Every sport had different procedures and rules regarding the use of performance enhancers and subsequent penalties for athletes found using. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the company that hosts matches and events for mixed martial arts fighters, is no different. The organization has publicly frowned on the use of performance enhancers by its athletes, and by all accounts, the higher ups in the UFC, including UFC president Dana White and UFC execs Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, are fully cooperative with testing and welcome regulations that would help keep athletes safe and fights fair. In actuality, the failed drug test of fighter Jessica Eye, which came to light in the media around February 1, shouldn’t have even been news. But it was, and for reasons we’ve seen over and over again when drugs and sports are mixed: lies, cover ups, and mistakes.
The story here actually began back in October, when Jessica Eye made her UFC debut against Sarah Kaufmann in Houston, Texas. It was a split decision victory for the up-and-comer, and things should have gone forward from there. However, everything changed when a drug test came back for Eye showing she had marijuana in her system. It’s at this time the mistake was made. Rather than announce it, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which told Eye about her positive test on November 26, decided to keep quiet on the situation. Even though the drug tests of the athletes were ordered by the state of Texas, at an event regulated by the state, Texas decided the positive results test wouldn’t be made public, which seems to bring up a whole bunch of questions about the public’s right to know, the validity of testing, and the fairness or outcome of a match that was decided before the results of the test were known.
However, now the mistake had been made. But as we’ve learned with PED scandals in other sports (hello, baseball and cycling!), incidents involving positive drug tests and performance enhancing drug use by pro athletes don’t stay hidden for long. The state of Texas and the UFC both knew about the test, and the state even issued a fine and probation for the fighter, but nothing else was said about the incident until news media began to hear rumors and decided to look into the allegations that Eye was still fighting after testing positive for drugs. This is where the lies come in.
When Eye found out people were beginning to question her drug test, she got mad and aired her feelings publicly. During an interview, she lied several times about the incident, claiming she was never notified of the positive test by the state of Texas and was just surprised as anyone when the news surfaced, although there are documents with date stamps from mid-January showing Eye signed on the dotted line in agreement with the fine and probation she was receiving. Later in that same interview, she denied using marijuana, and she stated she was licensed to fight in the state of Nevada, which both appear to be untrue statements.
Now that the information has been made public, what was just a small matter has become bigger news. A promising fighter now has a tarnished reputation for being a liar and a cheater, the decision of the state of Texas to keep the test results secret now reflects badly on the state, and the issue of PEDs has come to the forefront in yet another sport. The UFC has previously paid for testing to go above and beyond what the regulations state, and has cooperated fully on other incidents involving PEDs, going as far as supporting enhanced testing and offering to pay for extra drug screens when necessary. The UFC also supported the punishment directed at Jessica Eye following the positive test, and her October split decision victory over Kaufmann has now been changed to a no contest.
The use of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports, whether it be steroids, testosterone, IGF-1 and human growth hormone, or marijuana, never leads to a good outcome. As more sports, including mixed martial arts, look into stricter and more comprehensive testing procedures and bigger punishments for users, the emerging patterns become very clear. Athletes who choose to use PEDs know they are doing something wrong, so they further complicate the issue by lying, covering up, blaming others, and other bad behavior. What would have been a promising and celebrated career is often turned into one tainted by the stigma of cheating. Is it worth all that in the end?