About @Jason_IIATMS

IIATMS overlord and founder. ESPN contributor. Purveyor of luscious reality.

18 thoughts on “Conte on Braun: “A giant loophole”

  1. I think this hit the nail on the head…. simply looking at the epi/normal T ratios is a very crude screen and I think if that was the only issue, I could see Braun trying to argue his way around it. Explaining the presence on a synthetic testosterone? I'm not a chemist but barring mishandling of the sample it doesn't seem like something that can be explained away easily.

    Baseball's testing system is based on the anabolic age where athletes would go through long cycles on and off the stuff (weeks) so even though players could get lucky, random testing is still a deterrent as I don't think a lot of major leaguers would gamble (though some minor leaguers or marginal players might)

    If they are using stuff that clears much quicker (in terms of epi-testosterone level), I think more players would be (and are currently ) willing to roll the dice.

    I know the followup testing (carbon isotope) is more time consuming and I assume more expensive, but that is actually looking for synthetic testosterones which while the levels may come down to normal levels don't clear the system as quickly. One test is designed to find something the other is just looking to determine if it's worth looking for.

    If there is not the infrastructure to preform the carbon isotope test on all samples, I think even if baseball threatens to do occasional random followup testing (even on samples that don't show elevated testosterone ratios) that might serve as a deterrent. The problem now is if you know (or at least think) you can beat the first test, the 2nd test never comes into play.

  2. Jason, Conte remains an interesting character. I've cited him numerous times in pieces I've written about drug testing, and in particular to argue that the so-called "steroids era" is probably not over. That being said …

    … what Conte is arguing is that Braun probably was using testosterone cream or patches as part of a program for muscle recovery. This was a common practice in a sport like cycling, where the riders punish their bodies unmercifully over a two or three week Tour, and the ability to restore the body is critical between race stages. Baseball itself has its long season, where the body wears down as a result of travel and a plethora of injuries small and large. It's possible that some baseball players might use testosterone as a sort of high-tech Ben-Gay. But there's no scientific proof that testosterone actually works this way, for cyclists, baseball players or anyone else.

    Note that the kind of use of testosterone that Conte is describing is NOT for the purpose of getting unnaturally strong and hitting lots of home runs. The cyclists who used testosterone in the way Conte described did NOT want to become big and muscular. Cyclists need to be able to generate as much power in their legs as possible, while at the same time becoming as light as possible.

    Here's the other thing: athletes that use testosterone to promote muscle recovery reportedly do NOT use large doses of testosterone. But from the reports we've seen, Braun's positive test showed a massive, off-the-scale use of testosterone. This is part of what doesn't make sense at the moment. Of course, it's possible that Braun intended to use a small dose and accidentally took a much larger dose … or that he just metabolized the testosterone he took in a bizarre way.

    If Conte is suggesting that carbon isotope ratio testing is the solution to the problem he's perceiving … well, that's an exaggeration. To be sure, carbon isotope ratio testing is more sensitive than the older testosterone/epitestosterone ratio testing (which is good only if used as a screening test, and even then is not a terrific screening test). But even carbon isotope ratio testing is unlikely to catch testosterone doping unless the testing is performed within 24 hours of administration of the drug. The 24 hour window is significant, as it lessens the need to perform surprise drug tests in the middle of the night. But given that baseball only tests players 2-3 times a year on average, with one of those tests scheduled a year in advance, there still isn't much risk that carbon isotope ratio testing is going to catch anyone.

    In any event … the mystery surrounding the Braun story remains. The story still doesn't make any sense. I won't argue that things don't look good for Braun, but we simply do not have the facts, and the facts we have don't make much sense. Admittedly, just about every doping story starts out this way … but I still prefer to wait until the full story is reported before I reach any conclusions.

    As per always, anyone who has questions about this topic should ask.

  3. I was going to mention this in response to what Dave Brown wrote about it at Big League Stew tomorrow, but long story short, I don't really see anything that should be illegal in that second excerpt. Unless there are some pretty severe side effects, I don't see why medication to help minor tears and wear heal faster should be illegal. It's certainly no more unnatural than Tommy John surgery.

  4. Thanks for the answer, Larry. I didn't mean in my question to actually implicitly imply that this is what is currently happening with Braun … there is simply not enough information to draw that sort of conclusion at the moment.

    However, it seems clear that in past cases part of the driving factor in taking supplements is to aid recovery and/or increase athletic performance. The latter clearly has value implications that were in the past lucratively rewarded.

    It is really that latter case that made me wonder what the long-term implications that athletes considering this path are risking down the line.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to weigh in on my question.