Ric Fogel for ESPN.com
What's more embarrassing: Getting your head pounded in or being named a recipient of steroids?
Every so often, the dormant conversation about the silent-partner role of steroids in mixed martial arts gets a nice kick in the rear -- though now the intervals between kicks seem to be getting longer. Is it due to more athletes being dissuaded from using, or are they simply getting better at finding efficient ways to not get caught? You have to wonder.
The industry hasn't had a scapegoat since Josh Barnett's positive test in summer 2009, but the draught is over: Shane Carwin has been named one of the supplied clients of J. Michael Bennett, an Alabama pharmacist who was just sentenced to four years for distribution.
Carwin allegedly received the stuff sometime in 2006, which would predate his entry into the UFC. That his use being in the past tense makes this a negligible issue for some is beyond my comprehension.
Let's say Carwin is guilty of use: that means fights in which he was conceivably aided by the improved strength and recovery opportunities of his "supplements." Those performances were obviously factors in getting his 2007 shot in the UFC. Using, having used -- it's all the same thing. If your career performances were influenced by a prohibited advantage, you'll enjoy the benefits even after quitting them. If someone uses drugs to qualify for the Olympic trials and then gets clean for the actual Games, is that nobility?
The charges also put a new spin on Carwin's fight with Brock Lesnar in July. Had Carwin managed -- as he seemed to be within seconds of doing -- to stop Lesnar, the UFC would now be attempting to shovel over the past indiscretions of their heavyweight champion. Carwin would have become the first current champion to have a U.S. attorney labeling him a cheat. Bullet dodged.
Does this really mean anything? Is anyone surprised by the news that a man who has to cut weight to make the 265-pound heavyweight ceiling might have ballooned with the help of lab science? I doubt it; audiences are too jaded at this point. While it may have been a shock to hear about the heroes of baseball -- essentially competing in one giant Norman Rockwell painting -- with needles sticking out of their rears, it's far easier to imagine licensed fighters doing anything to produce a more effective beating.
Combat sports have special problems because the risk of steroid use isn't limited to the fighters' organs or endocrine systems -- it also includes the potential to injure an opponent who may be choosing not to take the same path. Carwin is a wrecking ball of a fighter who barely needs to touch chins before they crack. Is it because he's gifted, or because he married already-promising genetics with the latest in test-tube athletics? And if it's the latter, it is that much better than showing up with a loaded glove?
Carwin has the same two options as every other athlete confronted with these charges: He can deny, deny, deny, or he can come clean and spin some trite "Afterschool Special" story about "making a mistake" and "having discovered drugs weren't the answer." Most athletes choose the former, though it's easier to claim a drug test went awry than to claim your name on a pharmacist's ledger for horse medicine was some kind of clerical error. Good luck to him.