This weekend included the start of the Tour Of California and the first day of Major League Baseball spring training. Doping has been in the news recently for both of these sports. In the past week, results of 2003 drug test for Alex Rodreguiz of the NY Yankees was reported and he admitting to taking steroids. The Tour Of California bicycle race includes 3 cyclists returning from doping bans - Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton and Ivan Basso. These events led me to compile a list of the top ten doping excuses for athletes. Future athletes who fail tests may want to keep this list handy.
1- I was planning on doping, but hadn’t done it yet. This excuse came from cyclist Ivan Basso. Circumstantial evidence from a Spanish police investigation called Operation Puerto indicated that Ivan may have doped. He denied it. After some of Ivan’s blood was found in the refrigerator of Madrid gynecologist involved in doping, Ivan confessed that he was planning to blood dope but had not done it yet. So he was banned from cycling for “attempted doping.”
2 - It wasn’t me, it was my twin.- Cyclist Tyler Hamilton failed a test that indicated his blood showed a “presence of a mixed red blood cell population” - an indication of a homologous blood transfusion. In other words, the test indicated that Hamilton had injected himself with someone’s else red blood cells to increase the oxygen carrying capability of his blood. Hamilton claimed he was innocent and that the test results were due to a vanishing twin. A vanishing twin refers to a pregnancy that begins with multiple fetuses, but then one or more of the fetuses are reabsorbed back into the mother or the other fetuses. It turns out that the vanishing twin thing is a scientific possibility (who knew?) and Hamilton’s unborn bother (or sister) could have accounted for the genetic material that caused Hamilton’s failed test. However, it didn’t clear Hamilton and he was suspended. See this article for more information.
3 - I admit it, I did it when it was legal. This one came from Alex Rodreguiz last week. The 2003 test results indicated he had taken a performance enhancing drug. However, luckily for Alex, it wasn’t illegal in baseball in 2003. So he ‘fessed up to it saying “I knew we weren’t taking Tic Tacs”. This brings up many questions. Did he find a way to get around tests after 2004 or did he stop? Yankee fans will point to his poor October stats to prove he has not taken steroids as a Yankee or at least not when it mattered. He claims to have used the drugs because of he felt an enormous amount of pressure to perform given the large contract he signed with the Texas Rangers. Now with the Yankees, he has a $275M 10-year contract and they agreed to pay Alex Rodriguez an extra $6M whenever he passed one of the four players still ahead of him on the all-time home run list: Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Bonds. There’s no pressure now. Tic tac Alex?
4- A teammate gave me a tainted substance.- Several Major League baseball players testified before a congressional committee that was investigating drugs in baseball. At those hearings, Rafael Palmeiro was the most adamant about not taking any performance enhancing drugs. He stated under oath that he had never used them. Then he failed a drug test. His excuse was that he had unintentionally taken something illegal when a teammate gave him a tainted substance.
5- I take the 5th- At the same hearing where Palmeiro swore he never took anything illegal, Mark McGwire took the 5th - refusing to answer on the grounds that he may incriminate himself. This has kept McGwire out of the Baseball Hall Of Fame and it may keep him out of court (and jail). Palmeiro and more recently Roger Clemens may need to worry about Federal charges for perjury as a result of their testimony under oath.
6- I’m innocent (please see my 800 page response for all of the details)- This excuse came from cyclist Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his Tour De France win. This case became extremely complex. The test results are debatable. Additionally he was tested many times during that tour and failed only one test that showed exogenous testosterone in his blood. Testosterone taken regularly may help baseball players build muscle but it seems like a strange thing for a cyclist to take during a multi-day race. This case went all of the way to the International Court Of Arbitration For Sport (I didn’t know there was such a thing), but Landis lost. See the Trust But Verify website for all of the details on the case.
7 - I doped because I didn’t think I would be tested; by the way your tests aren’t any good because I passed last week.- This excuse comes from cyclist Riccardo Ricco after a positive test got him booted from the Tour De France in 2008 where he won 2 stages. He was not scheduled to be in the Tour, so he had taken EPO to get ready for races later in the season. Then he wound up riding in the Tour and riding better than he ever had. He was winning stages and passing the drug tests. Then he failed a test. He denied doping. However the evidence was too strong, so he eventually confessed. Then he went further to explain that he had doped before the tour started (because he didn’t expect to ride) and yet he passed other tests during the Tour. This is why he probably denied doping when he failed a test. After all, if there can be false negative tests, why not false positives?
8- I did it, I’m not proud, so I hid the winning jersey - This excuse comes from cyclist and 1996 Tour De France winner Bjarne Riis. He didn’t fail a test, but a mere 11 years after winning, he decided to come clean. A yellow jersey winner in the Tour De France will usually have the jersey framed and prominently displayed - but not Bjarne. Like the Tell Tale Heart in the Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, Riis’s hidden jersey weighed on his mind until he confessed. “My jersey is at home in a cardboard box,” he said. “They are welcome to come and get it. I have my memories for myself.” You would think after his admission, he could at least return the jersey on his own and not expect a pick up.
9 - I don’t know what they were injecting me with or I was injected in my tush so I couldn’t see. - This one has come from several athletes and Roger Clemens has set the basis for this excuse. Under oath at a congressional hearing he claimed that his trainer had been injecting him with nutritional supplements. The trainer claims he gave Clemens steroids and Clemens knew it. So far, there are no tests results to prove that Clemens took steroids, human growth hormone or anything illegal.
10 - I didn’t inhale- This excuse didn’t come from an athlete. In fact, it doesn’t even involve performance enhance drugs. It was President Clinton’s claim from the 1992 Presidential campaign when asked if he smoked marijuana. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was recently photographed using a bong. He is too young to remember President Clinton’s excuse, so he just admitted it. As a result he has been suspended from swimming for three months. Since there are no Olympic swimming events during his suspension, it doesn’t really matter. Additionally, the public doesn’t care that much. Marijuana wouldn’t improve his swimming - it might even slow him down and give other swimmers a chance at a gold medal.
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