Here A Ban, There A Ban, But Do Fans Care About Drug Use?


From The Desk Of Kenny Rice

Before the Olympics have even started the biggest story involves a doping scandal, and not just a footnote but a full blown, above the fold thoroughly reported one. Russian athletes, 68 track and field participants have been banned due to violations of the World Anti Doping Agency.

There are appeals and calls from other nations to keep all Russians from competing in Rio.

Another sport, another scandal. The games will go on with or without. It will be discussed and written about, of course fans have and will continue to weigh in on the topic, but millions worldwide will tune in to watch the games regardless.

Just as baseball fans automatically “as if” the debate which is turned on anytime there’s a mention of stars in the late 90’s who don’t come close to receiving the necessary votes to enter the hallowed Hall of Fame. Many in the media, baseball executives and the fan base were in awe of all those homers and strikeouts over a decade ago with nary a question about the suddenness of records smashed and the different look of some of those stars that are now forever tainted.

That sums us up as fans in general. When someone is doing something so special, exactly what they did to get there is not so important at that particular moment, we get caught up in the fascination of the feat and some loyalty doesn’t wane when those athletes are later caught in something that gives them an advantage, real or perceived.

Never has MMA experienced so many bans, failed tests and confusion of how the tests are administered as over the last few years. Superstars, huge drawing cards have been involved. Yet their appeal hasn’t diminished. For the outstanding ones, forgiveness overrides the sin. It could also be that we the public grow up hearing about gaining a competitive edge, in business, politics, sports, and life. It’s in our subconscious that whatever gets you there is generally acceptable barring felonies.

The recent milestone UFC 200 card is the latest casualty of the rapidly evolving performance enhancer and compatible drug craze. Bigger, stronger no matter what.

Jon Jones was busted and didn’t fight on the card. But when he fights again with the chance to unify the light heavyweight ranks, will people not tune in or show up? Doubtful.

Ironically the man who replaced him, a true legend in Andrson Silva, was found guilty and suspended for a year for PED use, yet that did nothing to curtail fan excitement to see “The Spider” in action against current champ Daniel Cormier.

After the event former heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar failed two tests the US Anti-Doping Agency informed the UFC last week. He was the go-to guy when the organization needed a big name for number 200. The reason he fought Mark Hunt was because the USADA couldn’t identify a substance in his system before the fight, though they were certain something was there that shouldn’t be. Huh?

You think though the magnetic PPV pull of Lesnar wouldn’t guarantee another shot in the UFC or some other MMA group in the future? No.

Last week one of the most popular fighters ever, Chael Sonnen announced he had gone through USADA testing creating a stir that he might return. This after retiring when he was banned for two years by the Nevada Athletic Agency for PED use. The charismatic Sonnen has said he had no regrets and working with ESPN and the World Series of Fighting since the ban shows he hasn’t worried about the next paycheck.

Jones, Lesnar, Silva, Sonnen are still in the hearts of many with only few detractors who might decide not to support any future fights. Not just these men but others who failed tests without damaging their careers. They just have that X factor. Love ’em or love to hate them is the appeal to watch them.

It’s not limited to the higher weight classes either, featherweight Chad Mendes, who three times has fought for the title, was banned last week for 2 years for using a growth hormone substance.

It was a credit to the UFC when they ramped up their stance of drug use last year. But that hasn’t deterred some key fighters or kept fans from cheering on those who’ve strayed. A suspension, an overturned victory, cut in pay, whatever.

It doesn’t mean surrendering to PED use. There needs to be regulations and rules and penalties when needed. As with all sports there has to be principle and common sense, that is not just commendable it keeps anarchy from setting in and making a joke of the whole system. But it makes one wonder if that many people really care as long as they are entertained?.

– Kenny

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