Steroids: Is Victor Conte’s “Good Guy” Act a Masquerade?


by Charles Jay

Like some people, I guess, I could go either way on the steroid issue. I’m a veritable novice when it comes to some of this modern chemistry, but I have a pretty good idea of what they can do, and figure that if they didn’t enhance an athlete’s performance in some way they wouldn’t take them.

At the same time, I don’t know enough to make a blanket statement about their long-run safety. I don’t mind leaving that up to the people who are engaged in the practice.

If they were ruled to be legal and legitimate for competition – no matter what that competition was – I would have no problem with it. That’s right, even in baseball, as long as everyone knew that the rules allowed them going in and then could be left to making their own decision.

In that particular case, at least you would have the makings of a level playing field.

What I DO have a problem with is when steroids are “taboo” but some parties are figuring out a way to ingest them, skirting the rules without much fear of being discovered, and in turn, punished.

Then you don’t have a level playing field at all. In a case like that, part of the strategy for winning is to come away undetected, which means that some rather scurrilous individuals have a disproportionate hand in deciding who wins world championships and who doesn’t.

I bring this up because there are people who have helped to sully the image of other sports, got caught, and are have now made their way into boxing, as if the general drop in standards is quite sufficient to accommodate them.

One of them is Victor Conte. Most of you know this story already, but in case you don’t, here’s the short version: Conte was the founder of BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative) and was at the center of what some people have referred to as the biggest doping scandal in the history of sports. It spread across several sports, with a lot of big names being associated with it – including Barry Bonds, of course, as well as a number of Olympic athletes. Shane Mosley was also one of the people who had to testify before the grand jury in the BALCO case. He has since field, then dropped, a lawsuit against Conte, claiming that he was never informed by the conditioning trainer that when he was ingesting the supplements known as “the cream” and “the clear” that they were PED’s.

Ultimately, Conte pled guilty to distributing steroids and got four months in prison as well as four months of house arrest.

So he is a convicted felon.

That would ban him from participation in boxing in some states, if he was working in a capacity where he was licensed. Therein lies one of the “gray areas” of this sport; you could be performing extensive duties in every area of a fighter’s training regimen. You could be in camp with him and even directing that camp, and as long as you are not working the corner with him in an actual fight, you can avoid being licensed.

In other words, you can conceivably avoid being detected.

There’s a familiar ring to that, isn’t there?

I cannot profess to know whether Conte is breaking any rules or laws, or whether he is aiding and abetting his “clients” in that pursuit. As mentioned, I am a complete layman when it comes to this kind of thing. However, I am not a complete layman when it comes to the concept of regulation in boxing.

Undoubtedly, there are many athletic commissions in this country that are very aware of PED’s, or performance-enhancing drugs. And there are tests designed to detect so-called banned substances. Much of the controversy at the moment surrounds Nevada and its treatment of the testing for testosterone as it relates to fighters in the UFC, namely Alistair Overeem.

Victor Conte has been weighing in on much of that situation, which has added fuel to the controversy. At the moment, he is the owner of something called SNAC (Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning) and claims that he is using only legal supplements and legal training techniques for his current clients, several of whom are in boxing.

There are several fighters with whom Conte is working in some capacity. These fighters include Zab Judah, Nonito Donaire, Andre Ward and Andre Berto. In particular, Ward, who won Showtime’s “Super Six” 168-pound tournament, has raved about Conte’s technique of intermittent hypoxic training, or IHT, as being instrumental in the success he has had so far.
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Conte himself has been trading on the idea that as someone who has already been caught and convicted for his actions, and has a certain microscope on him now, he’d be the last person who would ever fool around with illegal substances.

It’s you choice as to whether you believe that or not. Four months wasn’t that stiff a sentence.

Conte would fancy himself, one supposes, as a modern-day Frank Abagnale. If you remember the movie “Catch Me If You Can” you are familiar with Abagnale, who , as a teenager, led the FBI on a wild goose chase around the world, forging checks that totaled in excess of $2.5 million. After doing five years in prison, he turned around and became a consultant to the FBI, helping them identify forgeries.

Victor Conte, once reviled as the bad guy, is casting himself as the good guy now, although I doubt Steven Spielberg will be directing any films about him.

He wants to give advice to the UFC, the Nevada boxing commission, and others. He’s “outed” people, namely a consultant to Juan Manuel Marquez named Angel Hernandez (aka Angel Heredia), another steroid dealer who got caught. He claims he wants to help clean up the sport, and no doubt other sports. I’ve no doubt that he has the capacity to do so. I have no doubt that he knows enough about nutrition and training techniques to help many athletes.

But I also have no doubt that he could go the other way and no one would even know. Not the commissions, not the public, perhaps not even his own athletes. You see, Conte’s entree into big-time sports, which I imagine included the sniff of the big-time money, was based on being one step ahead of regulators. That’s the “game,” and it’s hard to stop playing it. The whole culture surrounding his existence, at BALCO, was to beat the system. Is there is a reason he wouldn’t do it again, considering that he concedes the testing atmosphere around most commissions is a joke?

Maybe. Maybe not.

At least it’s something to think about.

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