A Blog by Doug Logan
Braiding the noose
Thursday, January 22, 2009
The following is the complete text of a speech that USATF CEO Doug Logan delivered Thursday afternoon, January 22, 2009, to Focus on the Future, a gathering of the dietary supplement and healthy food industries in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Any public speaking instructor will tell you that when you begin a speech, especially before a group of people you don't know, you should start with an anecdote or a lighthearted observation as an ice-breaker. But the topic I am addressing today is too urgent and too important not to put it out there at the top. It is anything but light-hearted.
Performance-Enhancing Drugs are threatening to choke the life out of the sport that I serve and love.
And in many ways, the supplement industry has been assisting in braiding the noose.
When I became CEO of USA Track & Field in July 2008, I came from an "outsider" position. I was a fan of the sport and a runner myself, but had never participated as a truly competitive athlete. I had no friends, and no enemies. (I can assure you, THAT has changed substantially in the last six months.)
I saw the sport as the public does: as a sport where it seems that nearly all the top stars of the last 10 years have been caught using drugs, were strongly suspected of using drugs, or were in prison. Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin, Tim Montgomery: These once-great sprinters continued the poisonous legacy of Ben Johnson. In track and field, if your 100-meter superstar isn't clean, the sport isn't clean. 99 percent of athletes could be clean, but it wouldn't matter. Their transgressions overshadow and overpower the accomplishments of even Edwin Moses and Michael Johnson, in the memories of most.
Changing the sport's culture regarding drug use was my first, and remains my most important, objective as CEO. Punitive measures alone cannot eliminate or even substantially reduce the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in this or any other sport. Only when you create a culture where cheating of any sort is reviled by the very athletes who stand to "gain" from it, can you succeed.
Cheating is a cultural problem that is not specific to the United States. Humans seem hard-wired to push the rules as far as they can, and even to actively try to break the rules without getting caught. Kids have been cheating on tests as long as there has been pen and paper; spouses have been cheating on each other since the first "I do's", stock brokers have been cheating since Wall St. opened its doors, resumes are regularly composed of lies and the tax filing period is open season on the truth.
In the world of sports, pushing rules to the brink is part of participating. How hard can you elbow an opponent before you are called for a foul in basketball? How much jersey-grabbing will draw that dreaded "holding" flag in football? How low can you go in punching your opponent in the ring? How many strokes can you shave off your scorecard when your golfing buddies aren't looking?
Cheating in the realm of Performance Enhancing Drugs, however, takes this impulse to a much different level, and with far-ranging consequences.
Nowhere else in the world is the culture of "Faster, Higher, Stronger" so revered and pushed to such extremes. The use of steroids and other Performance Enhancing Drugs is the ultimate perversion of another popular phrase in sport: "What does not kill you makes you stronger." People want to train harder, be stronger, be bigger, run faster. It's not just athletes who follow that credo, and not just males. Recent studies have shown that middle-school girls use Performance Enhancing Drugs at higher rates than their male peers.
I encountered this phenomenon of pre-pubescent PED use last summer, when I was attending a youth track & field event hosted by one of USATF's sponsors, the Hershey Chocolate Company. One of our elite athletes who was participating in the program as a mentor told me that she was out for a training run with one of the nine-year-old finalists. During the run, this nine year old asked our athlete about steroids and said she heard that they would make her stronger. Nine years old! And, at a meet that was organized by a candy bar company!
In what culture, and in what kind of sport, does a nine-year-old know about steroids and ask about them? It is in a culture where supplements are peddled as the way to attain lost youth, aid digestion, increase muscle recovery, decrease wrinkles, lose weight, "gain inches," and eliminate toenail fungus.
Any American who pulls up a story on Performance Enhancing Drugs on one of our major newspapers' web sites is greeted with an ad for Human Growth Hormone. The irony of such advertising goes beyond farcical to the level of tragicomedy. The story reads "Oh the shame of using drugs!" while the ads that support the cost of publishing the story are peddling an illegal hormone.
This pro-supplement and pro-drug national culture has affected sport in multiple ways. For a sport like track and field, which for years has actually tested its athletes for Performance Enhancing Drugs -- something that up until recently, relatively few sports could say -- it means that cheaters got away and the innocent were caught.
Cheaters got away and the innocent got caught.
Prior to the BALCO breakthrough in 2003, drug testers had always been woefully behind the cheaters. They still are, even though our scientists and labs are closing the gap. With BALCO, anti-doping scientists reverse-engineered a test for "the clear", and the result was catching cheaters who had no idea they were being tested for their Victor Conte-peddled drug of choice. But up until that point, the cheaters were more sophisticated than the testers. In most cases, dedicated cheaters took the steps necessary to avoid detection.
When you look at drug positives in track and field pre-2003, you see a pattern. Lots of nandrolone. Lots of "cold-medicine" positives. One European distance runner infamously argued that the drugs in his urine came from a nefarious and conspiratorial enemy tainting his toothpaste. Some cheaters really did get caught. But other athletes got caught up by their supplements. Taking something from GNC that they thought to be "clean", they got popped for a substance they had no idea was even in their bodies to begin with. Nandro undoubtedly was actively used by cheaters, but it just as undoubtedly was an unlisted additive in supplements taken by athletes, bodybuilders, teens and students. Avoiding detection for nandro isn't hard, but you have to know it's in your body first.
