Wednesday, July 2, 2008

PGA Tour Adds Drug Testing: TV Pushing NASCAR To Be Next

The real world education of the professional sports executives in North America continued as the PGA Tour reluctantly added drug testing for all players beginning in 2009. Now, with that commitment in place, all eyes turn to Brian France and NASCAR.

The PGA Tour and NASCAR share several dynamics where the two sports are concerned. Both have very long seasons that run basically over the same ten month period. While golfers have four days of competition, NASCAR drivers have three days of practice, qualifying and then the multi-hour race. Each sport requires multiple days at the same site in order to participate.

Another thing these sports have in common is the fact that performance-enhancing drugs like steroids and the now infamous Human Growth Hormone don't really come into play. Bigger golfers aren't better golfers and juiced drivers just don't drive any faster. No pun intended.

It is a sign of the times that the real reason both organizations were challenged to begin testing is to safeguard the very health of those participating. A drug addict playing golf needs just as much help as a drug addict driving in NASCAR.

It may go down in history that Ryan McGee finally pushed NASCAR into reality where this issue is concerned with his interview of former Craftsman Truck Series driver Aaron Fike.

This ground-breaking piece of journalism led to McGee appearing on NASCAR Now and explaining his findings directly to the NASCAR fans. It was a face on TV talking about a NASCAR driver with heroin in his system that finally shook the Daytona "old guard" into action.

It was following McGee's appearance that the TV firestorm of charges and counter-charges began that flared for about a week. Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart were both outspoken in saying NASCAR needs to begin a comprehensive program as soon as possible, while others suggested that individual teams should be responsible for drug testing all their racing-related employees on a regular basis.

While several NASCAR TV partners avoided this topic like the plague, credit goes to ESPN for asking their NASCAR personalities directly about this issue. Rusty Wallace was very vocal in his views and the rest of the analysts essentially said that it was about time for a drug policy to be put in place.

ESPN2's daily racing program NASCAR Now played a key role in dealing specifically with this topic and they are going to be challenged to play that role again. Sometime soon, there should be a report issued by the ad hoc committee that was put together by NASCAR Chairman Brian France to study this issue.

This was the story that announced the formation of the panel. NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said the group would report back to Brian France "within six weeks or so." He made that statement on May 2nd.

Now, "eight weeks or so" later, it should be time for NASCAR Now and the ESPN reporters to ask about the progress of the committee and the results.

This daily TV program has become an integral part of the NASCAR news machine this season. Sometimes, the journalism is outstanding and the resulting news is important. Sometimes, rumor and innuendo are still allowed to creep into a slow day in the middle of the week as news.

With all of the NASCAR media arriving at Daytona on Thursday morning, it should be very interesting to see if this topic is broached, and by what reporter.

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Greg said...

It seems to me that the individual race teams should be responsible for testing -- not NASCAR. If NASCAR has good reason to suspect drug use, then, and only then, should there be a test.

red said...

i have some thoughts on both of your points, greg.

"It seems to me that the individual race teams should be responsible for testing -- not NASCAR"
nascar is the sanctioning body in this discussion, just as MLB or the NBA are the sanctioning bodies in their sports. as much as i generally avoid stick and ball sports comparisons when discussing nascar, in the case of drug testing, it seems to me that nascar is so far behind that the comparison needs to be drawn. in my opinion, the sanctioning body is responsible for having an aggressive testing policy, one that can be supplmented by teams' testing but not one that should be supplanted by team testing.

"If NASCAR has good reason to suspect drug use, then, and only then, should there be a test."
and this is exactly the current policy that has brought nascar to the point where a driver admits to having been on heroin while competing.the definition of "good reason" or what nascar calls "reasonable cause" does not seem to be working. there should be a set procedure in place, one that is followed each and every time. we can debate what that standard should be -- post-accident, random testing, top 3 and bottom 3 each week -- whatever. but there needs to be a clear, objectve standard that is not fuzzy or subjective.

altho' i initially read your comment as contradictory -- teams should be responsible and nascar should test w/cause -- i think we might actually be in some level of agreement. i feel nascar should have a very stringent, objective, enforced testing policy which should be supplemented by the individual teams testing as well. that would be the best of both.

once again, i feel that the "nascar media" has, for the most part, allowed the focus to be dropped from this critical issue and has acted more as cheerleaders for the sport than reporters, seeking to hold the sport accountable for what appears to be footdragging on this issue. as long as nascar controls who gets a hard card, there is little chance that situation will change. a small number of "voices in the wilderness", trying to keep the spotlight on this topc (or any other controversial nascar topic, for that matter) cannot accomplish what truly independent reporting could do. and we can't have independent reporting when nascar controls access thru the issuance of hard cards. a true case of "not biting the hand that feeds you."

