Shane Carwin file photo: Sherdog.com
Every so often, the dormant conversation about the silent-partner role of steroids in mixed martial arts gets a nice kick in the rear -- though now the intervals seem to be getting longer. Is it due to more athletes being dissuaded from using, or simply getting better about finding efficient ways to not get caught? You have to wonder.
The industry hasn’t had a scapegoat since Josh Barnett’s positive test in summer 2009, but the draught is over: Shane Carwin has been named one of the supplied clients of J. Michael Bennett, an Alabama pharmacist who just got sentenced to four years for his participation in a conspiracy to sell anabolic steroids. Carwin allegedly received the stuff sometime in 2006, which would pre-date his entry into the UFC. That his possible use being in the past tense makes this a negligible issue for some is beyond my comprehension.
What if Carwin did use steroids? That would mean fights where he was conceivably aided by the improved strength and recovery opportunities of his “supplements.” Those performances were obviously factors in getting his 2007 shot in the UFC. Using, having used -- it’s all the same thing. If your career performances were influenced by a prohibited advantage, you’ll enjoy the benefits even after quitting them. If someone uses drugs to qualify for the Olympic trials and then gets clean for the actual Games, is that nobility?
The allegations also put a new spin on Carwin’s fight with Brock Lesnar in July: Had Carwin managed -- as he seemed to be within seconds of doing -- to stop Lesnar, the UFC would now be attempting to shovel over the past indiscretions of their heavyweight champion. Carwin would have become the first current champion to have a U.S. attorney labeling him a cheat. Bullet dodged.
Does this really mean anything? Is anyone surprised by the news that a man who has to cut weight to make the 265-pound heavyweight ceiling might have ballooned with the help of lab science? I doubt it: Audiences are too jaded at this point. While it may have been a shock to hear about the heroes of baseball -- essentially competing in one giant Norman Rockwell painting -- with needles sticking out of their asses, it’s far easier to imagine licensed savages doing anything to produce a more effective beating.
Where combat sports have special problems is that the risk of steroid use isn’t limited to their organs or endocrine system -- it has the potential to injure an opponent who may be choosing not to take the same path. Carwin is a wrecking ball of a fighter who barely needs to touch chins before they crack. Is it because he’s gifted, or because he married already-promising genetics with the latest in test tube athletics? And if it’s the latter, it is all that much better than showing up with a loaded glove?
Carwin has the same two options as every other athlete confronted with these charges: He can deny, deny, deny or he can come clean and spin some trite Afterschool Special story about “making a mistake” and “having discovered drugs weren’t the answer.” Most athletes choose the former, though it’s easier to claim a drug test went awry than to claim your name on a pharmacist’s ledger for horse medicine was some kind of clerical error. Good luck to him.