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Sherk Steroid Ruling Captures Worst of Both Worlds

By Ben Fowlkes

Most of the time, I’m all for compromise. It’s part of what separates us from the beasts of the field, and it’s what helps us decide what to watch on TV. But the California State Athletic Commission’s decision on Sean Sherk’s steroid case, to me that’s the worst kind of compromise you can make: the kind that pleases nobody.

Let’s think about this thing for a minute. After initially testing positive for steroids following his UFC lightweight title defense against Hermes Franca in July, Sherk was suspended for a year and fined $2,500. He swore he was innocent, so he appealed. He even got himself some real legal counsel and filed some real legal briefs, which the CSAC failed to read in time to make a ruling. Now, after delays and setbacks and finally booking a room to hold the hearing in, they have decided to cut his suspension in half, but uphold the fine.

Which means…what, exactly? He’s only a little bit guilty?

Maybe I’m the only one struggling with this, but I can’t decide what this decision is supposed to mean. When it comes to the question of whether a guy used steroids there has to be a yes or no answer. Either you believe the initial test results, or you believe Sherk’s assertion that it’s a false positive. If you think he’s guilty, why would you cut his suspension? If you think he’s innocent, why would he be punished at all?

There’s no such thing as being kind of on steroids. It’s not as if he was in a room at a party where a bunch of people were all doing steroids and he got a contact high. Either he did it or he didn’t. The CSAC has to make up their minds. Cutting the suspension from a year to six months makes it seem like they’re either rewarding him for putting up with their disorganized appeals process, or else they’re hoping to appease him and the UFC at the same time in hopes that the whole thing will just go away.

If anything, the latter seems most plausible. It’s not hard to imagine the CSAC — perhaps at once realizing that they don’t want to alienate the UFC and at the same time not wanting to admit they were completely wrong and thus undermine their own drug-testing system — deciding on this shortened sentence as an offering to Dana White. He gets his lightweight champ back in January, plus a plausible excuse for not stripping him of the title, and they get to say they’re tough on steroids.

But really, this just seems like a half-measure. I would respect them more if they made one decision, whatever it may be, and stuck with it. Sherk says he isn’t about to let it go, which makes me think more and more that he may actually be innocent. As easy as it would be to say the guy nicknamed “The Muscle Shark” is juicing, the fact that he’s so adamant about pursuing this is very telling.

It’s like one of my favorite reality TV shows, A&E’s The First 48. In the course of their homicide investigations, every once in a while they end up accusing an innocent man of murder. If you haven’t seen the show, believe me when I say that it’s not hard to tell who is innocent and who is guilty based on their reactions to the accusation. The innocent man gets indignant. He yells at you and gets in your face. The guilty guy mumbles into his shoulder and fidgets with a styrofoam coffee cup.

Sherk isn’t fidgeting right now. He’s yelling. I’m starting to hope he really is innocent, and if he is I hope he doesn’t let it go. The big question now is what the UFC will do about Sherk, about the lightweight title, and about the two other guys scheduled to fight for an interim belt in the same month he becomes eligible again. If they don’t strip him, that fight makes no sense except as a number one contender match (which is basically what it is anyway). If they do strip him, that fight has to be for the real title.

It puts Dana White in a tough spot, forcing him to side with the CSAC, who he probably hopes to work with in the future, or with Sherk, who he thinks of as a friend.

Whatever the UFC decides to do, somebody is going to get upset. But then that’s what happens when you make tough decisions. Maybe we should explain that to the CSAC. Somebody book a conference room.

Ben Fowlkes is the publisher of the MMA blog, The Fighting Life, as well as a contributor to CBS Sports and the editor of the International Fight League’s official site, IFL.tv.

23 COMMENTS
  • steve24 says:

    BJ Penn said he would refuse to fight Sherk if he was found guilty. I wonder how this is going to play out if he beats Stevenson.

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  • steve24 says:

    Penn has also stated recently he only wants to fight once or twice a year. So I’m curious how this will affect the division if Penn does hold the title some day.

