Remember a couple of weeks ago when Dan Olsen, a former PGA Tour player, said in a radio interview that he’d been told by a good source that Tiger Woods was serving a one-month suspension for PED usage?
The story was ignored by the golf media for three days until Mark Steinberg and the PGA Tour simultaneously released denial statements. At that point, the golf media went into overdrive, getting the word out on the denials and then, many of them, mocking and belittling Olsen, who made a “retraction.”
Let’s look first at this article from ESPN’s Bob Harig:
If Woods failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs, the PGA Tour has said it is required to announce a suspension. And it would undoubtedly be for more than a month. If he failed a test for some sort of recreational substance, the tour’s policy is not to disclose any penalties.
But if the transgression were severe, a month penalty would seem minor.
The PGA Tour began testing for PEDs in 2008, and Woods has been randomly tested like other players. Only two players have run afoul of the drug testing guidelines, and both were suspended for a year.
So, how was Harig wrong? Let me count the ways.
First off, I’m not sure what he means by “the PGA Tour has said.” I suppose “the PGA Tour” could say all manner of incorrect things; maybe some guy at the PGA Tour was lying to him, or drunk, or who knows what. Why didn’t Harig just refer to the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program? Or at least be more precise in where he got that information.
Let’s look closely at this sentence: “If Woods failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs, the PGA Tour has said it is required to announce a suspension.”
First off, that’s bad grammar. More important, though, we need to distinguish between the terms “suspension,” “period of ineligibility,” and “sanction.” The word “suspension” in the Program Manual refers only to “provisional suspensions.” (A provisional suspension is a temporary thing and would not be announced at all.) “Period of ineligibility” is the accurate term for when a player is banned from the game for a month or year or whatever. According to the Manual, if a period of ineligibility is imposed, that DOES has to be announced. A “sanction” basically means punishment, which can range from harsh to inconsequential. Only the harshest (an official period of ineligibility) compels the PGA Tour to announce it.
If Woods failed a drug test for PEDs, that does not at all mean Finchem would be forced impose a period of ineligibility, which would have to be publicly disclosed. A period of ineligibility is just one of many sanctions, some of which are quite mild. (See Section K.) Here’s an abridged version of Section K (the highlighting is mine):
Sanctions on players may include:
(2) Ineligibility to participate in PGA TOUR competitions or other activities.
(3) A player committing an anti-doping rule violation under the Program may also be subject to the imposition of a fine in an amount up to $500,000.
In rendering his decision in a particular case, the Commissioner may depart from the sanction guidance in the International Anti-Doping Standards as he deems appropriate in a particular case.
Okay, if Woods failed a test, it does not follow that a ban (period of ineligibility) follows. That’s not confusing. Finchem could have fined him $5 for failing a drug test. Or done nothing at all. Or made a deal that Woods would sit out some period of time that would not be considered a “period of ineligibility” which would have to be announced publicly.
Okay, this is pretty damned important, so let me summarize: Harig writes that if Woods failed a drug test, the PGA Tour would have to announce a suspension. That’s not even close to how it works, but the public will read Harig’s words and think, “Oh, that proves Woods didn’t fail a drug test.” The fact is Woods could fail a PED test and Finchem might do nothing, or might do something unofficially and not be required to disclose it.
(Of course, failing a drug test is not the only way to get in hot water. The MLB players on the Biogenesis list — a list on which it has been reported Woods name is also on — were banned for being Biogenesis customers, not failing a drug test.)
Not long after Harig’s article came out, Geoff Shackelford wrote this:
Besides the loopy description of his source (worth listening to just for the giggle), things crumbled fast when Olsen mentioned a one-month term. The interviewer should have asked if there was such thing in the PGA Tour’s drug policy guidelines (there is not).
However Section K.2.a states:
The applicable period of Ineligibility for a first anti-doping rule violation under the Program, other than for Drugs of Abuse, shall be up to one year Ineligibility except in cases involving Trafficking, administration, or Aggravating Circumstances, where the sanction may be up to permanent Ineligibility.
“Up to one year.” Repeat: “Up to one year.” Does a one-month period of ineligibility fall into the category of “up to one year”? Why, yes, I think it does.
So how in the hell did Shackelford come up with the idea that a one-month period of ineligibility was mock-worthy? My guess is that he based his claim on a misreading, or misremembering, of Harig’s mumbo-jumbo article.