Sonnen Suspension Reduced, More Action May Come
The California State Athletic Commission ruled on the long awaited appeal of UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen, today, who was suspended after testing positive for the use of intramuscular injections of testosterone after his title bout with Anderson Silva in August. After a period of just under three hours, including presentations from both sides and the commission deliberation, Sonnen's suspension was reduced from a full year to six months, with fines the fighter already paid being upheld.
Sonnen's use of self-injected testosterone became apparent the night of the bout, when Sonnen admitted to commission member George Dodd that he had taken the substance but claimed it was for medical reasons. Dodd was unable to put a stop to the bout due to California policy that a fight can only be halted by a positive drug test. Other forms of evidence, including an athlete's own admission to using a banned substance, can be taken into account at later hearings, but can not be used to actually cancel a bout.
At the hearing, Sonnen's council clarified that the fighter had been receiving intramuscular injections of testosterone as a method of treating a malady called hypogonadism, which leads to reduced amounts of testosterone naturally produced in the body. The treatments, according to Sonnen, began in 2008.
“[Sonnen] came to me with complaints of extreme fatigue and exhaustion,” Sonnen's personal physician told the commission at the appeal. “Chael's body would not tolerate the extreme stress associated with such a sport without [testosterone treatment].”
Testosterone treatments for hypogonadism and similar diseases are allowed by California and many other state athletic commissions provided that the injections stay within certain levels and the commission has complete knowledge and record of an athlete's treatments. California's case against Sonnen was that Sonnen, in spite of having fought Yushin Okami in California after the treatments supposedly started.
Sonnen's council made the case that Commissioner Dodd did not inform Sonnen of the potential consequences to making an admission so close to the time of the fight. Further, council put forward Sonnen was under the impression that his treatments were already made well known, as the UFC middleweight disclosed them to a UFC employed doctor present at most events.
A primary point in the case against Sonnen made by the attorney general's office was that Sonnen failed to disclose his treatments when asked if he was on any other medications by the California State Athletic Commission's physician. Sonnen's council responded that the question asked was if Sonnen was on “any other medications or supplements,” and did not specify hormones such as testosterone.
Sonnen added in his own statement to the commission that he was shy about revealing his hypogonadism unless absolutely necessary. He even included a reference to “not going through puberty” and “getting teased” as a child. As Sonnen's career as an athlete and wrestler far predates his entry into MMA and he had only been receiving treatment since 2008, the statement was inconsistent and may be attributed to Sonnen's well documented tendency to wax poetic in speech.
The first commission vote to maintain the full suspension and penalties associated on Sonnen was defeated due to a tie vote of 2-2. Later, a compromise of reduced suspension time was passed 3-1.
During his opening arguments, Sonnen's attorney referenced that suspending Sonnen for treating a legitimate disease was a violation of the American's With Disabilities Act. While Sonnen expressed no desire to attempt to go over the head of the commission and pursue the matter in civil court, the door is still open for Sonnen to sue the state of California if he is discontent with the decision levied, today.
Photo: Chael Sonnen at UFC post-fight presser (UFC.com)