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  • Jersey Tomato says:

    BS decision. Sherk got an early Xmas present. He should be stripped of the title and forced to work his way back up.

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  • Jeremy says:

    “the same time not wanting to admit they were completely wrong and thus undermine their own drug-testing system”

    From what I have read on the testing process done by the CSAC and then by what the reports from the attornies representing Baroni and Sherk have said, this seems like what they are doing to me. I don’t know if their testing facility is incompetent or they just didn’t realize all the indepth information that would be passed along to them as a result of these appeals but it seems like they are second-guessing themselves, but not wanting to completely turn on their testing company.

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  • Brandt says:

    You would think after all this time we would have drug testing procedures that could provide concrete results worthy of the backing of athletic commission officials. Even 99% is good enough when you have two samples to test. I’m a big fan of the First 48 myself. :)

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  • Sam Cupitt says:

    I agree completely Ben. They definantly need to clarify their decision. Someone needs to ask them “Why did you downgrade his punishment rather than removing it” because I seriously can not see the point of reducing it by 6 months.

    Pretty much screwed the lightweight division. What’s the point of an Interim title match if the champ can fight? Maybe Dana White will pressure Joe Stevenson to pull out with an injury…

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  • drdanders says:

    Sherk had his own supplements tested and a few WERE found to contain steroids. So it certainly was NOT a false positive. I can believe that he didn’t knowingly take steroids, but that doesnt mean he was clean.
    As the author of this article points out, Sherk should either be stripped of the belt, OR the Penn/Stevenson should be a 3 rounder for the #1 contendership.

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  • JJ says:

    dranders, where did you get this information that he had his supplements tested and found they were ‘contaminated’?

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  • […] Sam CaplanSherk Steroid Ruling Captures Worst of Both Worlds […]

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  • Shawn says:

    Sherk was innocent. They tested him with urninalysis which is the worst way to test for Nandralone if you want accurate results. Also I’m not sure exact figures here but say the steroid increases your levels up to 50mg (or whatever the measurement is) and a normal person would only have from 4-6mg in their body. Sherk was tested at around 12mg or something so it doesn’t make sense that he was on the substance. This is also not counting the fact that there are over the counter items that contain trace amounts from time to time AND that anyone whose ever known Sherk has said the guy watches everything that goes in and out of his body and is a health nut. Steroids are very unhealthy.

    On top of that every fighter whose tested postiive for steroids in a fight in the past 18 months has lost. They make you look better and increase your strength but lower your endurance. Sherk is a physical beast to begin with and has passed every test before so why would he know take steroids knowing he would be tested?

    On top of that his legal counsel had fact after fact after fact to support his innocence. I’m a pre-law student and there could only be one potential grounds for them delivering the 6 month reduced sentence. That would have to be that his lawyers admitted he did have the substance in him and their tests were correct but that it was induced through an over the counter supplement he didn’t know about. In that case he would still technically be guilt because the law has nothing to do with taking them willingly or not but just if you have it in your system. So he would have still been guilty of breaking the law but considering the circumstances they would reduce the sentence. Even if that’s what happened I would see no reason to strip him of the belt because A) he didn’t knowingly do anything wrong and B) agree with me or not, he was fighting an opponent who was also juicing so he won that fight with no drug advantage.

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  • HexRei says:

    It was an admission to the various problems plaguing their testing system. Rather than fighting a long battle, they settle, update their procedures, and hope that their new procedures bear don’t have the same flaws.

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  • groda says:

    No normal man has even close to 4-6mg/ml naturally. Actually, a hundredth of the levels Sherk’s test showed would be closer to a normal number. It makes perfect sense that he was on the substance. It seems very likely he just mistimed his cycle this time around. The tests are more of an I.Q. test than a test for steroids.

    Further, he might have broken laws, but that is not what the CSAC is charged with ascertaining, as it is not a court of law.

    “. . . there could only be one potential grounds for them delivering the 6 month reduced sentence.” – Shawn

    That is absolute nonsense, the CSAC makes this kind of mindboggling decisions all the time, without any obvious justification.

