Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Sonnen speaks, makes bad situation worse
By Brett Okamoto
Chael Sonnen's first explanation and reasoning behind a recently failed test sort of resembled a train wreck.
The UFC light heavyweight was removed from a July 5 UFC event after it was announced he had failed a random drug test in Nevada.
Hours later, Sonnen was summoned onto Fox Sports, for which he works as a UFC analyst, to discuss the circumstances of the test. Considered a sort of master of dialect, it was a situation Sonnen appeared well-suited to handle.
After all, this is a man who, in May 2012, applied for a therapeutic use exemption in Nevada for testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) while he was in a public war of words with the executive director at the time, Keith Kizer.
Sonnen was so smooth and convincing at that Las Vegas hearing that not only did he receive an exemption, one board member actually inquired whether he had interest in an advisory role to the commission at the end of it. Seriously.
During Tuesday’s live interview on Fox Sports, however, the Sonnen thread badly unraveled in front of our very eyes. And UFC president Dana White, although maybe not with the same fire and brimstone as usual, chose to defend him.
Sonnen, 37, who is currently weaning himself off TRT, tested positive for anastrozole and clomiphene. Both antiestrogenic agents are very clearly listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned substance list.
Sonnen says he has been taking the substances to avoid any side effects of getting off TRT. He also said he took them for fertility reasons.
There was nothing he could have said in Tuesday's interview to change the fact he tested positive for two banned substances while he was a licensed fighter in Nevada, but he could have taken responsibility for it.
His image still would have taken a hit and it would not have saved him from the suspension he is likely facing -- but he still could have owned up to it; said he was having a difficult time transitioning off a treatment the Nevada commission once told him he could use.
Right or wrong, many would have accepted (on some level) that type of response.
Instead, Sonnen unleashed a string of factually incorrect information, contradicted himself several times and denied any responsibility for the failed test.
He swore he told anyone who would listen that he was on the medication. Everyone knew. "Anybody I could talk to about this," he said, "I did."
Fox Sports host Mike Hill then asked Sonnen if he had informed the actual Nevada State Athletic Commission of his treatment, to which Sonnen fell momentarily silent.
"I wanted to deal with the UFC," Sonnen said. "I had no opportunity to go before the commission. I had not spoken to them."
Sonnen would repeat a variation of this claim at several points during the 14-minute interview. He didn't let the NSAC know, he said, because he was never presented the opportunity to do so.
The NSAC phone number is very clearly listed (just like the WADA banned substance list) online. Try calling them during regular business hours. Someone will answer.
In another mind-bending attempt to defend himself, Sonnen stated it didn't matter he had tested positive, because the two substances in his system are only banned outside of competition (which is completely false).
"It doesn't matter if it’s the NCAA, the IOC or this commission," Sonnen said. "There has always been a distinction between game day and out of competition."
He later added, when discussing a disclosure form, "as long as you write it down and it's not an anabolic [steroid], illegal or a performance-enhancing [drug], you're going to get a pass.”
The second is an unfathomably ridiculous statement. The WADA banned substance list used by the NSAC includes numerous substances beyond those mentioned by Sonnen, including diuretics, masking agents, hormone modulators, etc. Athletes are prohibited to use any of these, unless they receive an exemption beforehand.
In regards to anastrozole and clomiphene, the two are plainly listed under the "substances prohibited at all times" category of the WADA list.
Near the end of the interview, perhaps sensing it maybe wasn't going well, Sonnen gave his most ludicrous statement of the day.
Relying on a defense similar to the one he used in 2010, after he failed a drug test for the unapproved use of TRT prior to a title fight against Anderson Silva, Sonnen basically claimed he didn't know any better. The rules hadn't been effectively presented to him.
"I want to learn the rules," Sonnen said. "I want to operate within the boundaries. I am just a little frustrated that I'm having trouble understanding where those lines are at. I don't have anybody that I can ask. This isn't an open door policy.
"You tell me. Do you know the rules? Of course you don't. If I challenge you right now to go find them out, how are you going to do it? Is there a website you can go to? Is there an 800 number you can go to? Is there somebody's office door you can knock on? No. This is how we find out the rules. They never tell us the rules until they tell us we're in violation of them."
Chael, the two substances you tested positive for are clear as day, black and white, banned in competition. The NSAC is easily reachable. There were limitless opportunities to disclose or ask about anything you wanted. You chose not to.
Even White, Sonnen's promoter, admitted as much.
"He should have called the commission and said, ‘This is what my doctor told me to come down off [TRT] on,'" White said. "He absolutely should have done that."
Maybe Sonnen is just badly misinformed. That would actually make the whole thing look a little better. Blame these bad excuses on ignorance.
But if there's one thing we've come to know about Sonnen, it's that he more often than not knows exactly what's going on. His ability to talk has been one of his greatest assets, but he should have known when to stop Tuesday.