CSAC commission members voted today to reduce Chael Sonnen’s suspension by six months after a two-hour appeal hearing. A lot was discussed but here’s the cliff notes version.
As expected, Sonnen’s defense centered around Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). Sonnen’s attorneys Howard Jacobs and Steven J. Thompson revealed that Sonnen was diagnosed with hypogonadism in 2008 and was prescribed TRT to keep his testosterone at normal levels. They argued that this was all well documented and was in no way used any sort of performance enhancer. In fact, his doctor testified that he would not allow Sonnen to compete at the highest level of mixed martial arts without the therapy.
With that established, the central issue became whether or not Sonnen properly disclosed that he was undergoing TRT and whether or not the commission approved it. In his first public words about the case, Sonnen told commission members that he believed he had told everybody there was to tell that he was self-administering shots of testosterone as prescribed by his doctor.
“In hindsight, looking back and staying up nights thinking about this, I still do not know what I could have done differently,” Sonnen said during the hearing. “I make a joke to my lawyers that outside of grabbing the microphone from Joe Rogan and making an announcement on live television, there was simply nobody else to tell that I was on testosterone.”
Without getting too lost in the details, Sonnen testified that he was under the impression that the CSAC had approved him for therapeutic use exemption for testosterone in 2009 when he fought Yushin Okami. He stated that a Dr. Davidson, who is allegedly employed by the UFC or at least works with the UFC, gave him approval via email and that he believed Dr. Davidson had final say. A commission member later clarified that Dr. Davidson was in no way affiliated with the CSAC and had no authority to issue such an approval. Regardless of Dr. Davidson’s role, CSAC executive officer George Dodd testified that they had no record an approval or disclosure.
As Dodd had told the media weeks ago, Sonnen did verbally tell him about the testosterone shot the day before the fight and disclosed it on a form (seen here) intended for the laboratory. What Sonnen didn’t do and what he was supposed to do was disclose it on the “pre-fight questionairre” that was given to all the fighters before their physicals. Sonnen said he didn’t disclose it then because the forms were handed out in a group setting with all the other fighters. He was too “embarrassed” to write it down because of the possibility that one of his peers would see it.
There was also the issue the T/E ratio that got us here in the first place. Sonnen registered a 16.9 T/E ratio with the legal threshold being at 4.0. I don’t entirely understand this myself, but Sonnen’s legal team argued that the T/E ratio is not an accurate indicator of how much testosterone is in the body, but merely an indicator that a synthetic testosterone is present. I’m not sure that wasn’t BS, but they also claimed that Sonnen had never once tested above the normal range for testosterone in any of the medical tests performed on him by his doctor.
When it came time for the commission to make their decision regarding Sonnen’s suspension though, the members seemed to focus more on the disclosure issue than the elevated T/E ratio. The one commission member who seemed to know what he was actually talking about made a motion to uphold the one year suspension and fine, however the members split the vote 2-2 with no tiebreaker because the fifth commission member had to leave early to catch a plane. It was a lucky break for Sonnen because that motion failed with the tie. Another commission member who repeatedly asked what their options were and didn’t seem to know which direction to go then made a motion to take the middle ground and reduce the suspension by six months and retain the $2,500 fine. That motion passed 3-1. Chael Sonnen will be allowed to fight again beginning on March 2, 2011.
As for whether Chael Sonnen is guilty or not of using performance enhancing drugs, that is still unclear and seems to be a matter of opinion at this point. Team Sonnen made a compelling case that Sonnen is only on testosterone because his body doesn’t produce enough of it, but as one commission member brought up, TRT is a very complex and controversial form of treatment that can be used as a disguise for PED use. Whether he disclosed it properly or not, his ratio was still four times the legal threshold. Unless I’m mistaken, we were not given an adequate explanation for that fact today.
Moving on, Josh Barnett’s hearing was postponed once again. Barnett came to the meeting under the impression he would simply be able to reapply for a license now that it’s been well over a year since his license application was denied for a positive steroid test. That wasn’t the case. The commission proved to be completely unprepared and ill-informed about Barnett’s case, but did eventually manage to convey to him that it wasn’t a simple as “rubber stamping” a new application, and “rehabilitation” would have to be done in order for Barnett to obtain a new license. The commission refused to specifically say what they meant by “rehabilitation,” merely stating that Barnett defer to his lawyer, but made it clear that Barnett would have to go under oath and testify in front of the commission. They recommended Barnett have his attorney present for this, and Barnett agreed. He was issued a continuance.
In other more positive news from today’s meeting, it appears the commission is going to begin testing a new half-point scoring system in the amateur ranks to get an idea if it would work in professional competition. I’m personally not a fan of the half-point scoring system that several people have proposed, but any attempts at change at this point is step in the right direction if you ask me.
Image via Sherdog