There is no denying that some manufacturers of supplements, admittedly few in number and on the fringe of the industry, regularly "spike" their product with Performance Enhancing Drugs in order to give the incredulous benefits that they advertise. And let us not forget that the results that come out of these actions are not merely limited to a suspension or a disqualification of an athlete. The deaths of Kori Stringer and Rahsidi Wheeler are still fresh in our minds and attributable to the ingestion of supplements with no medical or nutritional advice.
Where were the regulators?
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, our sport would regularly get coverage in the national media, but for the wrong reasons every time a high school athlete got popped for a drug in their supplement, or for their asthma medication, or their ADD meds, the sport got another front-page black eye. We didn't need any help with our shiners. The athletes who were cheating were bludgeoning us just fine. But with powerful Inside-the-Beltway friends such as Senator Orin Hatch on their side, the supplement industry has consistently lobbied against any federal regulation whatsoever.
I guess congratulations are in order to the supplement industry on its successful lobbying campaigns. Just don't expect a thank-you note from athletes who got caught for unintentionally taking a PED, or from the families of Kori Stringer and Rahsidi Wheeler.
In the last weeks we have a fresh example of the need for regulation. According to last Friday's New York Times, federal agents have raided Ergopharm, a supplement manufacturer and distributor where the former BALCO chemist, Patrick Arnold, now works. According to the Times, "Federal authorities are trying to determine whether Arnold has put banned substances in the supplements his company sells." Now, let me get this straight. Why in the world would a manufacturer of safe and healthy products hire a chemist who served three months in prison in 2006 in connection with the BALCO case? This is the same company that distributes a supplement called 6-OXO Extreme that they describe on their web site as "the most effective and safest testosterone booster ever". Two weeks ago Philadelphia Phillies reliever .J.C Romero tested positive for the anabolic steroid androstenedione after using 6-OXO Extreme and was suspended for 50 games.
In today's world, anything and everything is on the banned list for Olympic athletes. Because studies have shown that sometimes different pills in the same bottle of supplements contain different, tainted ingredients, we and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency actively advise athletes not to take supplements of any kind. Athletes live in such fear of tainted supplements that some don't even take multivitamins. Think about that: An athlete, whose livelihood rests on the ability to maximize the performance of their bodies, cannot even take the basic supplements that the little old lady on the end of the street has a right to take. One of our throwers takes only a multivitamin and creatine, and he has EVERY SINGLE CAN, every jar tested for PEDs before he ingests them. A gold-medal hurdler takes only a multivitamin, and it is the same mutli he has taken for more than a decade. Terrified of the consequences of a tainted supplement, he is terrified to change.
Earlier this month, I received a letter from a company offering to partner with us to test supplements. Because of the pro-pill culture of this country, and because of the refusal of our government to regulate what Americans are putting into their bodies, it is left to us to clean up the mess.
While this battle for "clean" supplements rages on, I focus on waging the battle for the hearts and minds of our athletes, coaches, agents and support staff to win the culture war against drugs. I am a person who likes simple concepts. This is pretty simple. I have two words for any person who uses, promotes or tacitly endorses the use of drugs by any athlete. GET OUT! Get out of our sport and out of our competitions.
Let's face it: The NFL can afford to have a drug problem. Major League Baseball can afford to have a drug problem. Track and field can't afford it. If our sport doesn't set a course of brazen, vocal intolerance toward drugs, the viability of track and field on a go-forward basis is compromised. I have a moral obligation to do my best to beat drugs to the punch and metaphorically stomp the life out of drugs, drug cheats and their enablers. This course of action is needed from both an ethical and a business standpoint. Some potential sponsors will not touch any of our male sprinters, for fear of a drug scandal. Even we as a federation think twice about which athletes we promote, offer to sponsors or have at press conferences.
Media coverage of our sport adds to the urgent need to create a cultural shift. All too often, the only time track and field is on the front page -- or even the inside page -- of a newspaper or on ESPN's Sports Center is if it involves drugs. Without drugs, our sport is all but invisible to the press. They have no interest without scandal. We must once again make our sport the compelling, believable, hero-inspiring sport it was decades ago, when it was among this country's top sports. Unless the public believes in what they are seeing on the track, we are not sport, we are spectacle. We are a freak show of pharmaceuticals.
Until recently, we as a sport haven't done much to try to help turn this tide. Even though many athletes and fellow coaches in America knew he was dirty well before his recent federal conviction, Trevor Graham was honored as USATF's Coach of the Year in 2002. As a federation, we were either ignorant, stupid or were avoiding the issue. Even today, coaches who had drug cases when they were athletes are earning a living. Athletes employ these coaches despite -- or maybe because of -- their drug-riddled past. One such athlete-turned-coach, Antonio Pettigrew, was our USATF representative to the USOC Athlete Advisory Council until he testified at Graham's hearing that he had used drugs. A nicer guy than Antonio is hard to find. Yet the truth can't be ignored: if an athlete is with a dirty coach, the dirt almost certainly spread. When a mean, nasty, egomaniac tests positive, everybody says they knew it was coming. But when a "nice", cordial, god-fearing charmer takes a bullet, you know you've got a problem. We've had several of them.
