Can we talk about Anderson Silva and steroids like adults?


Anderson Silva failed a drug test for two separate steroids. He claims innocence, and he’ll have his day in the Nevada commission’s kangaroo court to make his case.

In the meantime, certain segments of the media have been reduced to waxing hysterical on the issue. To wit (emphasis mine):

Ben Fowlkes, MMA Junkie

But when Anderson freaking Silva tests positive, man, that’s like Neko Case getting caught lip syncing. It just breaks your heart. It makes you feel like there’s no one you can believe in, no one you can be absolutely sure is clean. Surely, now we have to admit that this sport has a drug problem, right?

Steven Muehlhausen, Sporting News

In one fell swoop, Silva has gone from the Derek Jeter of MMA to the Barry Bonds of the sport. And with that, Silva’s legacy is forever gone.

Kenny Florian, broadcaster and former UFC fighter

It’s a black eye for the sport. It’s just embarrassing. We have some of our biggest stars in UFC history testing positive for these drugs. It doesn’t look good, and a lot of the guys are forgetting the “martial arts” in Mixed Martial Arts — which means honor and courage

Damon Martin, Fox Sports

There are athletes competing inside the Octagon who are completely clean and wouldn’t touch a needle even if it meant title shots and piles of money falling at their doorsteps. Unfortunately, it’s just harder to believe them now. 

Who can we believe? Who should we believe?

Until then, don’t be dumbstruck the next time a high-profile fighter returns a positive test. Following this stunner with Silva, nothing should surprise you ever again.

And last, but certainly not least…

Chuck Mindenhall, MMA Fighting

When Anderson Silva tests positive for PEDs, nothing feels sacred. Anderson Silva is largely considered the greatest practitioner of the mixed techniques to ever step foot in the Octagon. He was the guy who beat the roided-out beasts of his day as if to wag a finger at cheating and strike a chord of natural grace. He was the wholesome icon of 16 straight UFC victories and 10 title defenses, whose greatest known vice was scarfing down a couple of Big Macs before a fight. He was the man and the myth, the guy who came back from a shattered shinbone this past Saturday at 39 years old just to show the world he’s still got it. 

How far does the taint go back? Why, as people have been asking on social media, can’t MMA fans have nice things?

It’s also not good for the sport when one of its greatest ambassadors, the man who personally reopened Brazil for business at UFC 134, ends up in the same pile of asterisks. Maybe it’s no longer surprising when anybody gets caught doing PEDs. But with Silva…well, you can’t help but wonder where naïve begins and ends. 

And it sucks.

Children learn things that shift how they view their parents. Maybe it’s a pack of cigarettes carelessly left poking out of a purse. Or maybe it’s a love note from dad to someone who isn’t mom. Or maybe it’s a cigar box full of weed at the top of a closet. It’s often the first time a child recognizes his or her parents as actual human being who carry the same sort of flaws as every one else.

Fowlkes, Muehlhausen, Florian, Martin, and Mindenhall are full-grown adults, and Anderson Silva is not their father. They are all of reasonable intelligence and have long histories in this sport. They should know better. They should not be reacting like naïve children staring doe-eyed at the news, wondering aloud about the precious integrity of combat sports.

Part of me wants to give each man the benefit of the doubt. The “outraged by sports scandal” column (or quote, in Florian’s case) is the easiest to write, and the “outraged by sports steroid scandal” easier so. This is MMA’s version of a science-minded writer taking anti-vaxxers to task. Fish, barrel.

But these men wrote (said) these words, and we should take them at their word.

Incentives change when money and livelihood and prestige are at stake. So, it should come as no shock when an aging legend coming off a devastating injury uses steroids. It should come as no shock when a young up-and-comer desperate to make a name uses steroids. It should come as no shock when a middling journeyman trying to provide for his or her family uses steroids. That these things blindside the grizzled media above is more surprising than anything else.

In addition, steroids are not the magic drugs people make them out to be. Cage Potato’s list of steroid busts (last updated October 2014) notes 42 positive steroids tests for fighters who competed. Those fighters went 18-23-1 in their bouts. That’s not to argue their efficacy (there’s a reason why athletes dope) as much an acknowledgement that drug use does not guarantee athletic success.

It’s time to start treating this issue like adults. Athletes use PEDs. Some people, like myself, think sports are better off allowing it (under medical supervision). But you don’t have to go that far to accept the reality of the situation, and to avoid the tired handwringing and melodrama and moralizing every time someone turns up positive. It’s just sports, you weirdos.

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