#DigSportsDesk - The Lede
DOPED: The Dirty Side of Sports
By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
When world-class athletes suit up for competition in the Year 2015, is it just too much to expect an even playing field and the proper enforcement of the rules of their games?
Whether it is the integrity of the “game” officials or the competency of the “table” officials, such as the game timer and official scorer, the proper enforcement of the playing rules is always at the very foundation of sport. However, the findings of a new sports documentary, DOPED: The Dirty Side of Sports, clearly has surfaced the fact that the very foundation of sports as it relates to drug-testing is surely broken.
“We looked at what sports organizations are out there that say they are serving the interest of athletes but maybe aren’t doing their best to hold up their end of the bargain,” said Andrew Muscato, the producer and director of the documentary that premiered on premium tv channel EPIX on September 30.
“The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) came to mind, since there was some ‘grumbling’ which questioned how effective were these rules, were they working and what say, if any, do athletes have in making these rules? We’ve all seen documentaries going after the athletes who have ‘doped,’ whether it be on Lance Armstrong or countless ’30-for-30s,’ but nobody has looked at the other side of this, looking at the people who are going after the athletes who supposedly have ‘doped.’ That was our main objective,” said Muscato.
Similar to his work exposing the NCAA in the 2013 sports documentary “SCHOOLED: The Price of College Sports,” Muscato and his production team which includes the controversial former MLB manager and current Sacred Heart University (Connecticut) athletic director turned executive producer Bobby Valentine, “DOPED” is a no-nonsense and factual telling of the world behind the anti-doping establishment in sports, both on the world level through WADA and via the United States’ efforts by way of USADA.
DOPED quickly exposed the ground rules or basic “modus operandi” of WADA by having NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith tell of his first-hand experience when he sought some simple answers to questions he had as a representative of the athletes of the National Football League, which were being pressured to adopt what WADA and USADA officials referred to as the “gold standard” of drug testing.
“A contingent from the NFLPA went up to Montreal to meet with WADA, as DeMaurice Smith says in the film, and they were dismayed at the attitude of WADA in the fact that the NFL players were questioning the validity of the tests. The NFL players had some issues with the lack of transparency by WADA,” noted Muscato.
"The policies used in sports for the war on performance enhancing drugs overreach and underperform," said Muscato on the documentary. "Clean athletes are not only being harmed by these rules, but they have no say in how to improve what's clearly a broken system. In order for a global gold standard to truly work, athletes should be a bigger part of the process and that is how we can get to a better and more amicable solution for all."
Among the more interesting and lesser known points made in the documentary is the account of Olympic track and field star Adam Nelson, an American who was awarded the gold medal for the 2004 Olympic shot put on May 30, 2013, nearly a decade after the fact. Nelson’s 2004 silver medal was elevated to a gold after the IOC authorized re-testing of urine samples taken from Ukrainian Yuriy Bilonog. The tests were botched by WADA in 2004, and showed traces of Performance Enhancing Drugs when they were re-tested in 2013. The result for Nelson in between ’04 and ’13 was a severe loss of income, sponsorship and the ability to fund his training and competitions in the waning years.
“Adam has a line in the film, that ‘they expect the athletes to be right 100-percent of the time,’ said Muscato. “The anti-doping agencies don’t have to be right 100-percent of the time and nobody pays much mind of that fact.”
“It’s been a decade since many of the rules for anti-doping were codified,” said Muscato, “so isn’t it time to review the rules to see what’s working and what is not?”
“It goes back to an inherit conflict of interest,” said the producer. “WADA likes to say they are an independent body, but they’re not, because of where their funding comes from.
“The only people who want true, clean sport are the athletes who don’t dope. But because of human error and, maybe, some political interests, not everybody is going to be following the same rules.”
No Answer to Innings Limitations
Harvey, who is pitching his first season following Tommy John surgery in October 2013, was lifted after allowing one hit in five shutout innings. The Mets ended up losing 11-2.
"This is a different era at a different age, OK?" said Collins, who is the oldest manager in baseball at age 66. "Things change and you have to change with them. So taking Matt out after five innings last night - was I disturbed? You're damn right I was disturbed.
"But that's what it is. And so I did it for the good of Matt, hopefully, and for the good of the organization and the future."
Trying to foretell the future while winning in the present and modifying decades-old beliefs has become the biggest challenge for managers as they manage the post-operation workloads of the increasing number of Tommy John survivors.
