Unfortunately, drugs are in the news again. But this story is an unlikely one from the unlikeliest of sports.
On Friday, November 13, Doug Barron, the first PGA tour player suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, asked a federal court to lift his suspension. Not only is he right to ask for the ban to be lifted, the PGA should comply, and quickly.
According to court records, Barron's suspension stems from a test on June 11 where his urine sample tested positive for propranolol, a beta-blocker, and testosterone. Both substances are banned under the PGA Tour's full-scale anti-doping measures, which were announced in December 2007 and implemented in July 2009. Beta-blockers slow the heart rate and conceivably can be used to calm the nerves on the course, while testosterone could enable a golfer to hit the ball farther.
There are two problems with these accusations, however. First, if Barron was using these drugs to gain a competitive advantage, he wasn't taking enough of them. In eight full seasons on the PGA Tour, his best finish was a tie for third at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship in 2005. On the Nationwide Tour, his highest finish was second, which he accomplished five times.
Secondly, a doctor prescribed Barron both of these drugs legally. Barron has been taking beta-blockers since he was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse in 1987, and he was prescribed testosterone after a 2005 test showed he had the testosterone levels of an 80-year old man. The court records reveal that Barron applied for and was denied a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for both the drugs, meaning that the PGA knew about them even before he tested positive.
"This was never a case of a guy in a back room taking creams or using needles," Barron's agent Art Horne said, according Golf.com. "This was a guy taking what was prescribed to him by medical doctors for conditions that others have been given exemptions for. We feel Doug has been treated unfairly."
Unfairly is right. Last November, Shaun Micheel, the surprise 2003 PGA Championship winner, applied for and got a TUE exemption for testosterone -- exactly what Barron was unable to do. While Micheel explains that procuring the TUE was an arduous process that almost drove him out of golf, the fact remains that there is precedent for Barron's case.
"The rules have not been applied uniformly," Horne said. "We feel as though there are parts of the anti-doping statute that have been put in place that are arbitrary."
And this is what this story is really about: the PGA's anti-doping policy. Ranked the 15th best policy (out of the 22 major sports or governing bodies) by the Wall Street Journal , the Tour's policy leaves something to be desired. Testing can occur without notice in and out of competition, but the sanctions for a positive test range wildly. Sanctions range from ineligibility, to loss of money or points, to no punishment at all. The Tour cannot only choose not to punish a player for a positive test, they also may not be required to notify the public of the incident.
For my money, anti-doping is more about transparency then equal competition, especially in a sport where the benefits of PED's are dubious at best. In these times when every athletic record is questionable, as a fan, I would like to know that purity can still exist. The fact that the PGA has the ability to sweep any positive test that would negatively affect their image under the rug is very dismaying.
If the PGA thinks that banning Doug Barron shows that their anti-doping policy works, they are wrong. I hope that the court will feel the same way.