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Garber sticks to his guns
by Ridge Mahoney, October 20th, 2008 3:45PM

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I, too, am astonished at the 10-game suspensions handed down by MLS upon positive tests coming back for androstatriendione on samples provided by Red Bull players Jon Conway and Jeff Parke.

I'm just as astonished as to why so many people are astonished, outraged, irate, or all of the above, for, since the start of this decade, Commissioner Don Garber has repeatedly championed a decree that MLS, unlike several other pro leagues in this country, will not only test players and other employees regularly, but punish those who are caught.

Truth be told, his draconian declarations provoked scorn and mirth among some observers and pundits who cover the game in this country. They dismissed his proclamations as publicity stunts, blatant attempts to elevate the status of MLS when referred to the context of the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

Garber may be acutely, if not overly, sensitive to the league's image. He came to MLS from NFL Europe, the Continental offshoot of one of the most powerful and image-conscious businesses in existence. But he's no fool, and he certainly realizes MLS is not nearly strong and stable enough to shrug off the blistering criticism and ridicule that has rained upon Major League Baseball for its handling of numerous cases, including the Barry Bonds/BALCO soap opera, and shameful scenes when sluggers Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and others testified before Congress three years ago.

MLS certainly isn't MLB, and androstatriendione (ADT) isn't androstenedione, or andro, which McGwire and some other athletes used to build strength and muscle mass. Andro isn't a steroid, but has much the same effect when metabolized by the body, and until banned by the FDA in 2004 was sold legally as a dietary supplement.

MLB endured acute public embarrassment when its glacial pace and weak efforts in confronting players' use of andro, creatine, and other substances came to light.

Andro is listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of banned substances, which FIFA and MLS use as a baseline for their substance restrictions. ADT isn't on the WADA list, nor on the lists used by any major pro league, nor was it listed among the ingredients on the label of the dietary supplements used by Conway and Parke. The players have cited this as evidence of their innocence, or at least, ignorance.

In the theoretical, it's perfectly possible, if not likely, that Conway and Parke used the supplements without intent to cheat and escape detection. In the practical, how could they, or any other professional athlete competing in the harshly scrutinized modern era, be so careless or stupid? Maybe, they, too smirked and joked at Garber's lofty wordage when the subject of drugs and testing came up. Or maybe they had somehow missed the firestorm of controversy and debate regarding dietary supplements, their side effects, and the possible risks to health as well as reputation.

They admitted not consulting team trainer Rick Guter before using the supplement, which has yet to be identified, apparently for legal reasons. That's another blow for dumbness.

Garber is also acutely aware of long-running disputes between WADA and FIFA, which until last June refused to implement WADA's recommended two-year suspension for positive tests. FIFA president Sepp Blatter's feuds with former WADA chairman Dick Pound flared into the public consciousness now and again, and FIFA's acquiescence last June resulted from WADA and IOC pressure regarding the Olympic soccer competition.

When the English FA suspended defender Rio Ferdinand eight months for failing to report for a drug test in September, 2003, a ban that kept him out of the 2004 European Championship, Pound said, "It looks to me that he has dodged a bullet in some respect because he has been given a sentence which is only one-third the theoretical maximum. I should have thought he'd done pretty well from his perspective."

Under WADA policies, a missed test is the same as a failed test, and Ferdinand had to serve the suspension even though he had reported for, and passed, a subsequent test. FIFA policies in use at the time stipulated a suspension could be from six months to two years, with each case considered independently.

Bans of seven months and nine months, respectively, were meted out to former Chelsea players Adrian Mutu and Mark Bosnich in 2004. Both tested positive for cocaine.

Whether on the subject of drug testing Garber is more crusader than commissioner isn't as relevant as his consistency. He said he'd punish offenders severely and that's what he has done.

Had Garber dismissed the positive tests with a light suspension he'd have been accused of going easy on a big-market team, and haranguing in public without backing it up. And would the commissioner have been so bold if Juan Pablo Angel and Dave van den Bergh had been caught in the midst of a hot playoff race? There's no way to know.

One can question whether Conway and Parke got what they deserved, but they certainly got what had been promised.



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