"The big thing is, first of all, everyone has to be on the same page," said John Smoltz, the MLB Network announcer who in July became the first Tommy John patient to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. "You can't have exterior noise. You can't have somebody else speaking for the player."
The innings limits debate grew more heated than ever earlier this month, when Scott Boras, Harvey's agent, said the Mets - who are surprisingly headed to the postseason for the first time since 2006 - were imperiling by having him on pace to throw more than 180 innings. Harvey, who is at 183 1/3 innings after pitching 6 2/3 frames in Saturday's division-clinching game against the Cincinnati Reds, came under criticism when he didn't strongly rebuke the notion that Boras was dictating his workload down the stretch.
But having everyone speaking from the same script doesn't always work, either. In 2012, Boras and the Washington Nationals agreed that right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who underwent Tommy John surgery as a rookie in 2010, would not throw more than 160 innings in his first full season back.
Strasburg was shut down in early September after going 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA over 159 1/3 innings, even though the Nationals had the best record in baseball following his final start Sept. 7.
You know the rest: The Nationals were knocked out in the National League Division Series, missed the playoffs in 2013, were eliminated again in the NLDS in 2014 and were eliminated from postseason contention this year Saturday.
"We've seen how it doesn't work in other places, when they make a hard line to call and then it ends up becoming not having your best pitcher," Smoltz said. "So you've got to be flexible."
The Nationals' inability to break through could eventually cost general manager Mike Rizzo his job, but he continued to defend the organization's decision earlier this month in Washington.
"The time in 2012 where we had the protocol in place for 'Stras,' that was the protocol we had," Rizzo told reporters. "It was the same protocol we used for Jordan (Zimmermann) the year before. And I think it's a protocol that works for us and that we will employ to this day."
With the negative attention the Nationals got in 2012 still freshly on their minds, Mets executives have contended since spring training that they had a plan for Harvey that would allow him to pitch into October if the team reached the playoffs. Harvey has thrown more than 110 pitches in a game only once this year and the Mets tried implementing a six-man rotation in late May and again in late June in hopes of minimizing the innings thrown by Harvey, right-hander Jacob deGrom (who had Tommy John surgery in 2010) and rookie right-hander Noah Syndergaard, even though Harvey made it clear he didn't like the idea.
"We talked with each guy," Collins said in late May. "The one thing they didn't want to do was get shut down. They wanted to make sure they were pitching in September. And they didn't want to come out after five innings."
There is also the question of whether innings pitched is even the correct way to measure a pitchers workload. One reason Harvey is bumping up against 180 innings is because of his unusually sharp post-surgery command. Entering Saturday, he's thrown 12 pitches or fewer in an inning 73 times - an average of 2.6 such innings per start.
"There really is nothing in our scientific literature to guide us, in terms of the difference between 150 innings and 180 innings, versus 230 innings," Dr. Christopher Mazoue, who has performed Tommy John surgeries and is an associate professor at the University of South Carolina's Department of Orthopedic Surgery, told ESPN.com. "That's just not out there scientifically."
Nor has science yet to come up with a way to minimize the inherent risk involved in the unnatural act of throwing a baseball.
"I've had the greatest doctors in the world, that created the Tommy John surgery, tell me no matter how hard you work no matter what, when they're going to break, they're going to break," said Collins, who was a minor league infielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization when John underwent the transformative surgery as a member of the Dodgers in 1974. "So all we're trying to do is make sure that they're as rested as they can be."
Smoltz is an outspoken advocate of allowing pitchers to throw more often, albeit with fewer pitches and at less than peak velocity.
"You could go to a four-man rotation, add an extra reliever - which everyone wants to do," Smoltz said. "Don't ask for guys to go eight, nine innings. They'd be fresh. You'd teach them not to max out. You would teach them to be pitchers and you would be flourishing in that four-man."
Smoltz then grinned and waved his hands wildly in the air.
"But that is such a crazy deal, like it never happened before," Smoltz said. "We're more apt to go to the six-man rotation than we are to even attempt the idea of having a four-man."
With Harvey expected to pitch in the playoffs - and other young aces such as Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole and Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta pitching deeper into a season than ever before - there will be plenty of ideas bandied about as championship contenders offer up the latest guess to a question nobody's been able to satisfactorily answer.
"There's no perfect scenario - none," Collins said in May. "You figure it out, come and tell me."