Three days before Floyd Mayweathers' “final” professional fight, an “October surprise” kerfuffle popped up, as it always does, in the days leading up to fights involving the man self- billed as The Best Ever.
This bombshell wasn't a lawsuit lodged by an ex, or the like; the news peg here was the subject of PED testing, and the story, entitled “Can Boxing Trust USADA: Questions Surround Drug Testing For Mayweather-Pacquiao and Other Bouts,” drew some heavy buzz.
Maybe, arguably, not as much buzz as some might expect, being that a case was laid out by the dean of fight-writers, Thomas Hauser, and it involved the lead dog of the sport, Mayweather, who in the last several years had become a figure who transcended his sport.
The story came out during the lunch-time hour back east, but during a gathering held hours later in Vegas, none of the bigshot boxing media asked Mayweather about it, and elements that might be of interest to fight fans.
Such as, the Hauser story repeated an enduring rumor, that Mayweather had tested positive for a banned PED in three previous fights, but received a pass from the testing organization hired to handle PED testing and analyze and process the results of the testing.
Hauser had touched on that element before, back in November 2012, and then, as now, the story fizzled out. The writer went back to the well, on Oct. 13, believing, as I do, that this story deserves to have legs, and shouldn't be summarily dismissed by the masses as being irrelevant.
Floyd fans, in particular, will disagree, by and large: as the “three failed tests” portion of the story was presented as a rumor, and lacked corroboration, they dismiss it as spurious, or, at least, lacking in enough merit to be plausible. There is no “there,” there…there is no smoking gun for us to make up our minds on, thus, they posit, we should move on.
That line of thinking I don't summarily dismiss; after all, one learns, in journalism courses, that rumors must be verified before being reported. There must be strong sourcing, and ideally, multiple sources confirming something before rumor can become accepted fact. And that is why this story, this subject, this case, is more than a sports story. It is yes a sports story, but also a journalism story, a culture study, an ethical matter…
In short, it is complex, and, frankly, we the media don't usually do “complex” well.
It's easier to traffic in less complicated, less charged matters. But in the end, to delve into substantive matters, and try to make sense of the difficult-to-grasp issues, make us better humans, and in this vein, can and could make our sport safer, and better.
In that vein, in trying to nail down some facts, and move from rumor to fact, or, also, to debunk this persistent rumor, I tried to follow up.
In my mind, it made sense for the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), an organization that Hauser, right there in the headline of his piece, posits may not be trustworthy, to answer, explicitly, that designation and firmly rebut the “tested positive on three occasions” rumor, if it were not fact.
Some of us follow politics, and recall back in 2004, John Kerry, a Massachusetts Senator, snagged the Democrats nomination to run for President, to unseat incumbent George W. Bush.
All is fair in love and war, and politics is modified war, with character often being bombed to smithereens…so opponents went at Kerry hard. His record while serving in Vietnam came under scrutiny, with allegations being lobbed at him that his Purple Hearts were bogus, that descriptions of his valor in the field were fabricated. The allegations were dismissed in his camp, the campaign runners deciding that the accusers were fringe loons, with obvious axes to grind, and would be treated as such by potential voters. They missed the (Swift) boat; this is a new age, where information, right or wrong, travels around the world digitally in half the blink of an eye. A juicy lie can snowball into a hellish package of “truthiness” than can wreak havoc, summon carnage of reputation, and derail a campaign with surging with positive momentum. Swift Boating, with the definition by and large seen as opinion disguised and presented as fact used to assassinate in character as public figure, entered our lexicon…
Now, this is the SB Nation passage that struck me, hard, on the temple, before that last Floyd fight:
As reported by this writer on MaxBoxing in Dec. 2012, information filtered through the drug-testing community on May 20, 2012 to the effect that Mayweather had tested positive on three occasions for an illegal performance-enhancing drug. More specifically, it was rumored that Mayweather’s “A” sample had tested positive three times and, after each positive test, USADA had given Floyd an inadvertent use waiver.
Pro Floyd sorts sometimes reach out to me on social media, and tell me they think their guy is being Swift Boated. But even some folks who normally align on the “Floyd side” read the Hauser piece and said, at minimum, 'jeeze, there's a lot of smoke here, I do at least wonder if there is fire there, too.'
