One of the primary stories that the MMA media has focused on in the past week in the lead-up to Strikeforce's Heavy Artillery card this weekend has been the accusations and assumptions that Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem is a steroid user. In an era of sports in which performance-enhancing drugs have been a major focal point in more popular sports like Major League Baseball, it isn't surprising that a hulking mass of a man like Overeem is under scrutiny, and the history of fighters testing positive for drugs like Nandrolone, Boldenone, and Stanozonol obviously proves their is some major use in the sport.
Performance-enhancing drugs shouldn't be allowed in mixed martial arts, and I'm sure there are plenty of well-thought out positions of the pros and cons of legalizing their use. I'm not on that bandwagon, and I feel that a competitive edge is cheating, period. But I also have strong feelings about the media's continued questioning of a fighter about an issue that shouldn't overshadow the real reason we'll all be tuning in on Saturday night... a heavyweight title showdown.
As Dave Walsh points out, Alistair Overeem is facing an uphill battle against the media, and he's being written under the phrase "guilty until proven guilty":
None of that is happening here, instead this is playing out like a Salem witch hunt where Overeem is faced with a situation where if he floats he is a witch and if he drowns, well, oh well. American justice has evolved since then, and the concept introduced quite a while ago was "innocent until proven guilty," when it feels like most of the media is in the boat of "guilty until proven guilty, and if proven innocent, well, he is still guilty." What this actually is playing off as is prejudice, which in and of itself is scary. No, it has nothing to do with the color of his skin, but instead his nationality and where he has made his money fighting. American fighters have tested positive before and the media touches upon it briefly and moves on. Frank Mir lost some fat and put on over 20lbs of lean muscle after the loss to Lesnar but the media never went as far as to condemn him before his fight. Sean Sherk looked swollen for his size and until he tested positive nobody thought a thing of it. The difference here is they were UFC fighters, fighting in the United States and the conception is that because they get tested every so often, it isn't worth speculating.
I'd actually argue that the prejudice isn't due to his nationality or the source of his money, but because of his physical appearance. I've witnessed plenty of casual observers who have no idea of his background talk about how a guy that "ripped" and "huge" must be on steroids, and it isn't just in mixed martial arts or boxing. Albert Pujols is always a topic of conversation among many sport talk personalities in Chicago because his performance and size since his debut in the major leagues is simply too great for him not to be juicing. It might have more to do with the drubbings he lays out against my Chicago Cubs, but he's a topic of conversation in the steroid debate.
Sure, there are plenty of muscle-heads who have tested positive, and fans speculated before their fights that they "must" be juicing. I can't deny that I've done the same thing, but I've also held my judgment until it was 100% proven they were guilty in some manner. I've even gone as far as researching the Sherk case extensively to find out if it was possible he could have ingested supplements to falsely test him positive at the levels he tested at. I did my due diligence to the issues, but I do know that those processes can be circumvented.
"Innocent until proven guilty" should be the way in which we think. In the back of our minds, the questions will always be there, but beating these issues like a dead horse for years and years isn't going to change anything. Overeem could defeat Rogers this weekend, smash Fedor, and edge out Lesnar in the UFC and become a MMA legend without ever testing positive for anything, but I can guarantee we'll see speculation that he's been on steroids his entire career and knew how to stay ahead of the testing.
That's an understandable stance, and it's also probable that it's happened before in other sports. Unfortunately, there is no proof, and without proof -- I'm not going to tarnish someone's legacy or career achievements because a bunch of people figured his physique was just "too massive" to not be on steroids.
The media needs to tone it down. Unfortunately, that will never happen in any professional sport. The questions about steroids will follow Overeem to every event he fights in, and instead of waiting until the tests prove he's either positive or negative -- we'll get days of commentary on how Overeem probably takes steroids, or he "needs to talk about the issues". Overeem doesn't need to talk about steroids to anyone. He's proven himself clean for now, and while testing standards may never pop him for steroids -- that's all we've got. The media needs to accept that.