Athletes themselves knew who was dirty and who was clean, but nobody "came clean" about it. In fact, clean athletes had friends who were dirty athletes. By looking the other way, we created a permissive culture that provided a catalyst for more cheating. By the time the 2000 Olympics came along, the unifying belief shared by athletes who cheated was that if you wanted to win, you HAD to cheat. It was the only way. Coaches bought into it and turned away from being good technical coaches and instead learned how to be good pharmacists. Good pushers.
I am happy to report that I have seen real progress in our fight, even in my brief time with USATF. On my first day on the job, I sent to President Bush a strongly worded letter imploring him to deny Marion Jones' request for leniency or a pardon. That letter resulted in a few emails accusing me of racism, inhumanity and showboating, but it resulted in far more emails from mothers who told stories of their daughters tearfully ripping down posters of Marion Jones off their bedroom walls.
Our athletes seem to know and understand that when one of them gets caught as a cheater, they all lose. They lose their collective reputations, and they lose financially as corporate sponsors shy away. As a result, we have heard many more athlete voices speaking loudly and clearly against any un-named colleagues who might be using or be thinking about using PEDs. Our medal-winning stars such as Allyson Felix and Adam Nelson are earnest and believable when they speak to the media and school children about drugs. One of our gold medalists, Dee Dee Trotter, even started a nonprofit organization called "Test Me I'm Clean." USATF has a community-outreach program aimed specifically at deterring the use of PEDs, and we have taken action to ensure that coaches whose athletes cheat are denied USATF benefits. In the wake of BALCO, USATF instituted an anonymous "tip line" where callers could report what they believed to be cheating. That tip line has resulted in doping convictions.
There are positive signs internationally as well. One vociferous former member of our Board of Directors always said that when the rest of the world starts implementing more stringent anti-doping protocols, Team USA's performance would improve on the international level. It was, he said, a mathematical reality. I can report that since the advent of WADA in 1999 and 2000, Team USA's medal counts on average have risen from 16-to-19 medals per championship to 20-to-26 medals.
After decreasing the punishment for a first-time steroid offense from four to two years several years ago, our international federation is now leading the lobbying effort for a return to 4-year minimum bans. The British Olympic Association levies a lifetime Olympic ban for the first infraction, a policy which I thoroughly support and will work to implement on this side of the Atlantic.
Drug testing continues to make strides in the effort to catch cheaters, and where science has not yet caught up, we are employing powerful scare tactics. In October, the International Olympic Committee announced it would re-test urine and blood samples from the Olympic Games in Beijing for, among other drugs, a new generation of the blood-boosting drug EPO. There are some athletes sleeping with one eye open until those tests are done.
The World Anti-Doping Agency talks about freezing samples for years, so that they can be retroactively tested for any number of currently undetectable substances, once the tests are developed. As genetic manipulation looms as a growing threat in the doping world, taking and saving hair samples from athletes from childhood onward can help detect genetic "doping."
Will these tests come to fruition? Whether or not they do is almost secondary to the effect of the threat. If we don't get you now, we'll get you later.
BALCO showed above all else that drug testing alone can't catch cheaters, and just because an athlete tests negative doesn't mean they aren't cheating. With that caveat on the table, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that we have seen a substantial decrease in the number of track athletes with positive drug tests. According to U.S. Anti-Doping Agency information, we had four doping positives in the last two years. Of them, two were for asthma medications, one was for blood pressure medication, and the fourth was for cocaine. The non- analytical positives, such as Marion Jones' were admissions to transgressions in prior years. Let me stress again, we still have a problem of monumental proportions. Despite the results in testing I just mentioned, we cannot yet assure our fans that we are running a clean sport and therein lies the tragedy.
I am personally committed to doing our part to reverse this cultural perversion. Our partners in this war, USADA and WADA are waging the battle with ground breaking science and techniques. The supplement industry can do its part in assisting us in the fray. The next time, do not be so quick to oppose reasonable and responsible federal regulation of your industry. Those who conduct ethical and legal businesses will ultimately benefit from the tightening of laws and increased scrutiny. If you say you can self regulate, then, by gosh do it! Cast these outlaws from your midst as the money changers were biblically cast from the temple. We are cleaning our house; get your brooms out and clean yours!
There is no doubt whatsoever that as long as humans are involved in sport, drugs and other forms of cheating will be part of them. But we all have an obligation to minimize their impact. Clean supplements, good coaching, advanced testing and a clear moral vision are what will propel our sport and other sports out of the "doping era" and into an era where human athletic achievement will once again be celebrated for what it is.
It is an era when the best man or woman -- not the best chemist -- will win.
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