Now, on to what's on my mind at the moment: the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
This might be long, and almost certainly will contain some vitriol, so reader beware and all that. Plus, it'll probably get noticed by USADA and get me "randomly tested," but what the hell. (I'm only half-joking.)
Last fall my teammate Roger Lee was selected for a random, out-of-competition drug test, which was conducted by USADA. This happens now and then to all Olympic and Paralympic-level athletes. On this occasion, Roger tested positive for two "prohibited substances," chlorothiazide and hydrochlorothiazide. The reason for the positive test was that Roger had been taking a medication prescribed by his doctor during his recovery from a shoulder injury.
When a doctor deems it medically necessary for an athlete to take a medication containing a prohibited substance, the doctor must sign, and the athlete must submit to USADA, a Therapeutic Use Exemption form (TUE). Roger had done this prior to his test, and USADA should have had his TUE on file. But for some reason they didn't. His doctor sent the form to the wrong place, or someone misplaced it, or it got lost in the mail. In any case, Roger took all the steps he was supposed to take, and was not guilty of breaking any law. He played by the rules in every way.
That notwithstanding, if you visit the home page of the USADA website, you will notice a link to a press release titled "U.S. PARALYMPIC ALPINE SKIER ACCEPTS SUSPENSION FOR DOPING VIOLATION." If you read it, you will come away with the impression that Roger never submitted a TUE, and you will learn that Roger has been suspended from competition for one year.
As unlucky as Roger is that he is being sanctioned for something over which he had essentially no control, he is also lucky, because his lawyer managed to make his one-year suspension retroactive to September 14 of last year, meaning that he will be clear to train and compete with the team this upcoming ski season.
Nevertheless, this is not an acceptable outcome. Roger does not deserve any blame here. What's worse is that USADA is trumpeting its decision to the world, proudly proclaiming another victim of its perversely misguided arbitration process for doping violations.
The bottom line is that doping trials do not work like normal criminal or civil trials. There is no presumption of innocence until one's guilt is established. Instead, as soon as a positive test is recorded, for any reason, you are labeled guilty. You will have to spend thousands of dollars in an attempt to clear your name, but if one goes by the numbers, you will not be successful. Like a big corporation or a tyrannical government, USADA always wins. (My friend Steve, a lawyer, described it to me as a "kangaroo court.") USADA's official policy is that there is no such thing as "extenuating circumstances." To them, an unintentional violation like Roger's is as severe as an intentional one. And a violation for a "specified substance" (one that's not performance-enhancing but banned nonetheless, like cannabis) is just as bad as a violation for anabolic steroids.
Crazy? Absolutely. But that's what we have to endure in the name of catching a few cheaters, right? I don't really think so, actually. We need different systems for different sports. Doping is just plain not as much of an issue in, say, curling as it is in cycling or track and field. As far as I know, there has never been a documented case of real performance-enhancing drug use in alpine skiing, disabled or able-bodied. Instead, USADA wastes everyone's time and money busting people for improper TUEs, smoking pot, or using Propecia. We need a less paranoid, more just system. It's time for the madness to end.