Living homeless in the Washington, D.C. streets as a child, with just his little brother as family, stealing food to eat… then rising to contender status as a junior welterweight boxer who fights on Showtime and HBO only to find he can’t win “the big one” — maybe that breeds the kind of desperation that would lead Lamont Peterson to take a banned substance, as Peterson was confirmed this week to have done, that would get you over the edge in the most important fight of your life against Amir Khan.
Or maybe this is just the way of modern athletes, to take illicit drugs to give them that edge, and Peterson’s case is simply the one that will make everyone realize that when the flesh is peeled back, the maggots of performance enhancing drugs are squirming underneath boxing, like they squirmed hidden for so long beneath the flesh of baseball and other sports.
Or maybe there’s something totally innocent about a boxer being given a testosterone pellet to dissolve beneath his armpit in October, testing positive for it in April and May, and then not telling anyone about it until word leaks out via other means the week before the Khan rematch.
It’s hard not to be skeptical of the last possibility, even though Peterson, ironically enough, was the one who sought the specialized testing because Khan’s reliance on strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza has aroused the suspicion of boxers who side with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. that there’s something fishy about Manny Pacquiao’s success at higher weights — and Pacquiao shares Ariza’s services with Khan. It was Mayweather’s suspicion of Pacquiao that brought to the forefront the notion of using drug tests more advanced than can be conducted upon a mere urine sample.
So Peterson’s positive tests amount to things coming full circle, with the tests for Peterson-Khan II inspired by the origins of the newly prominent performance enhancing drugs debate and the first prominent boxer to be busted by using the more advanced tests for catching them.
For fans of Peterson here in D.C., this is disappointing news. Perhaps some will wait out the full counter-explanation for Peterson having done anything inappropriate, but the history in other sports shows that testing positive is a cloud that won’t go away, no matter how innovative one’s excuse for what went wrong. Peterson tested positive for synthetic testosterone, the same substance that the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun tested positive for, and Braun was only cleared because of a chain of custody screw-up. Chains of custody are important, sure, but Braun still has big, cottonball-shaped chunks of cloud hanging over him anyway.
As generous as I want to be to Peterson, it’s hard to imagine what good reason he could have to be taking this stuff. Yes, it’s helpful with migraines and vaginal dryness, but I think we can discount one of those issues for Peterson. What kind of coincidence would it be that Peterson was taking testosterone pellets for something other than the things athletes might want them for? You know, stuff like increased body mass and strength. Apparently the argument will be that he was “diagnosed” with low testosterone, a crippling condition that has kept him from being a professional athlete…?
Barring a miraculous excuse or scientific breakthrough, it feels like Peterson’s win over Khan the first time is now doubly tarnished, first by the debatable scorecards and point-docking and mystery man and now by the discovery that Peterson took these pellets at least once before the first Khan fight. Perhaps Peterson can rebound in the court of public opinion, because other boxers who got busted have, including James Toney, Roy Jones, Jr. and Shane Mosley. But those men all had track records well before their failed tests, and Peterson’s resume is thin. And they committed their crimes at a time when the public was less sensitive to PED usage. At any rate, right now, Peterson’s stock is in the garbage bin.
Of course, Peterson’s big sin may have only been that he got busted. There’s a world of difference between the kind of testing that is done by VADA, the relatively new outfit but one with the good reputation of Dr. Margaret Goodman attached to it, and the kind of no-testing-at-all regime that middleweight Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. underwent in Texas earlier this year. That was itself fishy because Chavez had previously tested positive for a banned substance, a diuretic of the kind that can be used for weight loss but also to mask PED usage, and because as much as Texas authorities and authorities at the WBC (which gave Chavez his title belt) labeled Chavez’ lack of testing an innocent mix-up, it must be said that Chavez has been good for Texas and the WBC’s Jose Suilaiman has family ties to Chavez.
Another peculiarity connected to all this (and one that is absolutely secondary to what Peterson stands accused of) is that Khan’s promoter nor anyone else with Khan were not notified by VADA about the failed test. Goodman has explained that Golden Boy wasn’t a signatory to the VADA contract, which is the kind of thing that VADA and future promoters that work with the company will want to fix going forward. If Golden Boy knew about this sooner, maybe a suitable replacement could be found for Peterson. Now, unless Peterson is given a boxing license in the state of Nevada — highly unlikely — boxing fans are probably going to be robbed of yet another date in the 2012 calendar. Ever since the news broke that the fight was in trouble, nothing has shown any signs of improving on that count.
There is a silver lining here, and it’s that this incident could underline the need for more of this kind of testing to be conducted.
It’s hard not to fixate on the immediate negative, though. Peterson’s inspiring story has been splattered with mud; his underdog win in a thrilling fight against Khan last year is now cheapened; and boxing fans are likely to be deprived of one of the best rematches the sport of boxing had to offer on May 19.