I try to see all sides; it's what we as journos need to do, as best we can, because if we don't start at that baseline, finding the truth becomes that much harder. When I read this portion of the Hauser story, I knew I needed to follow through, to attempt to separate fact from fiction, to get to the heart of the matter: did, in fact, the leader in our sport, who was able to secure the richest contract for any professional athlete ever, cheat his way to that rarefied place?
Was Floyd Mayweather, who helped build his rep, partially, by trumpeting the phrase “take the test” at potential rival Manny Pacquiao, and thereby implying that the Filipino was a cheater, in fact, a cheater?
If yes, we need to know, just because.
Because the sport and our society deserve better.
If no, we also need to know, because if he is being smeared, without basis in fact, then that must be rectified. Even if you don't care for his out of the ring behavior, decry his history in getting into altercations with women, find despicable his recent lack of penitence surrounding the incident which saw him beat up the mother of his children, in front of said children, which is a matter of public record, then he still deserves to not be labeled a drug cheat if he isn't. If he didn't test positive three times and get those results swept under the rug, then I'd like to have that stated to us all, forcefully, unequivocally…because Floyd Mayweather does not deserve to be Swift Boated.
So, with that in mind, I reached out to USADA and Team Mayweather and asked, explicitly, please confirm or deny this rumor, that he tested positive before three mega-fights, so I can furnish that response to readers.
Here is my request to USADA:
Greetings: Can Travis please respond to this issue, and either confirm or deny that Mr. Mayweather tested positive three times. Here is the Hauser material which I'd like to get clarified, so the rumor, if false, can be reported far and wide.
As reported by this writer on MaxBoxing in Dec. 2012, information filtered through the drug-testing community on May 20, 2012 to the effect that Mayweather had tested positive on three occasions for an illegal performance-enhancing drug. More specifically, it was rumored that Mayweather’s “A” sample had tested positive three times and, after each positive test, USADA had given Floyd an inadvertent use waiver. These waivers, if they were in fact given, would have negated the need to test Floyd’s “B” samples. And because the “B” samples were never tested, a loophole in Mayweather’s USADA contract would have allowed testing to continue without the positive “A” sample results being reported to Mayweather’s opponent or the Nevada State Athletic Commission……If Mayweather’s “A” sample tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug on one or more occasions and he was given a waiver by USADA that concealed this fact from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, his opponent, and the public, it could contribute to a scandal that undermines the already-shaky public confidence in boxing. At present, the relevant information is not a matter of public record.
USADA CEO Travis Tygart (through senior communications manager Annie Skinner) declined to state how many times the “A” sample of a professional boxer tested by USADA has come back positive for a prohibited substance.
I think this is crucial, that we get clarity on this portion of the story. I hope you agree.
Here is the USADA response, from a spokesperson:
Dear Mr. Woods,
You can find USADA’s full response, including the response to your request below in the detailed chart at http://www.usada.org/wp-content/uploads/USADAs-Detailed-Correction-to-SB-Nation-Article-by-Tom-Hauser.pdf
I responded, thusly: So (Tygart) will not respond to THIS element of the allegations, separately, to me, then?
And I didn't receive an answer to that query.
Also, I emailed Mayweather publicist Kelly Swanson, and her associate Lisa Milner, and asked them to furnish a request to Mayweather, so he could respond to this rumor and get an opportunity to bat down the allegations.
Greetings: Can Team Mayweather please respond to this issue, and either confirm or deny that Mr. Mayweather tested positive three times, as was alleged in the Sept. 9 Thomas Hauser story?
Here is the Hauser material which I'd like to get clarified, so the rumor, if false, can be reported far and wide.
I didn't receive a reply from either Swanson or Milner.
So, where do we stand? Probably, sadly, where we stood before, in a foggy zone of uncertainty. To my way of thinking, and I will put it right out there that I won't submit my POV is the only right manner to see this issue, if it were my reputation and legacy, if I were Floyd Mayweather, I'd want to eradicate lingering questions.
If I were Tygart of USADA, if I were Team Mayweather, I'd push back without equivocation on this 'Floyd tested positive three times and the results were shoved under a rung' rumor, put it in its place.
That neither of these parties do, to me, is at best curious.