Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jon Wertheim

There have been some requests to challenge journalists. Let's give it a go.

Jon Wertheim (May 18, 2011)
...Personally, I am inclined to believe that tennis is, while not entirely clean, overwhelming clean...

...It's foolish to try and quantify doping, but I think the vast majority of players are clean. Some of this is based on anecdote. Some of this is informed opinion. Some of this is logistical. (It's harder to cheat when you're on the road so much.) Some of this is the incentive structure. (My strong suspicion is that the bulk of the cheaters are players ranked, say, 200 trying to get to 80; less the players ranked in the top 15 trying to become top three.) Some of this is because the testing procedure -- while imperfect and not without loopholes -- is still more rigorous than in other sports. Some of this is because, in the absence of a credible union, cheating players know that, if caught, they have a hell of a fight on their hands.
Before I get to Mr. Wertheim's points, let me point out that nowhere in the excerpt above (or elsewhere in his discussion) does he make any reference to the ITF's anti-doping statistics. He does not claim to have examined the statistics. Mr. Wertheim makes no reference to the ITF's minimal out of competition testing, the reduction in blood and EPO tests since Stuart Miller took over the program, missed out-of-competition tests, or the loser targeted testing at Grand Slam events. He makes no reference to the ITF's anti-doping budget. You cannot claim to have an "informed opinion" and that tennis is "overwhelming clean" without discussing data, but Wertheim fails to bring any to the table to support his many assertions.

Let's take on Mr. Wertheim's points:

1. "It's harder to cheat when you're on the road so much."

The evidence completely contradicts Mr. Wertheim's assertion. Wayne Odesnik was caught carrying vials of HGH into Australia, so clearly there are doping products available that are both portable and easy to administer. Moreover, top tennis players have personal doctors and trainers who travel with them and could administer doping treatments. Further, did he never read Floyd Landis's description of doping during the Tour de France, where riders engaged in transfusions in hotel rooms and buses? Also, riders would wear testosterone patches to bed. It would be shocking if similar stuff isn't occurring in tennis.

2. "My strong suspicion is that the bulk of the cheaters are players ranked, say, 200 trying to get to 80; less the players ranked in the top 15 trying to become top three."

This is another assertion without facts or data. Evidence from baseball, track, and cycling and other sports reveal that athletes at the very top of their discipline are more than willing to engage in doping to get an edge, achieve and maintain sporting glory, and reap financial benefits. Further, top tennis players have the resources to purchase sophisticated doping regimes while journeymen do not. Also, one can argue that top players are those with personality types disposed to doing whatever it takes to win, which would include not just a commitment to training, fitness and diet, but also doping. These fiercely competitive personality characteristics would make them the most likely candidates to dope.

3. "...the testing procedure -- while imperfect and not without loopholes -- is still more rigorous than in other sports."

Again, Mr. Wertheim makes a statement without reference to facts or data. What exactly is the "testing procedure" to which he is referring? How is it "imperfect"? What are the "loopholes"? What are the other sports? He certainly can't be referring to cycling, athletics, or swimming, can he? And what is Mr. Wertheim's definition of "rigorous"?

4. "...in the absence of a credible union, cheating players know that, if caught, they have a hell of a fight on their hands."

I'm guessing that Mr. Wertheim means that players caught doping will have to fund their own defence. Fair enough, but that deterrent effect applies to low ranked players with limited means (although even journeymen like Robert Kendrick had the ability to get a decent enough lawyer to get his ban cut to 8 months; and Odesnik managed to cut a deal, too). These financially constrained players happen to be the same players that Mr. Wertheim claims are doing the bulk of the cheating. How does Mr. Wertheim square this apparent contradiction?

However, top players have vast financial resources with which to fight an adverse test result (and the means to get the best doping plan). This, again, points to top players being more likely to engage in doping.

Mr. Wertheim states later in his piece that "...speculating about specific players is wrong." Fine, but what about  the fact that the ITF's anti-doping program is extremely weak (and been weakened in recent years through reduced blood and EPO testing)? This site has shown, through examining ITF data, that the anti-doping program in professional tennis is not rigorous. Also, what ever happened to Odesnik's "substantial assistance"? Or Serena Williams's "panic room" incident?

Shouldn't "one of the most accomplished sports journalists in America," be investigating and holding the ITF to account? If Mr. Wertheim is going to claim that tennis is "overwhelming clean" he needs to bring some hard data to the table instead of unsubstantiated assertions that aren't borne out by the facts.


  1. It's as if there is no data available on the subject and he has to base the whole thing on hunches and his "expertise." He argued a couple of years ago that performance enhancing drugs wouldn't help a tennis player. He is basically a tennis promoter. He knows very little about tennis and even less about peformance enhancing drugs. A drug scandal in tennis would cost him a lot of money.

  2. It's depressing to read such vacuous assertions from a so-called expert. His views remind me of those who scorned Darwin's theory of evolution because it offended their notions of commonsense and what they preferred to believe. Wertheim similarly offers little more than an elaboration of what he is comfortable with.

  3. SnR, I pointed out my view on this topic in a recent thread. Wertheim has preached to us in the past about how it's unfair or irresponsible to accuse players of doping without facts. I think it's just as irresponsible of him to make these assertions without facts. He is viewed as somewhat of an authority on tennis by most of the casual fans, so by being so argumentative, he will tend to reassure those people of the "cleanliness" of our sport. These are the same types of arguments that politicians make, and most people find it believable because they don't know enough to contradict what they're being told.

    I'd rather he just shut the hell up, since he's already told us to do the same. I'm with you. If he actually wants to have a discussion about facts, detailing what the current testing model can and cannot actually tell us about individual players or players in general, then I'll be happy to engage in that discussion. Otherwise, I'd rather hear his stories about how "the first week of the 2006 US Open is Andre's week, and the second week the real tournament starts." It's nice to know that someone with such close access to the players uses that access in such a noble manner.

    1. ...and if you ever vehemently disagree with him on Twitter he blocks you! Quite the freedom of speech role model. Not!

  4. The Williams sisters certainly aren't "on the road so much" and the last time ITF attempted to test Serena, she locked herself in her panic room and called the police.

  5. http://www.tennis-brain.com/2009/11/controversial-post-using-steroids-in.html

    A posting by an amateur tennis player who took steroids (although he was told they weren't supposed to be performance enhancing).

    Does his "new roided up style of play" remind you of anyone ?

  6. I guess journalists like Wertheim, Harmon and others think that if they keep repeating the "rigorous testing" mantra that people will stop questioning it. That's their stock-in-trade answer whenever the issues of drugs comes up in tennis. It's almost as if they're programmed robots who are on a script.

    I doubt even Wertheim believes what he writes but he wants to keep his job, so...

  7. I think he knows but like Bodo chooses to lie to sell the sport. I don't mind turning a blind eye cause there is no possibility to prove they dope at the top but lying is just plain stupid.

    How can watch the recent slams finals we have had without questioning PEDs? Even Lendl and Courier were joking about it....and they know at least as much as JW about fitness in tennis. What about Santoro? doesn;t he know better than JW?

    Funniest part is that of course "the dopers are ranked 200 till 80"! Right so they dope but still look like breathless shrimps compared to the top players.