In this lengthy column, due to obvious recent events, I’m going to break down the reasons why I can say with confidence that James Stewart is not a cheater. I’m going to break down the non-monetary costs and benefits of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) drug testing, and I’m going to attempt to explain not only why James Stewart failed a WADA drug test, but also why WADA and USADA drug testing, as they are today, are a very, very bad idea.

Point-by-point, section-by-section, please pay attention to the details herein, because they will all matter by the end of it, if you want to understand the big picture.


WHAT IS A CHEATER?


To start with, let’s talk about what constitutes “cheating”. The word “cheat” is a word (like “steal”) that implies intent. “Cheating” is legally defined in the same way we use it in common language, which is “to use an act of deception in order to create an unfair advantage over your competition.”

Here (LINK: http://definitions.uslegal.com/c/cheating-gaming-law/) is how cheating is legally defined:

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Cheating is an act of deception or fraud, and is employed to create an unfair advantage, usually in one's own interest at the expense of others. It is a breaking of rules. When used in the context of gaming, it is an action of pretending to obey the rules of the game, while secretly undermining them to gain advantage over an opponent. Cheating occurs when actions are taken that violate the rules of competition in order to gain an advantage like using equipment that does not conform to the rules, or illegally altering the condition of equipment during play, and deliberate foul play with the aim of avoiding sanction. In gaming, cheating is practiced to gain an unfair advantage over one's opponents or the casino for monetary gain and also to win wagers. The cards may be manipulated by a skilled cheater in poker and other card games. Use of rigged equipment such as loaded dice or rigged roulette wheels are cheating activities in games like roulette and craps.
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Lance Armstrong is a cheater. Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda is a cheater.

James Stewart is not a cheater.


WHY DRUG TESTING EXISTS

Drug testing exists in sports for two reasons:

1) To prevent any athlete from gaining an unfair advantage over their competition.

By “unfair” that means it’s something that a competitor cannot achieve themselves through normal means, such as natural athletic ability, training harder, training differently, etc. But certainly athletes are allowed to have advantages that are considered “fair”, like the fact that Shaquille O’Neal is 7’1” tall. That is definitely an advantage in basketball, but it’s not considered “unfair” because he’s naturally 7’1” tall. He can’t help how tall he is. Sports aren’t supposed to be equal, just fair.

2) To prevent athletes from current or future bodily harm or death due to a pharmaceutical arms race against their competition.

One of the most notable and current examples of this problem came with the rise of a kidney medication in the late-1980s called “Erythropoietin” (EPO). EPO is a naturally occurring kidney hormone that leads to the creation of red blood cells in your blood. It didn’t take long for cyclists to figure out the benefits of this medication for them, and start using it to increase their red-blood-cell count as a percentage of their overall blood volume (known as “hematocrit”). More red blood cells means your blood can carry more oxygen to your muscles, and more oxygen going to your muscles means more endurance. Using EPO has killed dozens of cyclists (mostly unofficially) by essentially thickening their blood so much that, once the cyclists come to a rest, their hearts are unable to push the blood through their system, and they die. Preventing athletes from abusing these sorts of substances is a very good idea – if it can be done well, and fairly.


IF IT AIN’T BROKEN


When WADA came into play in the supercross series, the powers that be in the sport saw it as a step in the right direction. They still might. I haven’t talked to them about this in a long while. But WADA does a solid sales job to justify their expense. After all, in principle, who isn’t against cheating? Who doesn’t want athletes to compete on as level of a playing field as possible?

Everyone wants that. In theory, it should create better racing, and better racing should create a larger fan following. But here’s a question no one seems to have asked, at least in the beginning: What’s the evidence that motocross racers aren’t already on a level playing field, in terms of drug use, in the first place?

There’s a danger in trying to fix something that you don’t even know is broken – you can break it for real.

And there’s another philosophical point here, which is that you should never search for anything that you’re not prepared to find. In other words, when instituting any sort of testing like this, a primary question that should be asked is what you are prepared to do if you catch a top racer – a real ticket draw – actually cheating, or even what happens if a racer ends up with a false positive, which is always an albeit remote possibility.

