Sean Sherk doesn’t get much love in the MMA blogosphere. Some of that is because he tested positive for steroids. Some of it is because his fighting style is not always the most exciting to watch. Some of it is because he clearly wears hair gel into the Octagon.
These are all fair points, to varying degrees.
But as fun as it may be to bash Sean Sherk, and as much as he may or may not have it coming, it’s important to put it in perspective. It may just be possible that Sherk deserves a break. Maybe. It’s at least worth considering, one point at a time.
First, there’s the anabolic elephant in the room: his positive steroid test. Sherk swears he’s innocent on this charge. He’s taken polygraphs. He’s filed for appeals. He’s spent money, time, and effort trying to clear his name. But it’s not going to work. Even if he is innocent, even if the positive test was a result of a screw-up at the lab, it doesn’t matter.
That’s because we’re all skeptics when it comes to pro athletes and steroid use. The mere accusation is almost enough to ruin a man’s reputation. A positive test is practically as damning as a picture of him with a needle in his arm. Pro sports and steroids go together like politicians and hookers. By the time there’s an accusation, it already feels like a fact. It fits with a narrative we’ve come to expect.
Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that you’re Sean Sherk and you know for certain that you’ve never used an illegal substance in your life. Let’s say that the lab somehow tainted your sample, and it came up positive. Imagining that to be true, what could you possibly do to clear your name now? You know you’re innocent, but here you are walking around with a chiseled physique, a positive steroid test, with a nickname like “The Muscle Shark” and trying to tell people that it’s not what it looks like.
If he hadn’t already done it, I’d suggest taking a polygraph. Other than that, it’s really difficult to prove you didn’t do steroids. It’s even more difficult when your opponent also tests positive and admits it right afterwards. That makes it seem to an outside observer like steroids are rampant in the UFC and you’re just one more example.
My point is, there is reasonable doubt here. Maybe he did it. Maybe he didn’t. I don’t know a lot about steroid testing, though more than one pro fighter has told me that a true positive test would likely contain much greater concentrations of Nandrolone. We did not discuss how they knew these things.
As for the flack that Sherk gets because of his fighting style, which I’ll admit is less than exhilarating, that’s a fair criticism, but only to some extent. If a fighter is boring because he’s inactive, then he’s not much of a fighter. But Sherk is nothing if not active. He takes people down, he grinds away at them, he keeps them from executing their game plan. It might not be pretty, and you don’t have to like it, but when he does it with such effectiveness you should at least respect it.
As for the hair gel, well, there’s no excuse for that. It’s still better than shaving some vague, ill-advised design into your head, though.
Everyone’s entitled to their opinion about Sherk, but we should be honest with ourselves about why we hold those opinions. And when it comes to questions about steroids, which is essentially a question about cheating, which is in turn a question about a man’s character, we should be careful about rushing to judgment. Everybody deserves some slack now and then.