When the Nevada State Athletic Commission announced that it would begin random drug testing of MMA fighters, rather than just testing them immediately before and after a fight, this was generally hailed as a good decision. If anything, some of us wondered why it took this long. Giving dirty fighters a solid date for their drug tests lets them plan their steroid cycles just a little too efficiently.
But over at Bloody Elbow, Michael Rome doesn’t agree. In an article posted on the site yesterday, he had this to say about the oppressive fascism of drug-testing professional athletes:
Recently, NSAC has started a policy of random drug testing, in which fighters are tested for drugs randomly before fights. NSAC is a branch of the Nevada state government, meaning the government is conducting drug testing completely at random without any probable cause (“being a fighter” is not probable cause).
I’m shocked to see writers across the MMA spectrum approve of this gross abuse of basic rights. Everyone justifies this because it is for the fighters own good, a rationale that is generally used to justify any oppressive government tactic. Is there anybody out there willing to fight for the fighters? From random testing to the presumption of guilt upon a positive test, the entire system is completely bogus and one-sided.
I respect Michael Rome’s opinions, and normally I’m the first guy to complain about the government. God knows they’ve made my life hell with their stupid laws about how many wives I can have or how much of my paycheck has to go to supporting the many illegitimate children I’ve sired. But this argument doesn’t hold up.
Drug testing for professional athletes is a good thing, and here’s why: 1) steroids are illegal, not to mention potentially very dangerous to the user, 2) in a sport that involves men using their bodies as weapons against one another, steroids provide an unfair advantage and create a potentially dangerous situation for both combatants, 3) we want to believe that our athletic competitions are as fair and safe as reasonably possible.
I don’t think Rome would argue in favor of no drug testing at all in MMA (at least I hope not) so I’ll assume that we agree on the basic premise that some testing is necessary.
That said, I’m going to go one step farther and assert that it is also a good thing that the state athletic commission is the one doing the testing, and not a private entity like the UFC.
Is the NSAC a branch of the government in some awkward sense? Yes. But this isn’t the FBI knocking on your door to do a retina scan because you checked out The Communist Manifesto from the local library. This is done to promote fairness and a level playing field.
We want the commission to do it simply because we don’t want the UFC to be in charge of it. Self-policing doesn’t work well in these scenarios. Just look at the WWE. Look at Pride. Look at any organization where there’s no oversight from an unbiased organization. Things get bad in a hurry. Baseball can survive a widespread steroid scandal, but MMA can’t. It’s in too fragile a state. Just as the UFC ran to regulation of their rules and competitions, the same is necessary when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs.
Rome seems particularly bothered about the random aspect of the testing, which is done, he says “without any probable cause.” My question is, if he’s unhappy with random testing, which type would he prefer? Essentially, your options for answering that question are a) none at all, b) before and/or after fights, or c) only when there is “probable cause.” Which would be what, exactly? Having traps that come out of your ears?
Random testing is the only type that works. It works because it instills a constant fear of being caught into anyone currently using banned substances. To anyone not using them, it’s merely an inconvenience.
As soon as you apply for a license to fight professionally in the state of Nevada, you are essentially agreeing to take a random drug test. If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. Don’t apply for the license. Or, when they ask you for a urine sample, just refuse. They’re not going to send you to Guantanamo Bay for it. You just won’t be allowed to fight professionally in Nevada, which is not a guaranteed right in the first place.
Equating random drug testing in sports with “oppressive government tactic[s]” only serves to make you sound like an alarmist while at the same time cheapening real accusations of oppressive government tactics, like warrantless wire-tapping. This is a question of how to make our sport as fair and legitimate and clean as possible, not a question of civil rights.
Drug testing is good for the fighters, and it’s good for the fans. The best drug testing is the kind that detects and deters most effectively. Testing randomly is the only way to ensure that guys are not only competing clean, but training clean as well.