A raid on Victor Conte’s business nearly a decade ago put the onetime Tower of Power bass guitarist at the center of the performance-enhancing drug conversation.
Conte was later convicted of distributing steroids from the Burlingame, Calif.-based Bay Area Lab Co-Operative (BALCO), and dozens of other athletes connected to him — like Marion Jones and Barry Bonds — were ensnared along the way. In recent years, however, Conte has turned from a supplier of steroids and human growth hormone to one of the loudest voices on how to stop their use in sports.
That’s what made the last few weeks so difficult for Conte as two current clients ran afoul of doping regulations: boxer Andre Berto last month and free-agent outfielder Marlon Byrd on Monday.
“There is definitely some compounding effect,” Conte told FOXSports.com. “It is what it is. I’m going to continue to do what I can in the anti-doping movement. That’s my path now. Hopefully, this won’t be a setback to my credibility.”
Byrd tested positive for Tamoxifen, a drug typically used to treat breast cancer and gynoclamastia (male breast development). The drug, also known as Nolvadex, is also used off-label by bodybuilders and athletes on a steroid cycle to reduce estrogen levels, which is the reason it is banned by doping authorities.
Byrd, who most recently played with the Boston Red Sox, received a 50-game suspension.
“I made an inexcusable mistake,” Byrd said in a statement. “Several years ago, I had surgery for a condition that was private and unrelated to baseball. Last winter, I suffered a recurrence of that condition and I was provided with a medication that resulted in my positive test. Although that medication is on the banned list, I absolutely did not use it for performance enhancement reasons.”
Conte said he did not provide Byrd with the drug, something Byrd confirmed to USA Today late Monday night.
Conte has served as Byrd’s nutritionist the past three years. Byrd also trained with Conte or Conte’s associates, like Remi Korchemny, during the offseason.
"You don’t think I did my background? You think I just went to him?” Byrd told the Chicago Sun-Times last year. "I’m a pretty smart guy. I’m not just going to go to Victor blindly. I wouldn’t do that. I did my background work. And I understand.”
Conte beamed whenever he talked about Byrd, the biggest name he had worked with since BALCO was shuttered in the wake of the federal investigation.
But in the aftermath of Byrd’s positive test, Conte said he wished Byrd had come to him as he had done several times earlier.
“He was always asking about this supplement or that,” said Conte, who was alerted by Byrd about the positive test over the weekend. “I remember him asking about deer antler spray. I told him to stay away because that could result in a positive test.”
Berto’s positive was just as jarring to Conte.
Berto, a former welterweight champion, tested positive for norandrosterone. It’s a prohormone — once sold as a dietary supplement before being made illegal in the US — patterned after a popular anabolic steroid.
Not only was Berto a client of Conte, but the positive was detected by the Volunteer Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) — an organization Conte has championed.
The fight between Berto and Victor Ortiz, originally scheduled for June 23, was canceled by Golden Boy Promotions. Berto is expected to go before the California State Athletic Commission (CASC) in the coming weeks, and it appears he could argue that he unknowingly ingested norandrosterone in a tainted supplement.
Such arguments, however, rarely work since athletes are held to strict liability standards — meaning they are responsible for whatever goes into their bodies — and a ban of Berto is likely.
“Maybe (CASC) will find there are mitigating circumstances,” Conte said. “I’m not sure if it will be a long suspension, but I think there will be some sort of suspension.”
Conte still runs the successful supplement company SNAC and athletes testing positive — no matter how that came about — isn’t good for business. Still, he’s not about to stop training boxers, mixed martial artists or ballplayers in the wake of the recent positive tests.
“I will continue to work with as many people as I can,” Conte said. “I’m semi-retired, and I turn 62 next month. I don’t work with a lot of athletes. Those who I work with, like (boxer) Nonito Donaire, have already talked to me about Marlon. This isn’t going to have any effect.”
Conte has incrementally tried to rebuild his reputation since he served four months in jail and four more months of house arrest for steroid distribution. The sullen tone of his voice is indication enough that he’s not happy about the recent development, but he knows that more than his name has taken a hit.
“As many issues as I had with Marion Jones, I remember watching the family members around her after she confessed (to steroid use) in court,” Conte said. “Those people around Marion didn’t cheat, but they still suffered tremendously. You can talk about me and my daughter can hear, ‘Your dad is up to his old tricks again.’ That’s fine. The part that really saddens me is that the ripples go out and the pain and suffering goes further than just the athlete involved.”