Category Archives: Other Sports

The P.R. Approach to Drug Accusations

Martina Hingis and Roger Clemens handle drug accusations slightly differently.

When Martina Hingis tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon last year she called the accusation “horrendous” and “monstrous” then promptly retired. She did have a hair test to prove that she never took the white stuff but it was too little too late.

I just faxed the results of a hair test to my doctor. A hair test tells me what minerals I’m missing – plenty – and what toxins are in my body. My test didn’t find any cocaine either. I tried it once but my nose got all clogged up. I didn’t like the feeling of that at all.

Anyway, by the time Hingis’ positive test was processed by the drug testing lab, there may not have been any cocaine left in her body and that could explain why the hair test showed nothing. The International Tennis Federation didn’t buy the hair test result. They slapped her with a two year ban.

Contrast this with Roger Clemens. Clemens is one of the best baseball pitchers of all time – only seven pitchers have won more games than he has. He’s been accused of taking performance enhancing drugs by his trainer who says he injected Clemens in the butt with steroids.

Clemens first step was to do…nothing. His lawyer issued a statement denying the charges but Clemens took his time in responding. Why? Instead of saying something dumb in the heat of the moment, he was very corporate about the whole thing. He took his time so he could devise a strategy to deal with the public perception of the accusation.

Consider Floyd Landis for instance. Right after he tested positive for high levels of testosterone at the 2006 Tour de France, he blurted out a lot of silly stuff. Among other things, he blamed alcohol for his positive test. Clemens, on the other hand, put up a video statement on his foundation’s website and got 89-year-old Mike Wallace out of mothballs to interview him on the television show 60 Minutes.

Clemens is in a different situation than Hingis because baseball didn’t test for performance enhancing drugs when he allegedly used steroids. He’s fighting his trainer’s sworn statements, not a positive drug test. But I bring this up to show you the newest strategy for dealing with drug accusations: P.R. You still deny the charges vehemently but it’s done in the same way that a company might handle bad publicity: every step is planned and calculated.

Notice that it doesn’t really make much difference. If you sound silly or call the accusations horrendous we don’t believe you because you went on to lose the case and get a two year suspension. If you crank up the P.R. machine we don’t believe you either because it comes across as way too calculated.

The Case for Minor League Football and Basketball

I’ll be right back with a Davis Cup preview but let’s look at college sports for a quick moment.

My 95 year old mother is in the hospital so I’m flying home to help in any way I can and that’s why I was sitting in the airport when a woman next to me said into her phone: “So, no news on the kidney transplant yet?”

The words “human rights or somethin’” popped up in the conversation a few minutes later. I can only hope the subject was not illegally harvested organs. My week has been dominated by medical talk. It has also seeped into sports.

National Football League (NFL) player Sean Taylor died from a bullet wound to his leg fired by an intruder who broke into his home. There’s been a lot of discussion about Taylor’s past problems and his college days at Miami, a college known for recruiting rough and intimidating players. Taylor is the third Miami player to be murdered since 1996 and Miami helped start a bench clearing brawl against Florida International that was memorable by any standard.

There are rumors that Taylor’s murder might be linked to gang activity from the neighborhood he grew up in. We don’t know whether that’s accurate or not but you can be pretty sure Sean Taylor was more likely to end up with a bullet in his leg than Heisman candidate Tim Tebow who was raised by missionaries and home schooled.

I’m not espousing religion here, in fact I don’t believe there is a creator. As far as I’m concerned, the universe is continuous with no beginning and no end and therefore no need for a creator. No, I have a different take on the situation.

I believe that many football and basketball players would be better served by going to a minor league out of high school rather than a big-time college sports program. By that I mean a minor league similar to baseball minor leagues.

Or, if you will, tennis minor leagues. A young tennis player has to go through three steps to earn his or her way into an ATP tournament draw. They start by playing futures events then move on to challenger events. When they’ve earned enough points, they can enter the qualifier for an ATP tournament and win they’re way into a main draw.

If the tennis player starts losing too many matches, its back to futures and challengers again, just like a young baseball player who isn’t hitting in the bigs goes back to the minor leagues.

A college football or basketball player, instead, gets a scholarship to college and is immediately handed an easy class schedule and a tutor for every course. This was basketball star Greg Oden’s course load his first semester at Ohio State: The History of Rock’n’Roll and Sociology 101. He got two more credits for playing basketball.

Colleges not only cater to players but sometimes they contribute to their criminal behavior. Tony Taylor had a history of sexual assault when Jim Harrick gave him a basketball scholarship to the University of Georgia. When Taylor was accused of sexual assault again while he was at Georgia, Harrick denied knowledge of Taylor’s past history even though he’d been recruiting Taylor since high school.

Here is a question from Taylor’s final exam in a basketball course – yes, basketball course – he took while he was at Georgia: “How many points does a 3-point field goal account for in a basketball game?”