Anonymous said...

Greg said...
It seems to me that the individual race teams should be responsible for testing -- not NASCAR. If NASCAR has good reason to suspect drug use, then, and only then, should there be a test.

July 2, 2008 7:03 PM

Yes I understand to a point, the owners are the employers of the drivers - NASCAR is the sanctioning body. It falls on the sanctioning body in most all instances. What amazes me is that Harvick & Stewart have never been tested, they both said so.
I like reds idea of post race top 3 ( I'd go top 10 myself) & add in 5 random. No more than 6 times a season for the at random. And everyone gets a random in the "off season" just to make it year round.
So if you use Reds formula plus adding randoms everyone should be tested ( including go or go homes)
every year, a few times a year.

I'm amazed none of the sponsors have publicly come out for the testing idea, since every company in NASCAR as a sponsor has a testing policy.

I thought sponsors in NASCAR had power? LOL

And why can't the media call NASCAR and ask how is the commitee progressing ? Fans want to know. And when NASCAR says we're still working on it - say so on air?
Just to update the situation.

The hard card is only good for so much, with the economy the way it is, the last thing NASCAR would want is ESPN news reporting one of its reporters lost the card for asking about drug testing.

red said...

jo said: "The hard card is only good for so much, with the economy the way it is, the last thing NASCAR would want is ESPN news reporting one of its reporters lost the card for asking about drug testing."

my understanding is that the hard card is THE lifeblood for the nascar media: without it, they do not have access to all those places where we see drivers being interviewed each week. they would lose the ability to get the quote, to ask the question, to do the job they've been hired to do by their network/newspaper/magazine.
i don't know how nascar actually goes about removing a reporter's hard card or how often it's been done historically. can anyone clarify?

regardless, it seems that reporters work with an eye on the ability of nascar to pull that card. is this analogous to other sports? i feel as if this ability to control the access thru the hard card is an integral piece of various stories being "managed" as opposed to being truly reported. and i believe this is one factor in the current state of non-reporting on the drug policy issue as well as the grant lawsuit.

Anonymous said...

Red thanks for clarifying, would they be able to pull all espn hard cards? Would they dare?

red said...

jo said...
Red thanks for clarifying, would they be able to pull all espn hard cards? Would they dare?

jd? any answers for us here?
jo, my understanding is, at best, incomplete b/c neither the media nor nascar talk about this at all. what little i've been able to pull together is based on answers provided by sources i trust who do have some inside information. can nascar pull the card? yes. would they? it's only a guess but i suspect if they can't "manage" a reporter in any other way, they'll pull it for a race or two to make their point.
for me, the hard card situation is in league with the mysterious rules book that only competitors (and some media?) can possess. every other sport i can think of makes the rules book available to anyone who wants to have it. what is the purpose behind limiting the access? is this just a result of the way bill france decided it was going to be and it's just been continued? i have never understood why a fan who wants to read the rule book isn't trusted with that information.

again, for me, this ties into the drug testing discussion b/c it controls and limits the ability of the media to do their job. and that impacts what we, as fans, know about our sport.

Anonymous said...

Having worked in commercial aviation for many years I have been subject to drug and alcohol testing. A reasonable program would mimic the basic rules that the FAA mandates.

The FAA requires that each company have its own drug and alcohol testing program. However, the program must be FAA (Dept of Tranportation) approved. Most every city of any size has a DOT approved private company to administer the test.

Each team testing in house would enhance privacy and insure that everyone is subject to testing, not just the people that show up at the track.

Frank in Florida

Anonymous said...

