Without random testing, Nevada's TRT ban little more than 'don't ask, don't tell' policy
If you're of the belief that Thursday's Nevada athletic commission decision to ban testosterone replacement therapy is some game-changer in the war on performance-enhancing drugs, think again.
It is a single step. No more, no less. One that will change little except for helping to scrub the controversial treatment out of the headlines. So let's call a spade a spade. The ban on TRT is nothing more than a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Here's the deal: the ban has no real teeth. Standard state commission drug testing does not test for synthetic testosterone, so as long as levels stay within acceptable limits and ranges, that use will never be detected. Another problem is that currently, almost no out-of-competition testing is done. That means fighters are free to load up on whatever they want and cycle off before taking their fight week drug test. So in effect, these guys are on the honor system.
There are only two things necessary to put this ban on the up and up: effective random, year-round testing and transparency. That's it. Right now, we have neither.
Here's the thing about it: for all the pomp about this TRT ban, it's not really necessary or just.
The commission has not banned all therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs). Athletes are still able to apply for TUEs for Adderall or diuretics or even marijuana, making TRT look like an arbitrary line in the sand.
Of course, testosterone kind of stands out from the pack as a muscle-building steroid in a sport where strength can mean the difference between victory and unconsciousness. But in a world so heavily dependent on medicine and medical advancements, it's hard to determine what should and shouldn't be allowed.
Take, for instance, the treatment that UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman had done in Germany last fall. Regenokine is a non-surgical procedure where a doctor removes your blood, then treats it with a proprietary formula and re-injects it into the problem area. The treatment is not approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, which is why lots of pro athletes have gone overseas to have it done.
Chris Weidman won't have to worry about fighting an athlete on TRT, for now.
After undergoing the procedure, Weidman said all of the years of wear and tear on his knee were gone.
"I feel like a whole new man," he told FOX Sports afterward.
That's a more glowing endorsement than TRT users give their treatment, that's for sure. Of course no one is accusing Weidman of doing anything wrong. The World Anti-Doping Agency allows Regenokine treatment. But the difference between one injection and another is no slam dunk to find, even for those who study them for a living.
"The distinction between enhancement and therapy - it's not easy," Dr. Gary Wadler, a longtime WADA rules committee member, acknowledged to Yahoo Sports in the past.
The TRT ban is not necessary because if the commission had been more rigorous on forcing athletes to meet WADA standards for an exemption, few likely would have gotten through the process in the first place. And it's not just because what now happens to all of the athletes they brought into the system?
It's easy to dismiss them, but the commission helped foster this environment, and they should at least offer some guidance instead of just wiping their hands of the matter and moving on.
Suddenly, the commission looks like the heroes while the athletes are the bad guys? Nope, it took two to tango, and their hands are still dirty with the mess.
If they want to get serious about combating testosterone and other PED's, institute random, out-of-competition testing. Make athletes be accountable year-round. If it's too much for one state like Nevada to do, pool resources with some of the other sanctioning bodies in the Association of Boxing Commissions. Randomly test for things like EPO and HGH and use carbon isotope ratio tests.
And two, get some transparency.
It was almost eight weeks ago when I first requested the results of the "enhanced" testing program that Nevada ordered for Josh Barnett and Travis Browne at UFC 168. I still can't tell you what either man's levels were because while the commission provided me all of the paperwork, it does not attach either man's name to the results, leaving you to guess which is which, and they haven't exactly been quick about investigating the situation.
Now in the case of Belfort, they are choosing to keep private the results of his random test taken on Feb. 7. Why? Because Belfort didn't provide consent for them to release the results. Why wasn't that a condition of his licensing process? There is no good reason. It's a circus, really.
I don't want you to leave with the impression that nothing good was done on Thursday. Every journey begins with a single step, so even this tiny one is something. But let's keep in mind that what happens from here is far more important. Because right now, it's still open season for cheaters. All you have to do is don't ask, don't tell.