Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Price He’s about to pay

This week was likely seven days Justin Gatlin would just as soon forget. Tuesday, the United States Anti-Doping Association announced Gatlin would be banned for eight years. Friday, Nike his biggest sponsor suspended their contract with Gatlin. The other domino to fall last week in the convoluted world of international track – Gatlin’s coach Trevor Graham. Graham’s reign of terror that has brought the foundation of track to its knees, hopefully will never have to deal with the cancer again.

Saturday, July 29 Graham, once regarded as the World’s Fastest Man joined Sports Hall of Shame, admitting he had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Gatlin, who won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games in the 100 meters, tested positive for “testosterone or its precursors.”

“I cannot account for these results, because I have never knowingly used any banned substance or authorized anyone else to administer such a substance to me,” Gatlin said in the statement released through his publicist when he acknowledged the positive test.

Graham remains under investigation by the same people who conducted the BALCO investigation. Victor Conte, the person behind the BALCO scandal spent four months in jail. Conte was linked to the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs by Barry Bonds, Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery among a long list of athletes caught in the alleged BALCO web. Graham was the individual who sent the United States Olympic Committee a syringe that contained the illegal substances (steroid THG in June 2003) BALCO athletes had allegedly used. Trevor Graham was a ‘snitch’.

Sprint Capitol USA (SCUSA) was formed in 1993, incorporated in 1999, by Graham, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. As Graham will proudly tell anyone -- athletes including Antonio Pettigrew (Olympic Gold Medalist), Kenny Brokenburr (Pan American Gold Medalist), Marion Jones (Olympic Gold Medalist) , Duane Ross (World Championship Medalist), and Tim Montgomery (100m World Record Holder) have all trained under coach Graham excelling in their events in the sport of Track and Field claiming national and international championship titles.

Coach Trevor Graham (this taken directly from Sprint Capital USA’s website) ran in the 1988 Olympic Games. During his professional track and field career he realized there lacked solely professional training environments for graduating collegiate track and field student athletes. His dream soon became to provide an environment that catered to the professional track and field athlete. Several years later, Sprint Capitol USA started to develop and now continues to create World Class track and field athletes, dominating in the sprints at the professional level.

What Graham’s website doesn’t tell you is how closely Graham is linked to the alleged illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs. Graham, who has trained or previously trained at least 10 athletes who've been implicated in doping violations. On Thursday, the Chicago Tribune, citing sources, said another of Graham's current athletes, sprinter LaTasha Jenkins, and tested positive in July for the anabolic steroid nandrolone bringing the number to 11.

In Athens, Sprint Capitol earned two gold medals, two silvers and a bronze. Nevertheless by the end of the Athens Games, at least five of Graham's athletes have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Four others he has coached face USADA doping violation charges.

Last year at the World Track and Field Championships in Helsinki, Team Sprint Capitol was once again front and center – winning medals, but at the same time having to deal with the specter that their athletes were using performance-enhancing drugs. In a December 2004 ESPN The Magazine story, Conte wrote, "I've given packages of performance-enhancing drugs directly to Trevor."

Graham could have easily been labeled the ‘ring master’ in the BALCO scandal. The San Francisco Chronicle reported C.J. Hunter a former shot-putter banned from competing after four positive tests for steroids (and Jones’ ex-husband) told the USOC it was Graham who provided performance-enhancing drugs to Marion Jones and transported drugs for her to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where Jones won five medals.

The Washington Post reported last week Jones had tested positive for banned substances during June's United States Track and Field Championships. Jones like Gatlin has always denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs.

The long list of athletes directed associated with Graham who have been (or are facing lifetime suspensions) banned for the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs, includes: Gatlin, Jones , Tim Montgomery, Michelle Collins, Jerome Young, twins Alvin and Calvin Harrison, and Dennis Mitchell. A total of 11 athletes directly associated with Graham have or had tested positive for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

It makes it that much more remarkable that Trevor Graham, the American track and field coach associated with the most athletes to have ever tested for the use of performance-enhancing drugs would have been the one who offered the USOC the proof they needed to bring down Victor Conte. His own arrogance sending ‘the clear’ to the United States Olympic Committee clearly shows his true character, one that may indeed lack a soul.

Veteran coach Pat Connolly, who took sprinters Evelyn Ashford and Allyson Felix to Olympic medals made it clear to the USA Today last year how she felt about Graham.

"Any coach who has had athletes banned needs to be banned, too," she told the USA Today last summer. "Coaches need to take responsibility. They'll say they can't know if their athlete is using drugs. I don't care how dumb they want to play. They know."

Gatlin’s confession that he had tested in April (Gatlin was informed of the positive test on July 12 and announced the results on July 29), hit the front page of sports sections world-wide just days after the announcement of Tour de France winner’s Floyd Landis positive test. The last month has represented dark times for the United States Olympic Committee who must be wondering what they have to do to stem the tide of American athletes using illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

“We have reached a tipping point in the fight against doping in sport,” U.S.O.C. Chairman Peter Ueberroth said in a statement following Gatlin’s admission. “Since the advent of U.S.A.D.A. six years ago, good progress has been made, but a great deal more must be done. The cold reality is this: We are not yet winning the battle, and if we are ultimately to succeed, we must become smarter, more efficient and more effective in our efforts. The status quo will not work.”

“This is difficult for any athlete, but Justin has been very outspoken against performance-enhancing drugs in sport,” Gatlin’s lawyer, Cameron Myler (a former Olympian) told The New York Times. “That, and he has been through this before. He’s very aware of the consequences of this positive test.”

