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Legality, Ethics, and TRT

by Kevin Marshall   September 28, 2012 at 2:00PM  |  Views: 3,584


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

We've talked before about Testosterone Replacement Therapy, the controversial procedure given to some professional fighters to increase their output of testosterone. Though it's been in practice for some time now, it's gained prominence in the public sphere over the course of the last two years due to fighters like Chael Sonnen being suspended for testing above the allowable T/E ratio (Testosterone to Epitestosterone) threshold. It's also been put in the spotlight due to fighters like Sonnen and Dan Henderson being granted Therapeutic Use Exemptions in order to be able to use TRT without fear of suspension or any other retribution.

In short, it's legal cheating. The medical basis for it is dubious, with fighters bringing in doctors to testify on their behalf that aren't even endocrinologists. Sonnen even brought in one doctor who appeared before the Commission looking disheveled, slightly confused, and wearing a black t-shirt. It's all by the books, but it's by the books in the sense that a Marx Brothers farce still follows a script that's written beforehand.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy, Pro and Con
Get More: Testosterone Replacement Therapy, Pro and Con

But that's just what we know about. Many times TRT use and TUEs go unpublished or at least uncovered until well after the fact, if at all. So the question is, should this information be automatically made public, or at the very least should an opponent of a fighter using TRT be informed of it?

In the United States, most State Athletic Commissions that conduct their own drug testing will reveal who's applied for a Therapeutic Use Exemption. Once you've applied for it, it becomes a matter of public record. You're not necessarily forced to disclose if you're undergoing TRT, however the moment you ask for a pass, it's no longer a private medical issue.

That's not necessarily the case in all states, however, and is certainly not the case when the UFC goes to Canada, or Brazil, or Europe, or anywhere else where the responsibility for drug testing falls to the promotion. UFC 152 in Ontario, for example, occurred without Athletic Commission drug testing. So the UFC did their own, and as a private company it's up to them whether or not they make the results public and/or who asked for an exemption.

Needless to say, they didn't tell anyone who did or didn't, and the argument was that they're not allowed to.

Perhaps not under their current guidelines. It's an interesting question that delves into ethics surrounding medical privilege and disclosure. Typically, a person's medical records aren't supposed to be made public. Every person has their right to privacy, and it's at the very least awkward for a private company to ask an employee to allow them to disclose aspects of their medical history and current status.

However, this isn't exactly a paper distribution company we're talking about. This is a combat sport where a fighter's medical history and conditions don't just impact them personally. The other fighter's health and safety concerns are paramount. The UFC certainly wouldn't allow a fighter to compete, without his knowledge, against a competitor with a transmutable blood disorder. Obviously TRT isn't quite as serious nor does it represent an immediate danger, per se. However, doesn't a fighter have a right to know if his opponent has been given an unfair advantage?

The argument for TRT is that it's supposed to just get guys back to their normal levels. The problem is that what circumstances led to them needing to get their levels back to normal isn't always made clear. More importantly, the average human male has a T/E ratio of 1:1, yet most Athletic Commissions allow for a 4:1 ratio and Nevada allows a 6:1 ratio. Guys competing and training might produce a higher level, but to the layman, that seems a bit much. Regardless of what reasons a fighter using TRT puts forth, it's most definitely an advantage they otherwise wouldn't have.

Even Dana White himself once condemned the practice, noting that a guy like Anderson Silva was 38 years old and didn't need TRT. But his point even then was moot, because the argument that TRT should be allowed in order for older fighters to continue competing is specious. Lower testosterone is a natural part of the aging process. So essentially the argument is that the rules are off if you're older and want to compete, which is like asking for an opponent to tie one hand behind his back in order to compensate for an age and strength discrepancy. It's ludicrous.

Yet Dana White, like so many others, has changed his tune, or at least he's stopped speaking out against it. Like so many others, his official line on the practice is that it's legal. Which is true. However, it's not legal in the sense that theft isn't. It's legal in the sense that it exploits loopholes and the general ignorance and/or outright incompetence on the part of many Athletic Commissions. It's legal, but not intrinsically ethical.

The main hurdle is in getting all parties involved on the same page about TRT and TUE. In the meantime, it's up to the fighters to start demanding to know whether or not their opponent is employing an unfair advantage and especially if he's been given a free pass to do so. Which is unfortunate, because you won't see too many willing to speak out against some fighters that are revered as legends or might be training with them in camp.


Image: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/ Getty Images

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