We’ve been here plenty of times over the years. Boxing writer Thomas Hauser comes out with an article that is drenched in smoke; that begs questions that never get answered and seem to be raised only as part of some kind of effort toward generating a general incriminating fog; that has one or two tidbits that might have made a solid story; that relies on either unnamed sources or named sources who clearly have an ax to grind and therefore probably shouldn’t be relied upon; that throws out wholly unsupported assertions; and that rehashes other people’s reporting with a new spin.
Normally, the reaction among boxing writers/fans/etc. is thus: A bunch of people gush about the terrific journalism of it all, and a bunch of other people roll their eyes. After a great many multi-thousand-word deconstructions of Hauser’s “exposes,” I eventually stopped giving them so much attention; nothing was going to change that dynamic. This time, with the Floyd Mayweather/U.S. Anti-Doping Agency story out this week, the mainstream media has latched onto it, possibly because it’s the only conceivably interesting storyline in a sub-dogshit fight Saturday on pay-per-view vs. Andre Berto.
I once had a suspicion that if the non-boxing media got a look at what counts as top-notch journalism in the boxing world, they’d laugh it off the stage. Apparently not.
There are good things in Hauser’s story. There are atrocious, somewhat obvious flaws to many boxing mainstays, perhaps less obvious to people outside boxing.
I’ll give credit where credit’s due soon enough. But since so much of the reaction has been credulous, I gotta start with the bad stuff.
We must begin with Hauser himself. If you read all the way to the end of the article, then all the way to the end of Hauser’s bio box, you’ll learn that he is an employee of HBO.
That’s right: Hauser works for HBO. I don’t mean like, “He writes for HBO’s editorial arm sometimes.” I mean like, he has some nebulous consulting role for its boxing operation. What’s he do, exactly? Nobody outside HBO seems to know. “Hired hitman disguised as ‘investigative journalist’” might be it, based on how he’s spent most of his energy since he came under HBO’s employ, which is mainly writing negative stories about HBO’s competitors and playing defense against any negativity toward HBO’s interests. HBO and Mayweather had a somewhat acrimonious split a few years ago, with Mayweather fleeing to Showtime, HBO’s main rival. Is it theoretically possible that someone who makes money from one company could write an objective, valid article about the cash cow of that company’s primary competitor, a cash cow that the competitor straight stole? Sure, sure. Is it a really, really, really bad starting point? Hell yeah.
Next, let’s talk about the main named “source” of this story: Victor Conte. Whatever you think about how Conte might or might not have transformed himself from one of sports history’s greatest drug cheats into a reformer – I come down skeptical on that point (in the spirit of disclosure, this piece ends with a collection of my own biases) – he is far from an objective source of information about USADA. USADA, after all, is directly responsible for bringing down his BALCO empire and throwing him in jail. His commentary on USADA might be legitimate, but any article that quotes him on USADA should at least mention this bit of trivia. Maybe, just maybe, Conte is not the most unbiased critic of USADA.
Instead, Conte gets to make purely speculative claims like this:
“I can’t tell you what Floyd Mayweather is and isn’t doing. What he could be doing is this…”
Is there any legitimate news outlet that would quote someone with Conte’s baggage on potentially illegal behavior based on pure imagination? Notably, there are very few other original sources quoted by name in the story.
Moving on. Let’s consider some of these phrases:
As reported by this writer on MaxBoxing in Dec. 2012, information filtered through the drug-testing community on May 20, 2012 to the effect that Mayweather had tested positive on three occasions for an illegal performance-enhancing drug. More specifically, it was rumored…
I’ve been in “mainstream” journalism since 1998, and I have never, ever met an editor who would let any of that fly. “Information filtered through…” Information filtered from whom? To whom? What constitutes the “drug-testing community?” There are rather profound divisions between USADA and, say, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. “It was rumored…” Who spread that rumor? Why passive voice?
It’s noteworthy that we’re in 2015 and none of these “rumors” or any of this “information” has been confirmed three years later. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, same as all “rumors” – in your own life, consider how many “rumors” you’ve heard that turned out to be true. It’s a borderline obscene violation of journalistic norms and safeguards that anyone is publishing this kind of innuendo still in any purportedly reputable outlet; if this sort of thing was in the National Enquirer, nobody would blink, but Hauser keeps publishing this verbiage in outlets that aspire to legitimate journalism.
More troubling than USADA’s fee structure are the accommodations that it seems to have made for clients who either pay more for its services or use USADA on a regular basis.
I defy anyone reading this article to show me how this assertion is supported, let alone proven, thereafter or before. I’ve tried really hard to find it. Maybe I’m stupid; quite probably, in fact. Is he trying to suggest something about Golden Boy? If he is, he doesn’t really say what it is Golden Boy did. But until shown otherwise, this seems to fit under the m.o. of “wholly unsupported assertions.”