Tuesday evening The New York Times’ Lynn Zinser reported Gatlin had accepted the laboratory results for a positive test for testosterone. The United States Anti-Doping Agency announced Gatlin would be suspended for eight years, virtually a life-time ban.

“It’s a refreshing approach for an athlete to acknowledge the science and the solid work of Don Catlin and the laboratory in Los Angeles,” said Travis Tygart, the general counsel for the antidoping agency according to a New York Times report. “It saves us the time and money of arguing the validity of the test, which is money that should be used to help clean athletes.”

Late Tuesday evening Graham released the following statement through his lawyer Joseph Zeszotarski, that he “completely supports Justin Gatlin and Justin’s cooperation with USADA and efforts to get reinstated.”

In the statement, Zeszotarski added that “Trevor knows that he has done nothing wrong in his relationship with Justin or any of his athletes, and only wants the truth to come out.”

"Since becoming an elite-level athlete, Justin has talked about the importance of eradicating doping in sport," USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth added Tuesday evening when the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced Gatlin’s decision. “By acknowledging his doping positive and agreeing to work with USADA, Justin now has an opportunity to put those words into action. He can play a meaningful role in solving a problem that is reaching a crisis level in American sport."

Friday, Nike ended its relationship with Graham and suspended its contract with Gatlin. According to The Chicago Tribune’s Olympic reporter Philip Hersh, Nike’s endorsement agreement with Gatlin paid the sprinter between $500,000 to $750,000 annually.

Gatlin, who had agreed to accept the laboratory results for a positive test for testosterone Tuesday and the accompanying eight-year ban, sang a very different tune Friday after Nike’s announcement.

"I have not agreed to any penalties whatsoever, and I intend to file for arbitration shortly," Gatlin said in a statement Friday. "I expect when that process is concluded that this entire matter will be resolved favorably."

Nike took it one step further with Graham. Following an August 2 decision by the United States Olympic Committee to permanently ban Graham from any USOC training facility, Nike told Graham not only was he fired but he was also barred from any Nike training facility as are his athletes.

"We don't disclose the details of our contract or the termination of our contracts," said Nike spokesman Derek Kent. Mr. Kent declined to say why Mr. Graham's contract was terminated or why Mr. Gatlin's deal was suspended.

"He (Gatlin) will not receive payment while the contract is suspended, and there is no specific date or speculation as to when we would re-up that," Nike spokesperson Dean Stoyer added, who would not disclose details of the contracts.

The ramifications for Graham’s Sprint Capitol USA (SCUSA) could cripple the Raleigh based organizations future. Financially Nike is believed to be the biggest financial backer of the organization. Without Nike’s financial support, Graham will likely close the doors to his renegade track club in the near future.

“There is absolutely no basis for Nike to terminate Trevor’s contract,” Graham’s lawyer, Joseph Zeszotarski, said. “The contract cannot legally be terminated based upon innuendo and suspicion. We have contacted Nike regarding the matter and are awaiting their response. We hope to avoid having to take legal action but will do so if necessary.”

Nike hasn’t said very much about why they ended their association with Graham and suspended their relationship with Gatlin. It’s likely they invoked the standard morality clause included in every athlete endorsement contract. The morals clause has become an essential component of endorsement contracts in professional sports. It is a form of termination clause, whereby it enumerates a variety of specific reasons for termination to protect the endorser's interest in its image or the image of its products that are affiliated with the athlete.
Following on the heels of Landis’ positive test, it didn’t surprise sports industry insiders that Nike wanted to distance the company from athletes who had tested positive for the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

“Brands do not want to be associated with controversy,” said Jeff Chown, president of Davie-Brown Talent, which signs celebrity spokesmen for corporations in a New York Times report. “Steroids are top-of-mind in the sports industry right now. Nobody wants to be associated with it right now. I think a company like Nike is trying to build good will with the public by saying, ‘We’re against this.’ ”

“There’s too much risk in signing an athlete who might end up in the middle of a steroids scandal,” he said. “The risk is not worth the reward.”

Nike’s decision to end their associations with Graham and Gatlin isn’t how Nike usually operates when they’re dealing with problem athletes. When Nike’s contract with Marion Jones ended last year, the company quietly choose to not renew their agreement. They honored the length of the agreement they had with Jones, despite her terrible performance at the 2004 Athens Games and the allegations directed at Jones throughout the BALCO investigation. Its likely Nike could have ended their association with Jones before their contract ended citing the morals clause.

Jones was paid a total of about $6 million by the shoe company under a sponsorship agreement that began around the time of her first 100-meter world championship in 1997, the Chicago Tribune has reported.

"They have the reputation for sticking with their athletes," Jim Andrews, senior vice president of Chicago based sponsorship-measurement-services firm IEG Inc., told The Wall Street Journal.

"They don't fully say they're standing behind them, but they don't drop them either."

Nike’s decision should not have come as a revelation to anyone who has followed the saga of Justin Gatlin, Trevor Graham and Sprint Capitol USA. The only real surprise is that Nike financed Graham and any of his athletes as long as they have.

Graham has produced his share of world-class track athletes but at a terrible price to everyone tainted by his ‘legacy’. Eleven athletes directly associated with Trevor Graham have tested positive for the use of illegal performance-enhancement drugs. If indeed the allegations being leveled against Graham are true, Graham has done irreparable harm to the image of the sport of track and field, the United States Track and Field Association, Nike and many more groups.

The mistake Nike made was in giving Trevor Graham as much rope as they did before he finally hung himself.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The New York Times, ESPN, The Chicago Tribune