Lots of sad news in the world of sports (and sports entertainment) lately. One of my favorite fighters, Chael Sonnen, may be getting more than the proverbial slap on the wrist from the California State Athletic Commission. It’s been a rapid ascent and and even more rapid decline for the former No. 1 Contender for Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva’s middleweight title. After beating up Silva for all but 2 minutes of their five-round affair, Sonnen was submitted in the closing minutes.
Since then, things have just gotten worse. The Cliff’s Notes version: he popped positive for banned substances after tests showed abnormal testosterone levels. He claimed he had a doctor’s note, and that he had told other officials. Some of these claims were disputed. In the meantime, he was convicted in a real estate fraud case and lost his real estate license (which also forced him to stop his bid for Congress).
Initially, the CSAC was prepared to lift his suspension, but this week they took a mulligan at a special hearing and changed their minds. Disagreements over the honesty of Sonnen’s statements – if anything, he is a talker – and other concerns caused them to vote 4-1 to suspend his license indefinitely. The problem: not only does this shelve Sonnen in California until 2012, but because most athletic commissions honor such decisions across state lines, it is likely he could only get fights in states without such regulatory bodies. Even with that, it is doubtful that the UFC, which is continually seeking to improve its image, would back a fighter against the wishes of a state commission.
In light of the wrist-slapping that goes on in virtually all other professional sports, Sonnen’s penalty seems unnecessarily harsh. It seems like a personal vendetta more than a pragmatic penalty. “This will teach those fighters,” I hear them sneering in the boardroom, “to make public comments about officials and judges.” Methinks Chael is being made and example of.
We give grace to our athletes all the time. Yes, Sonnen broke the law, but he also owned up to it and faced the music. He’s been punished. Performance-enhancing drugs? It’s an open secret that many, if not most, professional sports are rife with them. Does it make it right? No. But it should temper our righteous indignation when someone tests positive. In Matthew 18 we find the following exchange:
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Seventy-seven? Surely we can find room for 2, or 3. Jeff Sherwood over at Sherdog sums it up nicely:
We have to be honest with ourselves: PEDs exist in professional sports. Somewhere in the world, a curling sweeper is probably using steroids. It’s against the law, but so many athletes do it just to be able to compete in today’s sports. Pro athletes are pushed year after year to tackle harder, hit longer home runs, jump higher and knock more people out. Then, when they’re caught doing things that will help them perform to the standards set, everyone turns against them.
Most MMA fighters have a hard enough time buying food to feed their bodies properly with the money they make; being forced to sit out for a year is a huge blow. Four games to an NFL player is the equivalent of a parking ticket.
Look, I get it: these players have broken the rules. But commissioners, judges and referees in MMA — not to mention the millions working in or around the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL — are able to feed their families because of what these professional athletes do. Let’s give them a little bit of love.
Update: Apparently the CSAC made a mistake, and Sonnen is eligible to apply in CA and everywhere June 29 for licensure. Time will tell, of course. Perhaps if he doesn’t talk too much about it between now and then, the commissions will cease to unduly punish him. The timing seems suspect to me; there has been a good deal of disappointment over the handling of this case. Oh well. Hope he gets back in the cage this year, especially if it is against Michael Bisping.