If players, instead, went to a minor league, they’d be responsible for feeding and housing themselves instead of spending the night at a luxury hotel the night before the big homecoming game. If they got into legal trouble, they’d be on their own. If they didn’t play well, they’d be dropped from the team.

In short, athletes would have to mature well enough to manage their own lives. For many players that would be far better preparation for the life of hero worship they’ll find in the pros than three years of a suffocating college sports program that caters to their every whim.

They’d also avoid the misleading designation of amateur student-athlete and be what they truly are: professional athletes.

This is not a conclusive take on the subject. Professional athletes from poor neighborhoods have a difficult time divorcing themselves from childhood friends with criminal records for a number of reasons and I’ll go into that some other time. And my take would shrink the huge commercial operation known as NCAA football and basketball. Good luck with that.

But we owe it to athletes to provide them with job opportunities other than big-time college sports programs. These programs recruit problem players and make a lot of money off them without giving them the tools they need to be mature professional athletes.

Floyd Landis and the Miranda Warning

Are athletes receiving fair treatment at the hands of anti-doping agencies?

Gambling is the raging subject in the tennis world today and steroids are on the back burner. I’ll get back to gambling soon enough but in light of the recent decision in the Floyd Landis case, I want to look at the process of handing out drug suspensions to athletes.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is currently 35-0 in cases brought against athletes suspected of using banned substances. In other words they’ve haven’t lost a case yet. If the athlete never wins, is the process fair?

One way to answer the question is to compare an illegal drug case in a court of law to a case brought by an anti-doping agency against an athlete. Since the USADA is based in the U.S., I’m going to use the U.S. judicial system for my example.

Let’s say a police officer finds you holding a bag of cocaine before you can flush it down the toilet or, heaven forbid, swallow it. The police officer arrests you but he trips over his drug-sniffing dog and sprains his ankle then forgets to give you the Miranda warning (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”)

When you get to court, the judge throws the case out because the police officer forgot to read you your rights. Now let’s look at the Landis case.

Landis tested positive for an abnormally high testosterone to epitestosterone ratio after stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. Landis had given urine samples in previous stages of the Tour but the samples hadn’t tested positive for any banned substances. After Landis’ positive test, the USADA went back to those previous samples and ran more sophisticated tests which showed the presence of synthetic testosterone.

Three weeks ago, the USADA ruled against Landis and stripped him of his Tour de France title. In the decision, the USADA threw out the results of the initial positive test because the test wasn’t done correctly but accepted the second set of tests for synthetic testosterone.

Was Landis guilty of using performance enhancing drugs when he won the Tour de France? Yes, he probably was but so was the guy with the bag of cocaine. If correct procedures were not followed, the case would have been thrown out in a U.S. court of law.

Let’s look at another case involving Argentinean tennis player Guillermo Canas and the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) which is based in Switzerland.

Canas tested positive for the diuretic Rofucal in February 2005. The Association for Tennis Professionals (ATP) suspended him for two years. Canas appealed the decision to the CAS. At the CAS hearing, Canas presented witnesses to show that he had been mistakenly given a prescription that was meant for a tennis coach who’d been at the same tournament.

The CAS believed Canas’ witnesses but didn’t give Canas the maximum reduction in his suspension because he didn’t present those same witnesses at his initial hearing with the ATP. Think about that. Let’s say you were convicted of a crime but you later found evidence that exonerated you. I can’t imagine an Argentinean or Swiss court sending you back to jail because you didn’t come up with the evidence soon enough.

I’m still suspicious of Canas’ evidence and I wonder why he didn’t come up with it earlier too, but he should have gotten the maximum reduction if the CAS believed him.

Anti-doping agencies can’t possibly satisfy the laws of every country represented by the athletes it passes judgment on, but the process is currently weighed in favor of the anti-doping agencies. If an athlete’s career can be taken away, that balance needs to be adjusted to give the athlete a fairer decision.

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Woods vs. Federer: Who’s the Best?

This morning on ESPN Radio, a commentator gave the following reason why Tiger Woods is better than Roger Federer: Roger only has to beat six players to win a major, Tiger has to beat the entire field.


First of all, it’s seven players not six. Roger has to beat seven players to win a major. Second, Tiger has to beat the course and one bad day doesn’t knock him out of a tournament.

Tiger plays one tournament a year with head-to-head matchups. He’s entered it eight times and won it twice. I’m sure Roger reminds him of that very thing in their ongoing text-messaging smackdowns.

I cannot say who is better, Tiger or Roger. I’m just happy to live through the beginning and middle of their careers and hopefully I’ll live through the end of them too.

I will say that Tiger is mentally stronger. Roger isn’t even the best in his sport in that category. Rafael Nadal is the player who can gut out the five hour marathons. Roger hasn’t needed it up until now because he usually wins so easily. Nadal is the only one who’s extended him to five sets in a major final.

On the other hand, as far as movement and athleticism goes, Roger is the Nijinsky of tennis. Tiger gets to stand still while he plays his sport.