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  • groda says:

    HexRei, could you please direct me to where the CSAC admits problems with their testing system?

    If their system was flawed the only reasonable thing to do would be to not suspend Sherk.

    There is no need to fight any long battles, the CSAC board of appeals is where the buck stops, there is no settlement, there is a decision and it cannot be appealed further. Remember, this is not a court of law.

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  • HexRei says:

    Groda,
    It’s the same reason that Baroni and Sherk both had their sanctions reduced. You can postulate other reasons but the issues with the testing systems are the only arguable contentions made by either fighter, and each had similar reductions in sanction length.

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  • HexRei says:

    To clarify, (as I had mistakenly thought I had done originally) it was simply because they didn’t want to fight expensive lawyers with legitimate footholds in a flawed testing procedure.

    But then again, maybe the CSAC was just trying to be nice. I suppose that’s always possible.

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  • groda says:

    I don’t think they’re nice. I think they are idiots. They hand out reduced sentences without, it seems to me, justification.

    Baroni also made a big stink but he had no case. They still reduced his sentence, why? I have heard no good explanation, if, indeed, there were problems with the testing Baroni and Sherk should not have been suspended at all.

    Toney had his suspension reduced without making any arguments beyond name-calling.

    Reduced sentences are not given based on flawed testing. If the procedures were flawed there should be no suspension at all.

    What fight? The CSAC is the ultimate authority in this case, there is no further appeal. If Sherk wants to file a lawsuit in a court of law he can do so no matter what the CSAC said yesterday. That is a whole different matter.

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  • Slakdawg says:

    Groda, you keep saying that “if, indeed, there were problems with the testing Baroni and Sherk should not have been suspended at all.” The key word there is “should.” If the process is broken, then no, there should not have been a suspension. That doesnt mean there wont be one though. The CSAC has been a mess for some time. And just because they didnt inform you as to the reason for the reduced suspension doesnt mean they didnt have reason to reduce it. I dont think the CSAC is required to disclose why they do or do not reduce suspensions. Now, if YOU are the deciding authority on what suspensions are upheld, reduced, or overturned then it would make sense to provide you with justification as to their decisions. But just because you dont see their justification is irrelivent. I dont think you sat through the hearings and examined every piece of evidence in the matter. I think Ben is right. Either Sherk is guilty and deserves the year suspension or he isnt and he shouldnt be suspended at all. The way Sherk is fighting this makes me think he may not be guilty. I dont remember anyone else going to these lengths to prove his innocence in a drug testing matter (Floyd Landis aside).

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  • Terrible inaccuracies by some of the comments here. Use Google and research normal levels of Nandrolone in non-steroid using users. Look at the cycling charts. Check out the studies done in Nagano, and the studies done independently. Read up on the CSAC and research ALL of their rulings as I have done in the last few months.

    You will see that:

    A. There have been varying studies with horrible opposite sample sizes, one suggesting it’s possible to “easily” hit 10 ng/mL. There are other studies that are broad that suggest it is very hard to reach even 1 ng/mL.

    B. It is possible to have supplements that taint your body. WADA and the IOC indicate it is close to 20% of over the counter supplements in the U.S. that can false positive your results. Sherk tested his supplements AFTER the fact, but he came up with nothing related to Nandrolone, only Andro.

    C. Mistiming a cycle by a day could have produced 12 ng/mL. Also, urine testing isn’t terrible inaccurate. You wouldn’t be off by say 10 ng/mL, and it’s been proven in testing that the accuracy won’t be off by a huge amount. Urinanalysis is however not the best option.

    D. The CSAC uses one of the most respected labs in the United States. Ken Pavia used a lab that was a third-party with limited credibility. Pavia may have been correct, but it wasn’t going to hold weight with the lab that was used.

    E. The CSAC’s disciplinary decisions are atrocious. They’ve let off guys who admittedly taken 3 different steroids and stated they didn’t know without any evidence. What did you expect?

