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MLS Goes Over The Top on Conway and Parke
by Paul Gardner, October 20th, 2008 7AM
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Well, well, there was I thinking that Jon Conway and Jeff Parke were just two average guys putting in average performances for the Red Bulls every week.

Heavens, was I wrong! Turns out these guys are dangerous types, real desperados. Just listen to what they've been up to: they're guilty of buying, and then ingesting, a dietary supplement. Gulp. As if that isn't bad enough, they might even be in cahoots, so there may even have been a conspiracy to feast on dietary supplements. Gulp, gulp.

Sure, this was an over-the-counter product, but it wasn't just any old supplement, it seems. This particular supplement (which cannot be named, for legal reasons they tell us) contained a chemical that no one can pronounce, let alone spell, and that nearly no one has ever heard of: Androstatriendione.

Hell, the name alone suggests guilt, don't you think? Must be some sort of steroid -- which, actually it is. Sort of. You can do the research if you wish, you'll find out that ATD is, among other things, an aromatase inhibitor, and that it is also a metabolite of boldenone. Now boldenone is an anabolic steroid, it was developed for veterinary use. But it found favor with body-builders as an alternative to nandrolone. And nandrolone -- along with ATD -- is on the banned list published by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Nandrolone has caused problems in the past in soccer, with Edgar Davids, Frank De Boer and Fernando Couto giving positive tests, but claiming that they had taken only -- yes, dietary supplements. Pep Guardiola -- now the coach at Barcelona -- was also banned for taking nandrolone; he was later cleared on all charges, though it took him six years to establish his innocence.

In other words, the players -- big stars, all of them -- claimed that they had taken the steroid unknowingly. Which may or may not be the case. It may or may not be the case with Conway and Parke, who are not big stars. But, you see, in this marvelous world of clean sports, there is no presumption of innocence. Quite the opposite. You're presumed guilty if the tests reveal a banned substance. Your worst enemy could have spiked your drink, but you're the guilty one.

How likely is it that Conway and Parke were trying to improve their performance by knowingly using a banned drug? Not very, I'd say (and having seen them in action, I'm inclined to the view that theirs were the sort of performances that give steroids a bad name).

But ... are they guilty of anything other than ignorance, or plain silliness? According to the Red Bulls' trainer Rick Guter, the supplement that Conway and Parke swallowed did not list, on its packaging, ATD as an ingredient. So who can know? It's possible that the manufacturers don't know: contamination of food supplements has been recognized as a problem for quite a while now.

I feel greatly inclined to believe the innocence of Conway and Parke to any charge of cheating. In which case, in my view, they're not guilty of anything more than either stupidity or -- if they were told to check anything they may eat with trainer Guter -- of forgetfulness. And which of us would escape conviction of those charges?

In a way, the least pleasing aspect of this episode has been -- to my great surprise -- the attitude of MLS commissioner Don Garber. Does he really believe that MLS is so damn pure and righteous, that it has saved itself from some awful calamity, by punishing these two players with a 10-game suspension -- the heaviest yet for MLS?

Garber sternly warns everyone: "MLS has one of the strictest drug policies in professional sports and holds its athletes both responsible and accountable for what they put in their bodies. This is an important statement as to the high standards to which we hold our players."

Maybe it is, but it's also sanctimonious. It almost sounds as though MLS is proud to have a drug scandal, that this is a sign of growing maturity. I really would not have expected Garber to be boasting of being "cleaner-than-thou" and puffing out his chest over the MLS's "high standards" when the victims of all this high-mindedness are two average, and hitherto blameless, players whose careers are threatened. Players who may well have been guilty of nothing more damnable than just plain dumbness.

  1. Ian Plenderleith
    commented on: October 20, 2008 at 7:56 a.m.
    It's odd, though, that almost every athlete in sporting history caught out by a drugs test claims to have ingested it "unkowingly." Just to be on the safe side, they could always try sticking with fruit, veg, fish and white meat for their nutrition and then they wouldn't need any overpriced supplement from the pharmacy, which is most likely a rip-off in any case. In this instance, I back the MLS hard line.

  1. commented on: October 20, 2008 at 11:26 a.m.
    I have two issues to discuss here: The first is the fact that "the supplement that Conway and Parke swallowed did not list, on its packaging, ATD as an ingredient." This is a legal issue and should be brought up to the FDA (food and drug administration). And if it is proven that this is the case, The drug company should change the labeling on the box to indicate that. the second issue is "stupidity or — if they were told to check anything they may eat with trainer Guter — of forgetfulness." This is no excuse. Based on the fair play concept, nobody should have an advantage, except of his own ability, over other players, regardless of their level of performance (stars or mediocre players). When they, knowingly, seeked a medication to enhance their perfromace, indicates their intention of seeking this advantage in unnatural way. I agree 100% with Don Garber on this rule. Players should check with their trainer, or the pharmacist in the store if they don't want the team to find out, before buying any medication even if it's over the counter.
  1. Alvaro Bettucchi
    commented on: October 20, 2008 at 8:05 p.m.
  1. Frank Cebul
    commented on: October 20, 2008 at 11:40 p.m.
    I agree with Paul Gardner on this and I believe that Don Garber should stick up for his league's players while issuing a complaint to the US Congress for enhanced regulation of the dietary supplement industry. Do you really think that ATD was just accidentally left off of the list of ingredients by the manufacturer? No way! The manufacturers knew what they put into that product and they knew that if they listed it that clean athletes would steer clear of it and doping regulatory agencies would go after it. The manufacturers put ADT into there product as a stealth chemical that might benefit some athletes and lead to improved sales via word of mouth. The real problem is that the food supplement industry is not regulated by the FDA. The industry does not have to submit any efficacy or safety data to any regulatory agency. Well financed lobbyists for this industry repeatedly badger Congress not to enact any regulatory legislation. Seriously, what is a trainer or a pharmacist going to say about an over-the-counter product that does not even list the potentially most dangerous ingredient on the packaging? Besides, aren't the most dangerous drugs supposed to be by physician prescription or illegal to buy in a reputable business? Conway and Parke could have been seriously harmed by taking a steroid that they did not even know they were taking. I take over the counter fish oil capsules to lower cholesterol; I would be pretty upset if I found out that the product was tainted by a potentially harmful substance. And I would appreciate some one going to bat with me against the guilty company that produced it.

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