarification sake – why the FBI was expending this level of effort and resources on a “crime” that really only affects college basketball teams.  I continue to think that in the Pantheon of Federal Crimes, whatever anyone did here is akin to jaywalking in the world of people who are not hardened criminals.

An ancillary part of the story from about a week ago was the Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller was one of the people whose phone calls were recorded and that he discussed a “bribe”/payment of $100K to guarantee that prized recruit Deandre Ayton did indeed sign on with Arizona.  The school suspended Miller for a game and proceeded to do its own investigation; Miller – of course – proclaimed his innocence; after a one-game absence, Miller returned to the bench to coach the team and the school said that it awaits further movement in the criminal investigation.

There appears to be credible evidence that over the past 2 seasons, there could be improprieties regarding top recruits and “financial emoluments” at schools to include:

  • Duke
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan St.
  • NC State
  • UNC
  • USC

I think the important thing to recognize here is that if all of this FBI generated evidence shows that all these schools were doing “bad things” for all these years, it happened completely outside the scope of NCAA scrutiny.  The organization that has devoted itself to maintaining the ideal of amateurism and fair play and the “student-athlete” did not have any inkling that any of this stuff was going on until the FBI clued them in.  There are two possible reasons for that blindness:

  1. The NCAA enforcers/investigators are feckless incompetents.
  2. The NCAA mavens were too busy counting the hundreds of millions of dollars that the men’s basketball tournament generated every year, and which funded their cushy lifestyle.

Those two choices boil down to incompetence or corruption – but you are free to pick Door Number Three which is “BOTH INCOMPETENT AND CORRUPT”.  It would certainly not bother me one little bit to see those sorts of labels hung publicly and boldly on the NCAA and the fat-cats who live off of it.  But at the same time, when all of this is put into the past tense once and for all, I have to wonder why the FBI spend years and manpower on this instead of investigating things like:

  • Drug dealers/syndicates
  • Doctors who over-prescribe and fraudulently prescribe opioids for Medicare/Medicaid patients
  • Human traffickers
  • Hate groups
  • Cyber criminals.

I guess it is pretty clear why no one would ever think of considering me to be the Attorney General…

Finally, in light of these FBI revelations, I think it is fitting that I close today with a statement made by a man who made his living skirting NCAA regulations with impunity.  The late Jerry Tarkanian was the head coach at UNLV in the Rebels’ heyday and he spent most of his time there in the crosshairs of the NCAA gumshoes.  Here is Tark’s observation about the NCAA rules and how they are honored by schools:

“Nine out of ten schools are cheating.  The other is in last place.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “When Is A “Banned Substance” OK?”

  1. I’m not surprised at all that money is the one true value. Look how the Russian ban at the Olympics was lifted even though two of the OAR athletes in PyeongChang were busted for doping. Apparently a “bad guy” is needed in Tokyo in 2020.

    1. Rugger9:

      I read somewhere that the Alvaerez/Golovkin rematch could gross $350M. I have no idea how or why that is the case but if it is, there will not be any other boxing match in 2018 that approaches that number. No wonder why it is proceeding without even acknowledging that little speed-bump.

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