Let me second the comments of Frank in Florida, anon 12:02. The commercial marine industry works in a very similar way. Each company who employs people in the marine industry is responsible for maintaining a drug testing program which complies with Dept. of Transportation regulations. The marine industry has many small businesses where it is not practical or desirable for each company to set up its own independent program. Such companies typically enroll their employees in a program set up by and operated by a third party. The marine company pays the bill and largely forgets about the program on a day to day basis. On a random basis, people within the pool are selected for testing in accordance with DOT guidelines. The employer is notified whenever one of their employees is selected, and the employee is then required to provide a sample.
There is also testing for cause whenever the need arises.
Testing is also required for the periodic physicals necessary to renew licenses and documents issued by the Coast Guard. The regulations additionally provide for mandatory testing after casualties (collisions, serious injuries, deaths, etc.)
The Coast Guard administers those parts of the program for which it is directly responsible, namely routine physicals for licenses and documents and post-casualty investigations. Beyond that, it merely monitors employers to make sure each has its own independent testing program or is enrolled in a third party program.

These third party programs have been widely available at least since the early 1990's. They would make sense for companies the size of NASCAR teams. From what I recall of Kevin Harvick's public statements, it sounded like he enrolled his employees in such a program.

NASCAR does not have to reinvent the wheel or require the owners to reinvent the wheel. Third party programs have been widely available and functioning effectively for many years. These programs are available at resonable costs. All NASCAR has to do is require the participation in such a program by all designated employees and leave the details to the team owners. NASCAR could still set up its own guidelines on testing for cause, routine testing on physicals, frequency of random testing, etc.

If NASCAR wants any credibility on drug testing, they need to get their heads out of the sand. They only need to do what the commercial transportation industry has been doing for many years.

Michigan fan

bevo said...

The big thing that NASCAR shares with the PGA Tour for comparison in this case is that participants in both their events are independent contractors.

If you believe that testing should be left up to the teams in NASCAR then you would have to believe that testing on the PGA Tour should be left up to the individual players. Obviously that wouldn't accomplish anything, it would just be window dressing.

Does anyone really believe that if a team had a test come back positive for a top tier driver that they would immediately pull him out of the seat risking a sponsor backlash? I would like to think that they would do the right thing but this is big time business with a lot of money on the line. We all know what walks when money talks.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Bevo's comment at 3:23------ The NASCAR situation is not unique. Many employers would prefer to overlook a positive drug test, particularly for certain valuable employees. The solution is simple and has been in place in the transportation industry. Make drug testing facilities report positive results directly to the regulatory body (NASCAR in this case). The testing facility has no loyalty or incentive to protect someone. If they were found by the regulatory authority to be concealing positive test results, they would lose their accreditation for testing. If they lose accreditation, they are out of business.

Michigan fan

red said...

for me, the common threads in these posts is that there are a variety of ways that drug testing is currently being handled and could be handled by nascar. what's missing is nascar's determination to admit there is a problem and take aggressive steps to address it. i'd love to get to the point where we could be arguing about the details of how the testing is to be done but we haven't even gotten to the point where the sanctioning body is capable of admitting there's a serious problem.

this column and the one about the grant case are joined at the hip for me and the posts on that column could just as easily be the posts on this one. the bottom line is that the nascar media is not aggressively going after these stories and while i believe it's because there is fear of losing access, that is also just speculation b/c we simply don't kow how even THAT part of the reporting process works. as i say: when the sport won't even make its rule book available to the fans, i have to take anything that comes from them with far more than a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

With the exception of the Fike interview itself, I think the performance of the media has been abysmal where the subject of drugs has been concerned. They have failed to follow up specific issues immediately after the interview or take a larger view of the problem to put it in perspective.

In my view, the obligation of the media goes beyond reporting events as they occur. I think it extends to the general education of the public on issues surrounding the sport, such as drug testing. I might suggest an article or series of articles comparing NASCAR to other businesses and sports. What do the major stick and ball sports do? What does the commercial transportation industry do? What do other industries do? (In my experience, the gaming/casino industry is the most stringent. It's a security issue.) What are the differences and similarities when NASCAR is compared to them? All of this is easily available to a reporter. Reputable people would be willing to give facts and opinions in on-camera interviews. There would be no need for "unnamed sources close to the situation".

Such stories would go a long way towards educating the fan base. Then each fan could form their own opinions based on the facts. As it stands now, most fans are forming their opinions with little or no background knowledge.

I don't expect every news organization to jump on the issue, but I would have hoped someone would have taken the initiative. From my viewpoint, it appears to me that the media has made a conscious decision to avoid the issue. Perhaps they think it is of no interest to fans, or perhaps they just don't want to rock NASCAR's boat.

