Busted: Legal Q&A Nov-2006
By Rick Collins, JD
Sports Doping 2006
Q: New doping cases seem to be announced every week, along with talk about how cheaters are ruining sports. How can anyone get a fair shake in this atmosphere?
A: After three long years of media coverage of the BALCO case, the deck is stacked against anybody accused of doping. The brutal rhetoric of sportswriters can influence not only public perception, but also the thinking of those who decide guilt or punishment. The ongoing media firestorm even baits athletes to prematurely respond to doping allegations. Take Tour de France cycling champ Floyd Landis, who tested positive for an abnormally high testosterone ratio. Landis offered a merry-go-round of possible alternative excuses- from alcohol consumption, to naturally high testosterone levels, to dehydration. The kitchen-sink effect was as credible as the rape suspect who says, "I wasn't there...but if I was, I didn't touch her...and if I did, it was consensual." Bad media sound bites can hang you in the court of public opinion, regardless of whether you actually did anything wrong. I'm hoping that my friend and legal colleague Howard Jacobs can get Landis a fair shake in arbitration hearings, whatever the outcome...
When Justin Gatlin, Olympic and world champion in the 100 meters, flunked his testosterone ratio test, his coach Trevor Graham offered the excuse that a masseur had rubbed Gatlin the wrong way- by using a testosterone cream as a method of sabotage. Although Gatlin, like Landis, was alleged to have had synthetic testosterone in his system based on carbon isotope testing, the media had a field day with the "dog ate my homework" feel to his coach's defense...
Of course, Graham has his own problems. Linked to a half-dozen athletes who've flunked drug tests, he's now banned from U.S. Olympic training facilities and under investigation by antidoping officials and the feds. It's poetically ironic because Graham is the dude who fueled the BALCO media firestorm by anonymously mailing a syringe containing the previously undetectable "clear" (tetrahydrogestrinone) to anti-doping officials. Even if his motives were noble (as he dubiously claims), the chain of events he started ultimately circled back to ruin his own career!
I'm struck by the massive ironies left like bodies in the BALCO wreckage. Choices that Graham and others thought were good moves at the time later turned out to be disastrous. For example, Barry Bonds urged an FBI investigation into his former right-hand man's alleged theft of memorabilia profits. Three years later, that investigation circled back and led to a grand jury investigation of Bonds himself for not paying taxes on memorabilia sales. The reporters who wrote Game of Shadows to publicly expose the claims against Bonds and Victor Conte are now themselves facing jail time for withholding their sources- investigated by the very same feds who targeted Bonds and Conte!
Speaking of BALCO, people have asked me about how the media affected my recently concluded defense of Patrick Arnold, the organic chemist and supplement guru who created the designer steroids at the root of the scandal. Well, first the media portrayed Conte as the criminal mastermind, and then when his case fizzled out, they tried to make Patrick into the mastermind so he'd get a much tougher sentence. It was a bum rap. While the prosecution highlighted the adverse impact that Patrick's chemical tinkering had on elite sports, the point I raised in court pre-sentencing documents seems to have been persuasive toward the final successful result (see the "Headlines" at www.steroidlaw.com): "In assessing the various key players in the BALCO case, Mr. Arnold stands out as an anomaly ... drawn into the conspiracy for reasons not driven by greed, promise of reward or even by misplaced loyalty or friendship, but by an intense- albeit ultimately misguided- scientific passion." Patrick got a fair shake despite the media, and hopefully, we'll soon see his creative genius in the form of more innovative- and totally legal- sports nutrition supplement products!
Rick Collins, JD, is a veteran lawyer and bodybuilder. He's the founder of www.SteroidLaw.com and the author of the groundbreaking blockbuster LEGAL MUSCLE: Anabolics in America, available at www.teamlegalmuscle.com. [© Rick Collins, 2006. All rights reserved. For informational purposes only, not to be construed as legal or medical advice.]