If we could return to before WADA was brought in to supercross, and somehow fast-forward all these years and show that absolutely no one would get caught actually cheating, but arguably the most popular rider in the entire sport would get popped for taking a medication prescribed by his doctor, would the powers that be go ahead with the testing program?

My guess is probably not.


THE TESTING RECORD

This is by no means meant to be a statistical analysis of the entire history of WADA or USADA testing. But if we’re hoping that WADA or USADA testing is going to at all level the playing field, all we need to do is mention one name. Just one.

Lance Armstrong.

Lance Armstrong had both his urine and his blood tested throughout his cycling career, and for one reason or another, even though he failed a test here or there, none of it stuck. He was able to convince most of the public – especially in the USA – that he was clean, and he won seven consecutive Tours de France while intentionally and deliberately cheating the entire time. And he has admitted this. But did he ever get pulled out of a Tour? Nope. He won seven Tours in a row, tested the entire time, while his blood was essentially 20W-50, and he was never caught by WADA during that time.

Meanwhile, people like Swedish hockey player Nick Backstrom get eliminated from competition and penalized for things as minor as pseudoephedrine, from Zyrtec-D which he takes for allergies. Pseudoephedrine was banned up until 2004, then removed from the WADA prohibited list until 2010, when it returned to the list. The 214-pound Backstrom was eliminated from the gold-medal hockey game in Sochi earlier this year for pseudoephedrine.

Almost 14 years earlier, at the 2000 Summer Olympics, 16-year-old Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan – all 82 pounds of her – was stripped of the All Around Gold Medal in Women’s Gymnastics – arguably the top gymnastics award in the Olympics – for taking pseudoephedrine, even though International Olympic Committee executive Francois Carrard actually concluded that she gained “no competitive advantage” from ingesting the pseudoephedrine. The drug was administered by the Romanian team doctor in the form of Nurofen Cold & Flu a few hours before the competition in order to treat a cough and fever.

So, even though the IOC concluded that the drug didn’t help her win the gold medal, she lost the medal anyway. What kind of logic allows this?

I’m sure we can all agree that if we can prove that some people get away with cheating for the better part of a decade (Armstrong), while others are stripped of major life accomplishments for not cheating – even to the admission of the legislative body governing the event – that’s not the type of system we should voluntarily implement in our sport.


THERAPEUTIC USE EXEMPTIONS

And here’s where things get even more convoluted. WADA does offer a thing called a “Therapeutic Use Exemption”, and it can apply to just about anything. If you have a form of hypogonadism (“primary hypogonadism” or “secondary hypogonadism”), for example, you can potentially get a TUE for testosterone. For those of you unfamiliar with terminology, testosterone is the very definition of “steroids”. (LINK: http://www.wada-ama.org/Documents/Science_Medicine/Medical_info_to_support_TUECs/WADA-MI-Androgen%20Deficiency-Hypogonadism%20-%203.0.pdf)

And you can get a TUE for ADHD medications as well (http://www.wada-ama.org/Documents/Science_Medicine/Medical_info_to_support_TUECs/WADA_Medical_info_ADHD_3.0_EN.pdf). According to the WADA website (http://www.wada-ama.org/en/Science-Medicine/TUE/QA-on-Therapeutic-Use-Exemptions/), the criteria for receiving a TUE are:

•   The athlete would experience significant health problems without taking the prohibited substance or method
•   The therapeutic use of the substance would not produce significant enhancement of performance, and
•   There is no reasonable therapeutic alternative to the use of the otherwise prohibited substance or method.

This is to be determined by an independent panel of physicians called a “Therapeutic Use Exemption Committee”.

I personally know of a few racers who at least used to take Adderall or something like it for ADHD, and no I won’t name any names – ever – but it’s entirely possible that other racers who were tested when James Stewart failed his test – maybe even all of them – are also on some form of ADHD medication, except they likely submitted a TUE, so they didn’t fail the test. There’s absolutely no way for me to know who is or isn’t on ADD/ADHD medications, but it’s entirely possible, because my bet is that almost every racer in the series has ADD/ADHD – whether diagnosed or not.