    Sherk is either guilty and it should have been upheld, or in a very rare instant, he false positived at a high level due to some circumstance. Either there needs to be testing to improve accuracy, or new studies to find out what the hell is happening. One thing is for sure, the CSAC needs to restructure their disciplinary actions.

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  • groda says:

    The way Sherk is fighting makes me think he is guilty.

    I agree the CSAC is a mess and that is the reason they make strange decisions. It is quite clear that Sherk should be either cleared and not suspended or found in breach of the rules and have to serve the full suspension. One or the other, not this stupid in between shit.

    If the CSAC realizes there are problems the only reasonable thing to do is to clear him, nothing I’ve seen indicates that they see any problems with their testing.

    I haven’t seen the evidence, that goes without saying and is obvious to everyone. Still, people keep saying there are problems with the testing and that might be true, but the relevant fact is that the CSAC does not think so and it is the ultimate authority, not I, as Slakdawg so insightfully points out.

    It seems that people think that the CSAC knows about flawed tests but still suspends people in spite of this knowledge. But they only do it “halfway” because they know the tests are bad.

    This makes no sense to me. I think they are just a bunch of people without expertise in the area they are charged with overseeing. It also seems they are working without a strict set of guidelines regarding process and decisions. This gives them plenty of chances to fuck up, and they do.

    “I dont think the CSAC is required to disclose why they do or do not reduce suspensions.”

    I don’t know if they are, but they sure as hell should be. The decisions should be public record and subject to strict guidelines and inspection. It should not be up to the whims of the board members whether one is suspended or not. It should not be a lottery, which is the impression I get. Suspensions should only be reduced for unambiguous, previously defined, reasons.

    Predictability is a basic feature of the rule of law, it should be in the dealings of the CSAC as well, even though the CSAC is not a court of law.

    Is Sherk guilty? I don’t know. All I know is that the CSAC is a mess and they should either suspend Sherk for the full year or nor suspend him at all. You cannot be half guilty.

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  • garth says:

    # 18 Leland Roling wins
    The “his nandralone levels were normal” argument is purely and completely wrong.

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  • Dizzle says:

    Get Sherk a break…he slipped and fell on a cycle of steroids. This stuff happens all the time…expecially in Pro Wrestling.

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  • There are some other topics about this whole ordeal that are odd.

    First off, if the CSAC had a process such as WADA’s process, the case would have been thrown out because the chain of custody was apparently not complete and there were periods where the sample was documented as being in a certain person’s hand, etc.

    Secondly, there are studies indicating unstable urine can cause positives. Can they cause gains to 12 ng/mL? Most studies don’t specifically indicate that. Also, how can you tell the difference? You’d have to test a sample IMMEDIATELY after it was taken in order to stop that possibility. They don’t do that currently, so we would never know if it was unstable or not. It’s a tough process that requires more research.

    There is one glaring opinion I want to make, the CSAC needs to be improved dramatically, and the testing process throughout the WORLD needs to be researched and upgraded. People are quick to point at Quest, but the fact is, they test just like everyone else.

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  • screwface says:

    lol, dizzle that was funny as hell, thank you. if the needle doesnt fit u must acquit. but truthfully the dude is guilty as hell, and lost all respect with the majority of fans. no way to get that kind of false positive. they dont exactly put steroids in his baby food or centrum vitamin pack. shouldve been a harsher punishment because thanks to guys like him and baroni , all the big guys who actually work hard to get their size and stamina up are now gonna be subject to gossip and rumor with each victory. should be 1 rule if your caught juicin, you lose ability to fight forever period. this sends a bad message to future mma stars and the fans. if your gonna slap on the wrist for steroids then fu*k it, just give the guys swords and throw lions in the cage too. i have no respect for royce gracie anymore either, couldnt find away to beat sakuraba the gracie killer without roids. any1 who defends steroid use and the whole “false positive” conspiracy can eat a fat one ;) its a black mark on sports and real athletes who train hard naturally to prove whos really best.

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