Sonnen's TRT Exemption Troubling for the Sport

by Kevin Marshall   May 25, 2012 at 4:00PM  |  Views: 972
Sonnen's TRT Exemption article photo

(Kevin Marshall's opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Spike.)

Like so many other people reading this, I'm a fan of Chael Sonnen despite my best intentions. It's the old pro wrestling fan in me. The guy is a brilliant self-promoter; crazy like a fox, he knows how to get people interested in a fight. He even has me convinced he's got something better than a chance of beating Anderson Silva, even though he would have lost his last fight against Michael Bisping on my scorecard (claims that he underestimated Bisping and undertrained for him don't exactly make me willing to part with fifty dollars to bet on him) and...well, it's Anderson Silva, folks.

When I say fan, though, it means I appreciate his skills and his efforts to promote. I can't say I agree with his political ideology, and his particular brand of ballyhoo makes me skeptical of his more outrageous claims of greatness both in and out of the cage. I am careful to be a fan of his role in the sport and appreciate his skills and talent as a fighter, but it ends there.

Stuff like this TRT exemption nonsense is why.

This past Monday, Sonnen was granted a controversial exemption by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for Testosterone Replacement Therapy. This time around, unlike his 2010 suspension and appeal, he dotted the "i"s and crossed the "t"s and the Commission gave it a thumbs up. But despite all the claims and paperwork filed, I'm still not convinced that this isn't just an official form of cheating.

The thing that I don't think many people appreciate about drug testing conducted by State Commissions is that the threshold for testosterone levels is already pretty high. In order to detect the use of anabolic steroids, most urine tests simply measure an athlete's Testosterone to Epitestosterone (T/E) ratio.

In almost every state that has a Commission, the limit is 4:1. Nevada's is 6:1. Me, you, and your Uncle Bob likely have close to a 1:1 ratio. In essence, if you're careful enough and/or good at cycling out things like steroids in a timely manner, it's conceivable that someone can use PEDs and still pass a test administered by the Commission. This is part of what makes Alistair Overeem's 14:1 ratio and Sonnen's 16.9:1 ratio from their respective failed drug tests so astounding. Not only are those numbers absurdly high, but given the proximity to their fights, it's an almost unbelievable oversight on their part.

TRT is seen and marketed as a fountain of youth due to the fact that men produce lower testosterone as they get older. It's a fact of aging. Yet more and more fighters are claiming they need Testosterone Replacement Therapy, including but certainly not limited to Sonnen, Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, and others. With the exception of Henderson, most are in their early to mid thirties, which can hardly be considered over the hill.

Since someone can't just claim that they need synthetic testosterone in order to perform as they did when they were younger, one of the common excuses/claims from fighters who fail drug tests and/or want an exemption is that they suffer from hypogonadism. This was Sonnen's claim, and recently boxer Lamont Peterson claimed it as well after a test administered by the US Voluntary Anti-Doping Association found synthetic testosterone in his system. Yet, hypogonadism occurs naturally in roughly 2% of the general male population. There are reasons that it might be more prevalent in athletes, but they include things like bad weight cutting, abuse of painkillers, anabolic steroids, and concussions. These are all issues, abuses, and/or violations that need to be addressed, not ailments that require treatment.

At Monday's hearing, the Commission relied heavily on testimony from their assisting physician, Dr. Timothy Trainor, who said he believes that Dr. Mark Czarecki's prescription for Testosterone Replacement Therapy was necessary. Yet neither is an endocrinologist. It's alarming, if not dangerous, to allow these two to be presented as experts in areas outside their realm of expertise. You wouldn't let your dentist check your prostate.

Then there's the troubling fact that Sonnen has disclosed that he's been undergoing TRT replacement therapy since 2008, but never disclosed it in previous questionnaires that require him to do so. Until now.

In short, what Monday's hearing and Tuesday's decision from the Commission tells us is that all a fighter has to do now is have a quack physician sign off on a prescription and ask nicely. Officially.

What makes this seem especially hypocritical is that on the very same day, the Commission gave Nick Diaz a one-year suspension from MMA for testing positive for marijuana after his fight against Carlos Condit even though Diaz has a prescription. The distinction the Commission made is that marijuana is only granted an exemption for out of competition use. So even though Diaz has a medical prescription for a marijuana inhaler, he can't and won't be given an exemption.

Marijuana is not what one can consider a performance enhancing drug. If anything, someone fighting with enough in their system to be considered high will have slower reflexes. They're putting themselves at risk more than anything, akin to fighting drunk. But PED use that provides both a physical advantage and potentially an unsafe environment for the opponent? Apparently, that's fine.

How is that fair or consistent? In this writer's opinion, it isn't. What contrasting these two decisions tells me is that Sonnen got a pass because of bureaucracy and paperwork and personal charisma, and concepts like competitive integrity and fairness were secondary or even tertiary considerations.

But hey, what do I know? I'm a thirty-year-old man who is probably just going crazy from low testosterone, which is shown to affect concentration and increase irritability.

Anybody know a doctor? Any will do, apparently.


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