THEY MIGHT ALL HAVE ADD/ADHD


I was diagnosed with ADD about five or six years ago by my psychologist at the time. On my first visit. At the time, I actually didn’t believe ADD was a real thing. I kept hearing about kids being put on medications, and it honestly bothered me. But I was struggling with getting my work done on time, and I would spend whole days sitting at my computer and not getting much of anything done unless the deadline was in an hour. My wife would come home every day and I’d still be at my computer (where I’d often stay until 10 p.m. or later), and I had a fear of getting up from my computer, because I was afraid I wouldn’t get my work done – even though I wasn’t getting my work done while I was sitting there. It was causing problems in my life, and my mom recommended that I see her psychologist. I had never been to a psychologist prior to that.

It took him about a half-hour of talking before he blurted out, “You have ADD.”

I laughed. I said, “Oh, c’mon, man, there’s no such thing! You can’t be serious!”

The rest of the conversation went approximately like this:

“Did you struggle with homework and things like that in school?”

“Yes.”

“Were you a class-clown type who would crack jokes instead of do work in school?”

“Yes.”

“Do you ever feel like you absolutely cannot get motivated to do something you’re not excited about until it’s almost too late?”

“Yes.”

“Do you seek out adrenaline-pumping activities like skydiving or bungee jumping?”

“I ride and raced motocross.”

“Exactly...”

Question after question. The guy knew me better than some of my good friends, but we had just met 30 minutes earlier. I don’t believe in psychics, so... I figured I must have ADD. And this is how he explained it to me:

People with ADD/ADHD have an inability to focus on things that aren’t interesting to them. If you’re thinking at this point, “Isn’t everyone like that?” then you might have ADD, too. No, most people can do mundane tasks and stay focused on the task at hand, but people with ADD can’t. The reason people with ADD/ADHD all of a sudden find focus when their project, or magazine article, is due in an hour is because their adrenaline kicks in. They start to freak out that they have to finish this work, and then all of a sudden their brain starts working.

In other words, people with ADD/ADHD operate better in situations of extreme stress or panic, because adrenaline sort of bridges the gaps in their brain and makes their brain actually work better, while people without ADD tend to sort of start shaking and freak out when something causes their adrenaline to start pumping.

In a foxhole, when under attack, the soldier who is zoned in and picking off the enemy is the soldier with ADD/ADHD, and the soldier who is in the corner shaking and freaking out is considered to be “normal”.

And it’s because adrenaline has a positive effect on ADD/ADHD brains that those people seek out adrenaline activities when they’re young. So, ADD/ADHD for a motocross racer is like being 7’1” tall for a basketball player.

People often get that backward. They say, “Man, it sure is lucky that Shaquille O’Neal is good at basketball.” No, he got good at basketball because he was always bigger than the other kids and was always picked first to play basketball.

Similarly, motocross racers find motocross because most of them have ADD/ADHD. That’s why they end up here.

And the fact that ADD/ADHD brains work better on adrenaline is why nearly all ADD/ADHD medications are a form of amphetamine. Both adrenaline and amphetamines are “uppers”, and the amphetamines contained in ADD/ADHD medications simulate the effect adrenaline has on an ADD/ADHD brain, but does it in a controlled manner so that people with ADD/ADHD are able to focus even if they aren’t that “stimulated”.

And that’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of racers in any given main event are on some sort of ADD/ADHD medication. ADHD medications for people with ADHD are not a “performance enhancing drug”, they are a medication to make someone’s brain with ADD/ADHD work like a normal person’s brain.

So, yes, using an ADD/ADHD medication if you don’t have ADD/ADHD is a performance-enhancing drug, but that’s because it’s not “therapeutic” for those people. For them, it’s an “upper”. It keeps them awake and gives them tons of energy – too much, usually – while many people with ADD/ADHD can go right to sleep after taking their amphetamine-based medications. That’s the entire reason WADA has TUEs for just about anything that’s on their banned list.

