Tee to Green: The PGA Tour got it wrong


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Updated: 5/02/2013 8:41 am Published: 5/02/2013 8:41 am


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We all make mistakes.

I can't think of any mistrakes at the moment, but believe me I've made my share.

Professional athletes make mistakes. Vijay Singh publicly, unwittingly and unnecessarily admitted to using a banned substance.

Professional sports' organizational bodies make mistakes as well. The most recent example? The PGA Tour decided not to suspend Singh for the use of deer antler spray and dropped its case against him on Tuesday

The tour's rational was that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which the circuit relies on for prohibited substances guidance, recently changed its stance and decided that deer antler spray is no longer prohibited.

But the fact is, IGF-1 (a growth factor contained in deer antler spray) was prohibited by both WADA and the PGA Tour when Singh admitted his use of the product to SI.com in January.

Less than a month after the article's release, Singh was sanctioned by the tour. He appealed, and it was during this process that WADA changed its stance on deer antler spray.

IGF-1 had been listed as a prohibited substance since the tour implemented testing in 2008. It was still banned when Singh told SI he uses deer antler spray "every couple of hours ... every day."

Whether the spray is allowed now is irrelevant.

Let me be clear, when this story broke I wrote that punishment should be handed down, but I also argued that on the long list of drug-cheat villains, Singh is a relatively benign offender.

It was clear from the SI interview that Singh was unaware he was taking a banned substance (despite the tour's 2011 warning to avoid the spray). He certainly wasn't in the category of the soulless, pathological Lance Armstrong.

But this was an open and shut case. Suspend the guy for a month or two and put it behind you. Anyone who argued against that ruling could be shot down with simple logic. And within a news cycle or two everyone would have moved one.

Instead we get this flimsy excuse of a decision and the controversy lives on.

And let's not forget, there is precedent.

In 2009, Doug Barron was suspended one year after he tested positive for beta blockers and testosterone, which his doctors prescribed due to naturally low testosterone levels and a rapid heart rate.

So Barron gets a year for taking a prescribed substance and Vijay walks after admitting to taking a banned one. It's a foolish and unnecessary inconsistency.

From Tuesday's statement by the tour:

"While there was no reason to believe that Mr. Singh knowingly took a prohibited substance, the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program clearly states that players are responsible for use of a prohibited substance regardless of intent. In this regard, Mr. Singh should have contacted the PGA Tour Anti- Doping Program Administrator or other resources readily available to players in order to verify that the product Mr. Singh was about to utilize did not contain any prohibited substances, especially in light of the warning issued in August 2011 in relation to deer antler spray."

Boom. There's your suspension right there. You took a banned substance that we went out of our way to warn you about. And you openly admitted it.

Recently, officials were scrutinized for allowing Tiger Woods to continue at the Masters after he took an illegal drop. Tiger signed his second-round card with the wrong score, and in the past he would have been automatically disqualified. But rule 33-7, which was announced in August 2011, allowed the world No. 1 to play on. The recently implemented rule states that "a penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted."

Under the current rule Tiger was instead assessed a two-stroke penalty. I was all for it. I still am.

I'm in favor of removing the stodginess and the "sanctity of the game" attitude that pervades the sport. But when a guy openly admits to cheating in a very public forum, you have to dole out punishment consistent with the crime. Much like Vijay, Tiger admitted to accidentally cheating. And he was punished accordingly given the rules in place.

When Vijay admitted to using deer antler spray, the rules specifically forbade the product's use. He, too, should be punished accordingly.

Case closed.


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