I’ll also say this about Tiger and Roger as the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T.) in their respective sports. Some people wonder why we waste so much time arguing about G.O.A.T.s but I think players deserve it because that’s the main thing that drives them. Why else spend your life trying to pass Jack Nicklaus’ record for majors (18) or Pete Sampras’ record for majors (14).

Tiger is easy. If he wins more than 18 majors he’s in (he currently has 13).

If Roger wins 14 majors (he currently has 12) he’s better than Sampras because he got to the final of the French Open at least twice and Sampras did not . No matter how many majors he wins, he still has to share the podium with Rod Laver who has two calendar grand slams (all four majors in the same year).

If Roger wins 14 or more majors and one of them is the French Open, however, he stands alone and that’s even if he doesn’t go through Nadal to win it. Andre Agassi has a career slam (all four majors though not in the same year) but he needed a few rain delays and the timely onset of cramps in his opponent to win his only French Open Title. It takes a bit of luck.

I’d put Roger past Laver with only a career slam and 14 or more majors because Laver’s grand slams were played on only two surfaces: grass and clay. The Australian and the US Open switched to hard courts later.

Many people think Roger’s superiority is bad for tennis because it’s boring to know the outcome of a major before it starts. Maybe, but he’s so good that his name regularly appears on sports shows whether Tiger is in the conversation or not, and that’s a good thing because tennis will keep slipping in the ratings without that exposure.

The best writers also gush over his game resulting in such prose as this op-ed from the New York Times and these pieces from the New Yorker.

Our reader Gabs drops by and trashes us for fawning over Federer whenever we write anything positive about him but we’d have to be pretty cynical to deny the obvious.

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Sports Franchises Acting Badly and Coria Revisited

Teams are cracking down on season ticket holders and a second opinion on Guillermo Coria’s steroid suit.

Friday I talked about the NCAA cracking down on bloggers and I meant to post this example of more sports entities acting badly, but I was too tired from shooting a dating video called First Date with Me. I’m having trouble finding dates so I figured I might have more luck if I posted a youtube video showing what a date with me might be like. Desperate times require desperate measures!

I’ll tell you when I put it up, meanwhile, back to sports.

Greedy Sports Franchises

Despite being a rabid Los Angeles Lakers fan, I’ve attended exactly one Lakers game in the nine years I’ve lived in Los Angeles. I bought a ticket on Stub Hub for $175 to sit in the very last row of Staples Center. It was worth it. I had a great time even though Kobe Bryant was injured and didn’t play that night. The dancers and the band and the styling contest between fans made it one of the best sporting events I’ve ever attended and I’ve been to hundreds of them.

I didn’t like paying that much but it’s not Stub Hub’s fault, that’s the market value for a Lakers ticket. Sports franchises are unhappy, though, and they’re starting to place restrictions on their season tickets holders. The New York Times reports that pro football’s New England Patriots went as far as revoking the tickets of 52 season ticket holders who dared to sell their tickets on Stub Hub. The Patriots are using Massachusetts’ anti-scalping laws to take Stub Hub to court but that’s ridiculous. They don’t care about scalping, they just want to get their share of the sports ticket “aftermarket”.

The article also says that 50 sports teams have signed a contract for resale tickets with Ticket Master. Bad news. Ticket Master has had an ugly monopoly on music concert tickets for years and it’s the scourge of rockers all over. I’m surprised Ticketmaster doesn’t charge $2.50 just for logging onto their website, they charge for everything else imaginable.

Coria’s Steroid Suit Revisited

As I reported last week, Guillermo Coria is suing Universal Nutrition for over $10 million for putting the steroid nandrolone in one of its multivitamins. Coria was suspended for 7 months when he tested positive for nandrolone after, he said, taking a Universal Nutrition multivitamin. At the time, I said Coria’s suspension should have been rescinded because ATP players were accidentally given nandrolone by ATP trainers and they avoided suspensions.

I now want to amend that. In the case of the ATP players, the nandrolone found in their positive tests had an identifiable chemical fingerprint so the ATP knew where the nandrolone came from. They also had results from a number of players who got the same supplement from the ATP trainers.

If there were a chemical fingerprint connecting Coria’s positive test to the multivitamin, then I stand by my previous opinion. It shouldn’t matter if the multivitamin came from the ATP or not. If there’s no way to connect the positive test to the multivitamin, I think the case should be handled to same way Guillermo Canas’ case was recently handled.

In that case, Canas presented information at his appeal showing that he got a prescription containing a banned substance that was meant for a tennis coach who was at the same tournament. However, since Canas didn’t present that information at his first hearing, the rules state that his suspension can reduced but not voided. With the same standard applied to Coria, he would have been handed a reduced suspension which is exactly what he got.

Later today I’ll post a 2007 ATP Fantasy Tennis guide and picks for Nottingham and S’Hertogenbosch (love that name!) so stay tuned!

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