After another failed test, fight world positively indifferent
Once we opened the Pandora’s box of TRT, there was never any going back. No matter what happens in the future, there will always be questions about the period we’re living in now, when the TRT registry is bursting with seemingly no end in sight.
Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva is the latest member of the club, and the latest to flunk a test after his post-fight blood levels indicated he was over the allowable limit. The result tainted his instant classic with Mark Hunt, led to a ninth-month suspension and caused the UFC to rescind his $50,000 Fight Of The Night bonus money.
In the past, this kind of news has been met with outrage. Not anymore, if Silva’s initial reaction is any indication.
He wrote in a post on Facebook, "I’m cool because I know that the mistake was not made by me. I never tried doing anything wrong for my fight." He went on to post a note that was allegedly from his doctor that told him to up his dosage on Nov. 30, a week before his UFC Fight Night bout with Mark Hunt.
I don’t know why he would ever be "cool" with this, even if he has since gone on to suggest he will sue the doctor who treated him.
[Bigfoot]’s original apathy is probably what’s going to happen to the rest of us in time. And that’s kind of depressing.
His original apathy is probably what’s going to happen to the rest of us in time. And that’s kind of depressing. Sure we want to be entertained, but we have to have some regard for fair play, right? Right?
I’m not so sure what fair play is anymore, and that’s part of the problem. In some ways, this was always the guaranteed outcome of everything we’ve sown. Science has obfuscated ethics. Failed tests have become routine. And we have become desensitized.
There is not a drug culture in sports as much as there is a drug culture in society. And I’m not talking about illegal street drugs, I’m talking about big pharma. Testosterone replacement therapy is one example. In an October story published in The New York Times, it was reported that sales of prescription testosterone gels absorbed through the skin generated over $2 billion last year, and it’s safe to assume that the growing number of mixed martial artists on the TRT rolls is not solely responsible for that staggering number.
It’s gotten to the point that we don’t even have to explain what TRT is anymore. If you follow MMA, you know that it is testosterone replacement therapy, and you also know the names of several fighters who are on it. You’ve also probably formed an opinion on TRT, like whether it’s good for regular folks, but not so good for fighters, or OK for both, or bad for both.
So even before "Bigfoot" became the latest admitted to the TRT rolls and the latest to flunk a test, you probably had some take on the whole thing. The reality, and indeed the problem of it, is that when it comes to drugs in sports, it is still a Wild West out there, and there’s no going back. Even if "athlete fails test" seems a simple headline, a lot around it is complex and convoluted.
On Tuesday afternoon, just before Silva’s test failure was revealed, I listened to three longtime athletes talk about the drug culture of professional sports. Brendon Ayanbadejo, Gabe Kapler and Scott Fujita have no connection to mixed martial arts, but their words can certainly be reflected on to other fields of play, or in this case, cages of combat.
Ayanbadejo, who played 10 years in the NFL and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, detailed his regimen of taking about 100 pills a day. He routinely had blood drawn and analyzed. He had a compound chemist design a supplement program for him. He took injectables and edibles. This was all legal, even though both he and Fujita, another long-time NFL player, agreed that what he was doing was "performance-enhancing." Ayanbadejo admitted that there was no way he could have survived in the league so long without it.
"Is it natural to get to those levels? Obviously I wasn’t getting there naturally, so it wasn’t natural," Ayanbadejo said. "But was it illegal? Totally not."
Fujita detailed all of the painkillers he would take in order to suit up and play. Vicodin, percocet, cortisone and toradol were all regulars, drugs that are illegal without a prescription, but what team doctor is going to say no, right?
That’s kind of what we’re talking with when it comes to TRT. Not really natural but not illegal, though Silva crossed a line with his elevated results.
I’m not so sure what fair play is anymore, and that’s part of the problem.
This is the world we’re living in now. This is the sports world we’re watching. Fair or not, the takeaway is that if you’re an athlete, you have to walk the edge looking for every available advantage, but with the knowledge that you might eventually walk on shaky ground. I mean, if that wasn’t painfully obvious from the previous high T/E levels, Silva should have read twice the note from his doctor, which said, "You can start taking one shot per week. Let’s see how that will look on the next test."
Seven days out from fight night, the words "let’s see" shouldn’t have exactly filled him with confidence that everything would be OK. Then again, maybe he was right not to worry. After all, he’s cool with it, and the rest of us have already begun to move on to the next story. It’s a far cry from three years ago when Chael Sonnen’s T/E result shook the fight world for months. A short time later, we’re mostly desensitized to it all. Maybe there is a pill we can take to fix that.