Jon Jones & USADA: The Right Precedent Set

     As I’m sure everyone is aware, Jon Jones has received a one-year suspension due to the USADA test he failed before UFC 200 in July.  An arbitration board handed down the suspension, which will be honored by the UFC. Lets talk about this for a minute.

     The suspension is backdated to July 6th, 2016, the date that USADA announced Jones’s provisional suspension for the failed test.  With a one year duration, the earliest Jones could return is July 6th, 2017.  I say the earliest, because the Nevada State Athletic Commission still has to rule on the matter, and they could impose a longer suspension.  Given Jones’s many problems with the commission, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them add another year to the suspension.

     All of this stems from a June 16th, 2016 unannounced test administered by USADA.  The test came up positive for clomiphene and letrozole, two substances on the banned list.  Jones was then suspended and pulled from the scheduled UFC 200 fight against Daniel Cormier.

     The appeal put forward by Jones claimed that he did not knowingly take the drugs, and that they were contained in some tainted pills that he had taken.  Jones then gave samples of the pills in question to USADA, and USADA independently obtained additional samples of the pills through the original seller.  All samples showed varying levels of the banned substances.

     So, the claim made by Jones that the pills were tainted proved true.  He should receive no suspension at all, right?  Well, no, it’s not that simple.  Here are some tidbits from the arbitration report (viewable below, and available here: http://ufc.usada.org/wp-content/uploads/Award-6-November-2016.pdf )

     The pills in question were referred to as Cialis, a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction, but in fact they were not actual Cialis.  Instead, they were marketed as a “generic” version of the drug, called Tadalafil.  Since Eli Lilly and Company holds the patent on Cialis and it is still in effect, the Tadalafil pills are essentially counterfeits.  The packaging for the Tadalafil contained the following warning: “TADALAFIL 30 MG x 40 23 This Product is for CHEMICAL RESEARCH USE ONLY. NOT INTENDED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION/USE.” Basically, this is an attempt by the seller to avoid prosecution by the FDA, which the board rightly identified as a huge red flag that should have made any sensible person not trust what he was getting.

     A teammate, Eric Blasich, had given the “dick pills” to Jones.  Jones made no effort to verify what the pills were, he simply took them. When Blasich gave the receipt for the pills to USADA, it showed that he had also received clomiphene in the same shipment.  Jones apparently took the Tadalafil on June 14th, but when he was tested, he did not declare Cialis or Tadalafil on the testing form, which requires disclosure of all medications taken recently. This non-disclosure is in itself a violation.

     Those are the basic facts in the case.  The twenty-nine page report has many more details, but these basics are enough for now.  Looking at the evidence and the arguments, I think the arbitration board made the right decision.  First and foremost, any UFC fighter has to know that he is subject to USADA testing and must carefully assess whether any medications or supplements they take contain banned substances.  Getting boner pills of dubious origin from some guy in the gym is just not going to cut it. They could contain just about anything, and you use them at your own peril.

     If he had gone to a doctor, been prescribed Cialis and obtained the real medication from a legitimate pharmacy, and those had been tainted in some way, then Jones could rightfully claim to be innocent. Allowing athletes to use the “I thought it was something else” excuse when taking questionable substances from shady sources is another thing altogether.  Jon Jones is ultimately responsible for what he puts in his body, and in this case he failed on every level to ensure that he complied with the rules.

     The arbitration board had the option of giving a two year suspension, but since they judged Jones to have acted recklessly rather than with an intention to take banned substances, they felt one year was sufficient.  The board concluded:

“On the evidence before the Panel, the Applicant is not a drug cheat. He did not know that the tablet he took contained prohibited substances or that those substances had the capacity to enhance sporting performance. However by his imprudent use of what he pungently referred to as a “dick pill” he has not only lost a year of his career but an estimated nine million dollars. This outcome which he admits to be a wake-up call for him should serve as a warning to all others who participate in the same sport.”

     I’ll take their word for it that Jones is not a drug cheat.  A cynic, however, might consider it less an exoneration and more that they just couldn’t prove intentional wrongdoing.  Whichever, I agree with the punishment.  Totally letting an athlete off due to a tainted generic drug or supplement would set an ugly precedent, and open the door to a loophole to be abused.  If Jones had gotten off without sanction, anyone testing positive in the future could just submit a few shady pills and supplements and hope for the best. It wouldn’t take very long for word to spread which counterfeit drugs were tainted with which banned substances, which would effectively gut the anti-PEDS program.

     The moral of the story is that if you’re a professional MMA fighter, your livelihood depends on knowing exactly what you are taking. For someone of Jon Jones’s stature, getting pills from some guy in a locker room instead of making sure you have the genuine article prescribed by a doctor can cost millions of dollars.  Jones is young enough that he can rebound, but an older fighter could potentially kill his career by making the same mistakes.