Much of the article revisits the Erik Morales/New York/USADA story, which, while worrisome then, has almost nothing to do – so far as I can tell – with anything related to USADA/Mayweather, ostensibly the subject of this article.
Let’s now consider the heart of the article’s good points, as established by an unofficial Twitter survey:
Mayweather got an IV and a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). This was reported in May. The word “IV” was not explicitly written in Yahoo’s article, but it should’ve been understood by anyone with reading ability, and in fact was here. More on that later. But if you think someone eats or drinks “mils” of saline and vitamin C, you might be, like me, stupid.
Also worth noting: David Mayo has shed additional light on the administration of that IV that could minimize the severity of Hauser’s reporting. Here, we must point out that Mayo is considered by some a reporter who leans favorably toward Mayweather, given their shared home state and level of access, but you can find more negative Mayo comments toward Mayweather by a factor of many than you can negative comments from Hauser toward HBO since he entered its employ.
The broader insinuation here from Hauser is that Mayweather used the IV to mask some performance enhancing drug usage, and USADA helped him cover it up thanks to the $150,000 he has given them. Maybe that happened. But USADA gets $10 million in government funding. What’s its motive to risk losing $10 million just so it can protect one fighter?
Noticing something and emphasizing it is still good journalism, even if not particularly original. It’s fair to say that, in the aforementioned Yahoo article, Kevin Iole “buried the lede.” Wait, dude got an IV? That’s normally against WADA rules. Wait, dude got a TUE? OK. Why? (Iole did, at least, ask Mayweather about why he got the TUE later, and Mayweather offered an answer.) Hauser, unlike any journalist since then, at least put a spotlight on something more deserving of the spotlight. It’s a failing of the entire boxing journalist/writer corps that nobody thought to make a “deal” out of this then, up to and including myself.
Hauser places a big emphasis on the IV and how it’s against WADA rules and how USADA purports to adhere to WADA, as he should have. In fact, it’s kind of remarkable that so little has been made of this since it was first disclosed in May. I also don’t think it was previously reported that official sign-off on the TUE was given until weeks later. Even if USADA granted a quick informal TUE as it later claimed, it’s newsworthy that the paperwork didn’t go through until long after, and newsworthy that the Nevada commission didn’t get notification until long after.
The only original, new source quoted in this story outside Conte that I can see is Nevada’s Bob Bennett, and that’s good material. If Nevada takes issue with how USADA handled it, that’s news; Nevada is the most important boxing jurisdiction in America, and when a representative of an organization that important goes public with objections to how a big, important organization like USADA handled drug testing and notification, that’s news, too, regardless of whether there’s any validity to the objection. (FWIW, it looks to me like they have valid objections.)
It’s shady as fuck that USADA didn’t answer Hauser but instead chose to release a statement criticizing his article afterward. It’s a little shady that a “journalist” would release his own statement criticizing USADA in a way that suggests he personalized the USADA response. (The back and forth, as well as Mayweather’s response, is here.)
USADA said it would correct Hauser’s inaccuracies at an “appropriate time.” LOL. What time is more appropriate than now? And I’d betcha they never do that. USADA’s response doesn’t even make a token effort at addressing the most valid points raised by Hauser’s article, instead responding around the periphery. Even if USADA considers Hauser hostile and biased – where would USADA get that from?!? – it was pretty selective in what it chose to respond to in his article after the fact.
It’s easy to criticize from the outside looking in. What would I do? All in all, let’s say I switch spots with Hauser and know what he knows, based on what he put in his article. I report the following and leave out the rest: 1. Mayweather received an IV and a retroactive TUE, exploring why IVs are generally forbidden and the circumstances under which retroactive TUEs are usually granted; 2. a Nevada State Athletic Commission official took issue with this on the record; 3. USADA’s response to what I knew. I let the reader decide the rest. I don’t darkly hint that USADA’s in Mayweather’s corner without any evidence whatsoever, I don’t report “rumors” from three years ago, I don’t rely on quoting a tainted Conte. Oh, also, if I work for HBO as a consultant I don’t report at all; I either report or I consult, exclusively.
DISCLOSURE OF MY BIASES
My first personal interaction with Hauser, he came across kinda snobby, but in subsequent interactions he was largely quite nice. He has never grumbled at me about anything I’ve written about him, privately or otherwise; he’s been classy overall. I’m a huge admirer of some of his work, such as “Black Lights.”
I enjoy watching Mayweather box, unlike some. I abhor his personal behavior and “persona.” I never once believed he was sincerely committed to reforming drug testing in boxing, and still don’t.
USADA has largely been opaque toward me, occasionally providing statements or information but more often failing to answer my questions or requests adequately.
Conte has cast aspersions on me and my site repeatedly, and I’ve written about some of it. Suffice it to say I don’t regard him warmly, nor think highly of him.
Any other major character I’ve discussed, I have had no direct interaction with or otherwise have no reason to be biased for or against.