Michigan fan

Dot said...

Good point, Bevo.

The drug testing employers that I am familiar with only drug test after a work injury. If drugs are found, your WC and disability payments are denied.

NASCAR could mandate that the teams do their own drug testing and submit results a couple of times a year.

Anonymous said...

Regarding FAA drug testing,any positive test is reported by the testing agency to both the company and the FAA.

The test is a double blind test the sample is split and if the first sample is positive then the second is tested.

The person tested is identified by a random number if the test is negative then this report is sent to the FAA. If the test is positive the testing agency calls the person in for a consultation. This is to determine that the drugs that show up are prescribed to the person by a doctor. If they aren't then a positive report is made and the person named

Frank in Florida

jsknow said...

Drug testing is an illegal search and just one more way of forcing the government’s failed drug policy on the public through private businesses. Drug testing should be banned from all sports. It ruins the joy of sports for the fans and the players and does no good at all.

We'll never see real and lasting positive effects on any of the harms of illicit drug use until the profit motive is removed. You can waste billions of tax dollars every year, punish people every way imaginable, kill as many as you like, send them to prison, gripe or anything else you may think of but money makes the drug world go around. From the place of origin to the point of sale there can be up to 17000% markup in the illicit drug trade. Drug prohibition has increased drug related death, underage drug use, crime, violence, disease, corruption, wasted tax dollar spending, criminal / terrorist funding and a multitude of other harmful consequences. All major authorities agree that the vast majority of drug-related violent crime is caused by the prohibition against drugs, rather than the drugs themselves. This was the same situation which was true during alcohol Prohibition. Alcohol Prohibition gave rise to a violent criminal organization. Violent crime dropped 65 percent the year alcohol Prohibition was repealed. In the US we've been trying to reduce drug related death, disease, crime, addiction and drug use with prohibition since 1914 in one form or another. It's time to get on a program that works. There are far better ways to deal with drug use and addiction than prohibition. It's time to remove all the politicians that promote prohibition. How many more lives have to be needlessly devastated or lost? Prohibited drugs are way easier for kids to get than regulated drugs! Prohibition never works it just causes crime and violence.

The USA spends $69 billion a year on the drug war, builds 900 new prison beds and hires 150 more correction officers every two weeks, arrests someone on a drug charge every 17 seconds, jails more people than any nation and has killed over 100,000 citizens in the drug war.

In 1914 when there were no prohibited drugs 1.3% of our population was addicted to drugs, today 1.3% of our population is still addicted to drugs but there’s way more crime and violence because of the huge profits prohibition generates. Drugs today are more potent, more readily available and often less expensive than they were in the early 70’s when Richard Nixon started the war on drugs. Every time you look at the news you see more and more drug busts involving bigger and bigger quantities of drugs, not less and less... doesn't that call for change?

There’s only been one drug success story in US history, tobacco, by far the most deadly and one of the most addictive drugs. Almost half the users quit because of regulation, accurate information and medical treatment. No one went to jail, no one lost their job and no one got killed.

The right; to freedom of religion, free speech, a free press, to keep and bear arms, to be secure in your person, house, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure, to life, liberty and property, to be protected from having your property taken by the government without due process of law and without just compensation, to confront the witnesses against you, to be protected from excessive bail, excessive fines, cruel and unusual punishment, to vote and many others have been denied to millions of Americans in the name of the drug war but our drug problem has not been reduced, it's increased.

If you are called for jury duty and you don’t agree with the law the person is charged with, you have the right to vote not guilty, no matter what evidence is produced. Jurors implementing this right in all non-violent drug cases will shut down the ridiculous laws of prohibition. One juror in each case is all it takes. The bottom line is a juror has the right to judge not only the accused person but the law the person is accused of breaking. Don’t be intimidated stick to your position.

We hold these truths to be self-evident -- that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness . . . that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. (Excerpt from the US Declaration of Independence)

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red said...

jsknow: i suspect this is simply THE wrong place for your comments. you have a clear and vehement point of view but this blog is just not the place for it. our discussions try to focus on the role of the media in this sport. for that reason, i won't be engaged in the debate you're trying to promote but i will say i disagree with you on many of your positions.

bottom line? in my opinion, this isn't the place for your discussion.