Clemson, Ostarine, and the Olympics

I am a fan of college football. I went to one football school as an undergrad, another as a grad student, and taught at a third. And while the concussion problem has dampened my enthusiasm a bit, I still appreciate the sport’s athleticism, as well as the chess-game aspects of offense and defense. I even like the intricacies of the rules, in which it appears that someone not only anticipated anything that can possibly happen, but wrote a rule to cover it. As an official in another sport, I can tell you this is not always the case.

But I am very disheartened by what I’m going to call the Clemson doping scandal.

I’m calling it that because as far as I can tell, nobody else does. I can’t find a single news report that even uses the word doping, though I’ll admit I haven’t read everything.

That means the true scandal isn’t that three athletes on the same team (of only 18 or 19 who were even tested) came back positive for a substance called ostarine. The real scandal is that the sports media refuses to call it a scandal.

What would have happened if three Olympic track and field athletes, all with the same coach, tested positive for an obscure substance most of us had ever heard of before? What would have happened if, like, Clemson’s coach, Dabo Swinney, they claimed the test was meaningless because banned substances are so ubiquitous you can be exposed to them anywhere?

“It can literally be anything as I’ve come to learn,” Swinney said of ostarine. “It can come from hair products, it can come from cream, it can come from protein. A product you buy or order online that you think is nothing wrong with. It can be anything.” He or one of his assistants even suggested it might somehow have contaminated the water in a recovery pool used by multiple athletes.

Seriously? Ostarine is a member of a class of chemicals called selective androgen receptor modulators, a mouthful that means they’re kind of like steroids, but not quite. According to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, they’re not legal for human use anywhere in the world. Hair-care products may promise to build body, but they sure as heck don’t do it that way.

That said, the athletes may well not know where the ostarine came from. A few years ago, a Dutch study in one of the major scientific journals found that something on the order of 20 percent of the body-building supplements they tested contained undeclared steroids. Undeclared ostarine seems equally possible.

But, one-sixth of the tested athletes on a team heading for the national championship game came up positive for this drug.

That is the very definition of a doping scandal.

And if this had happened in the Olympics, that is exactly how it would have been treated. But because this is football, and NFL careers and hundreds of millions of dollars for the top universities are at stake, it’s on track to be ignored.

Maybe the media is right, and most fans simply don’t care. But this one does.