NICK CAVE had it right when he said people just ain’t no good. He said it was well understood. He said you see it everywhere you look.
In boxing, there’s an increasing sense many of the world’s best just ain’t no good and will, regardless of the fact they may once have entertained us, inevitably let us down.
With failed drug tests commonplace, and plenty of cheats getting away with it, we’re nowadays left with a sinking feeling and fresh scepticism whenever watching two boxers touch gloves on fight night and settle whatever it is they have to settle with their fists. We want to believe in them, we hope their handiwork is pure, but trust, unfortunately, is these days hard to come by.
Jarrell Miller, the latest high-profile boxer to let himself and us down, tried the deny-deny-deny approach when earlier this week it was revealed he had failed a VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency) test for GW1516 and that his proposed June 1 heavyweight title shot against Anthony Joshua was off the cards. He reacted the way a man or woman might when their partner finds a suspicious text on their phone. There was righteous indignation. It was something else. Someone else. “It wasn’t me.”
Soon enough, though, the American’s stance changed. It changed, you suspect, because it was no longer just a case of a salacious text message being found on his phone but had developed into a far greater scandal, one from which there was no hiding. Miller, having failed subsequent tests for HGH (human growth hormone) and EPO (erythropoietin), had been caught in bed up to no good. There were images and sounds. There was no arguing his way out of it.
To his credit (and I use the term as lightly as possible), Miller has today come out and released a one-minute confession video in which he claims he is “owning” his mistake and has let a number of people down. It doesn’t erase the wrongdoing, no, nor soften the blow, but, in this day and age, when lying is the name of the game, it’s somehow refreshing (relatively speaking) to at least see someone caught red-handed not try and fumble about with the glove in full view of the world. If nothing else, it stops the speculating and the bulls**t.
— Boxing News (@BoxingNewsED) April 20, 2019
It’s why, for me, Jarrell Miller is the best (another term I use as lightly as possible) kind of performance-enhancing drug cheat. I say this for several reasons:
Firstly, Jarrell Miller is the kind of cheat who doesn’t cheat by halves nor tiptoe in the shallow end. Instead, when ‘Big Baby’ cheats, he cheats the way any self-respecting cheat should cheat. He raids the laboratory, Erkan Teper-style, racks up more repeat prescriptions than he has knockouts, and has the goal of comic book superhero in mind when fantasising about the before and after pictures. There’s something to be said for that.
Secondly, Miller takes the kamikaze approach to bending the rules. He tries bringing others down with him, going out in a hail of bullets, and will brazenly blacken names to divert from the masterpiece he is attempting to sculpt in the shadows. As well as next-level dishonesty, this approach provides a timely reminder that even the sport’s most vocal anti-PED mouthpieces should never be presumed to be clean. There are strategies to this game.
Thirdly, the best kind of drug cheats – for us anyway – are the ones who get caught. Jarrell Miller got caught. Boxers will tell you that makes him a ‘bad’ drug cheat, or at least a careless, sloppy one, but we, the ones in the dark, need to embrace the careless, sloppy ones because they are all we have.
Finally, Jarrell Miller is the best kind of drug cheat because he has now confessed to his transgression and given us that most important of things: transparency.
In owning up, Miller has done away with this illusion that drug cheats are drug cheats only because they are ignorant and something went awry in training camp, or they ate the wrong food, or they mixed in bad company. He has shrugged his broad shoulders and, paraphrasing, said: “Yeah, it’s true. Some of us try and gain advantage and occasionally, in taking the risk, we get caught.”
That’s an important breakthrough in this unwinnable war against drugs, because, without it, there will always be the possibility that boxers, these tough guys (and girls) who deserve the benefit of the doubt, can sweet talk their way out of trouble and back into big fights. Why? Because we need them, that’s why. We need them just as the promoters and television networks need them; we need them to help uphold the image we have of this most noble of sports.
To accept boxers are rotten cheats is to accept that boxing is nastier and deadlier than just two pugilists exhibiting their mastering of the art before a crowd of aficionados. It makes a dirty business of something we want to consider a sport. It makes us question our own reasons for watching it.
Only recently a journalist told me the reason they didn’t like to consider one particular boxer who had failed a drug test a ‘drug cheat’ was because doing so would diminish every reason they had for admiring them. It would take away something from his achievements, they said, and from his amiable personality and the rapport they had struck up over the years. It sounded bizarre, for the boxer in question had cheated and continued to box, but, equally, I could understand the journalist’s reluctance to let go of the perfect impression of this man he had built in his head. Recast supposedly brave warriors as sly cheats and liars and what do we have left?
Ultimately, our respect for boxers is the bedrock of our connection to them and the reason we find their fights so compelling. They do something brave, we tell ourselves, something most could never contemplate doing. They expose their fragility like no other athlete. Heart on sleeve, chin on chest. It’s commendable.
However, for as long as we forgive and forget, perhaps owing to this enduring respect we have for them, and for as long as we reward the guilty with second, third and fourth chances, the cycle will continue. Worst of all, our need to believe and forgive, arms them with a litany of excuses.
Here, to be used by any boxer preparing for the day they receive that email or call from the drug-testers alerting them to a dirty sample, are 10 of the best.
1. Blame a spiked protein shake
Kid Galahad failed a test for stanozolol in 2014 but claimed to have no idea his protein shake had been spiked by his brother, Mageed, following a row between the pair.
2. Blame Russia
Lucas Browne said he was clean when he went to Chechnya to KO Ruslan Chagaev, the home favourite, but somehow returned to news of a failed test for clenbuterol. It could only mean his food or drink was spiked – by Russians.
3. Blame offal
To conclude one of the longest-running drug scandals in recent history, Tyson and Hughie Fury accepted there were traces of nandrolone in their test but put it down to a love of offal.
4. Blame Mexican meat
Canelo Alvarez isn’t the first Mexican to attribute a failed drug test to contaminated Mexican meat. The legendary Erik Morales did the same, as did Luis Nery, Francisco Vargas and many more.
5. Blame high blood pressure
Tony Thompson failed a test for hydrochlorothiazide following his 2013 rematch with David Price. He blamed the dirty test on high blood pressure – a problem he’d apparently had for 15 years.
6. Blame asthma
“Let’s Go, Champ! Let’s Go, Champ!” For a man with breathing difficulties, Shannon Briggs sure does like to talk a lot. That said, asthma comes in handy when elevated levels of testosterone show up in your drug test.
7. Blame low testosterone
Boxers are typically full of testosterone, but Lamont Peterson, struggling in this department, saw nothing wrong with using a synthetic testosterone ahead of an aborted 2012 fight with Amir Khan.
8. Blame everyone else for doing it
Heavyweight Larry Olubamiwo took the ‘can’t beat them, join them’ concept to the extreme. He confessed to taking 13 illegal substances and then said everyone else was doing the same.
9. Blame the wrong sample
Former light-heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver failed a test for synthetic testosterone before a 2015 fight with Steve Cunningham. His excuse? The sample must have been mixed up with someone else’s.
10. Blame over-the-counter products
Plenty of boxers have claimed supplements purchased over the counter have subsequently been found to contain ingredients on the banned list. For the unlucky and naïve ones, this is often true.