You may ask, “Why didn’t James Stewart just follow the rules and submit a TUE?” I don’t know. I really don’t. Maybe he did and it was incomplete, or some paperwork error like that. Or, maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t worried about “covering his tracks” for cheating. Just an idea, but maybe the reason it was so hard to catch Lance Armstrong, and the reason so many athletes get caught with nonsense like cold medications or a ADHD medication that they actually have a prescription for, is because their guard is down. And maybe their guard is down because they aren’t cheating.

That’s an entirely plausible scenario. It could literally be that drug testing inevitably leads to just making the cheaters more careful, and nailing the non-cheaters. And if that’s the case, it’s even more reason not to include drug testing.


WHAT CONSTITUTES CHEATING

Which medications will or won’t help any person should be determined solely between that person and their medical doctor. In the case of ADD/ADHD medications, it’s normally only prescribed by psychiatrists. Psychologists can certainly help in the diagnosis, like my psychologist did, but psychiatrists decide, along with the patient, which medications would be therapeutic for the patient. That’s the way it is, and the way it should be.

And I agree that if James Stewart was using a banned substance, therapeutic or not, without a prescription, that would be cause for alarm, and a definite cause for a major penalty. But the press release his race team issued says he has had a longtime prescription for the medication, and I have no reason not to believe that, considering what I’ve just presented above.

The question is: Does taking a medication, for which you have a prescription, constitute “cheating” just because you failed to file the proper paperwork?

If so, that’s like saying you “cheated” on your taxes because you filed them after midnight on April 16th. It’s a stupid technicality that might be deserving of a minor punishment, but which in no way constitutes “cheating”.

There are authoritarian types who believe that a law or a rule is its own justification, but I’m definitely not one of those people, and I don’t believe most people are authoritarian. Most people think it’s okay to drive 68 mph in a 65 mph zone, including the cops, so almost everyone accepts the idea that the letter of the law is not the final justification of any sort of penalty.

The problem with WADA is that all test fails are treated essentially the same. If you fail for EPO, which is admittedly an unlikely medication for anyone in the age range of most motocross racers to need due to kidney failure, your penalty is basically the same as failing a urine test for accidentally taking pseudoephedrine due to illness, or failing to issue a TUE for a valid prescription for ADHD medication.

In essence, they seem to treat and penalize every failure as “cheating” even though some failures are cheating and other failures clearly are not. This is what happens when an organization gets too caught up in the letter of a law or rule and fails to adhere to the spirit of the law or rule.

I could support a system that tested for specific drugs, like EPO, which are much less likely to be needed for therapeutic use. I could support a system that treated a mistaken ingestion of cold medication like exactly that – a mistake – and ended with a minor fine. I could even support a system where you could show a valid, long-term prescription history for a medication after testing positive for it in order to clear your “penalty”. But the penalty that James Stewart has received is really hard to justify. As of now, he’s suspended by the FIM. If this holds up, he could not only miss a significant chunk, or all, of next year’s supercross series, but he can be eliminated from this year’s Motocross of Nations, and the Monster Energy Cup as well – an event at which he is the current champion.


IRREPARABLE DAMAGE


James Stewart taking Adderall as prescribed by his physician does not give him an “unfair advantage” over his competition, whether they have ADD/ADHD or not. It’s also not a drug that will lead to a “pharmaceutical arms race”. James Stewart has overcome so much in his life already, and he has climbed from that to become arguably the most popular racer in the sport of motocross and supercross racing, and now something that amounts to a paperwork error has effectively labeled him as a “cheater”.

There are a great number of fans who absolutely won’t be able, or willing, to understand the circumstances of his test failure, and will always – for the rest of his life – believe he achieved much or all that he has achieved through “doping,” as if he’s Lance Armstrong Part Two.

And that is an absolute tragedy. It’s tragic for him, for his sponsors, for his family, and for the entire sport.

That is the true cost of drug testing in our sport.

The question is: Is it worth it?

I think the answer is obvious.







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