The CFL drug testing policy claimed one of its most notable victims to date Thursday with the news that hot prospect Quinn Smith tested positive for stanozolol ahead of Tuesday's CFL draft, which raises plenty of questions about the league's drug policies. The drug in question is an anabolic steroid Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was infamously busted for at the 1988 Olympics, although Johnson's coach claims he was taking furazabol, another steroid. The news came out because Smith, a defensive lineman for the Concordia Stingers, e-mailed all the CFL general managers Thursday to say that he'd received a positive test result (from testing carried out at the CFL Combine in March); he later issued a public statement about what happened. Here's the key part of it:
It is with deep regret that I inform you I have been notified of an Adverse Analytical Finding by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) from an out of competition doping control test on March 21 in Toronto," said Smith in a statement.
"I accept full responsibility for the result of Stanozolol metabolite in my test. I can assure you it was not my intention to use a banned substance or to try to beat the system. I did not properly research the contents of supplements I obtained online and I will accept the consequences of my actions. Since it was inadvertent on my part, I have asked to have my B sample tested and am waiting for the results," he continued.
I have the deepest respect for the CFL, the CIS and Concordia University and am thankful for the opportunities they offer young people like myself. I have brought undue negative attention to these organizations and for this I am truly sorry. I would like to thank my family and friends for their unwavering support through this difficult time."
Smith also spoke exclusively with Herb Zurkowsky of The Montreal Gazette, saying that his improvement from last year's East-West Bowl to this year's combine was the result of hard work and training, not drugs:
Smith, who can also play guard on offence, was impressive at the Combine. He ran a 4.82 over 40 yards and did 28 reps at 225 pounds. He also had a broad jump of 8.3 feet and a vertical of 27.5 feet.
It marked the first time since May 2013, when Smith was invited to the East-West Bowl all-star game, that he had been timed over 40 yards. A year ago, he ran a 5.11.
But he denied the faster time was the result of taking steroids.
"I don't feel like I cheated at all, although I don't know what people will perceive," he said. "I trained my ass off for the Combine, and I thought I was doing the right thing.
"The results were based on how hard I trained, not because of something in my urine."
It's certainly possible that Smith wasn't intending to take a banned substance. If he had been following developments in CFL and CIS drug-testing policies, he would have known there's a high likelihood of getting caught, and particularly so this year. The CFL can test any player in the league, but it only tests them at random (unless a player already has a positive test in the CFL or another league), and only 35 per cent of all CFL players were tested last year. The CFL also funds the testing of 80 top CIS prospects each year, though, in addition to the football players CIS tests on its own. Smith certainly would have wanted to be in that group of 80, so he likely knew (or should have known) that drug testing was a strong possibility this year, especially at the combine.
However, the effects of what he did take also can't be completely written off. What benefits does stanozolol provide? Well, it's classified as an anabolic steroid, a synthetic version of testosterone. Jay Hoffman, a health and exercise professor at The College Of New Jersey, told Scientific American in 2009 that anabolic steroids can help both with training (especially weight lifting) and with recovery:
You can have a relatively quick enhancement of muscle strength and size, even if you take steroids and don’t lift weights. But the biggest benefit from using anabolic steroids is that they allow an athlete to train harder and have a quicker recovery. An athlete trains on Monday, then he comes back Tuesday and can have just as good a workout through the end of the week. The workouts for most individuals get less intense as the week goes on because they haven’t recovered completely from their earlier workouts.
So, that conceivably could make a major difference for an athlete, especially one training for a numbers-heavy event like the CFL combine. Of course, positive pre-draft tests can hurt a player's stock, and that's certainly a possibility in Smith's case too. However, his stock may not be impacted all that much. He had a great 2013 CIS campaign, playing on both the offensive and defensive lines for the Stingers and being named the team's MVP, and he impressed enough with his combine testing to rise to fourth overall in the CFL's April prospect rankings. (Moreover, two of the guys ahead of him have serious interest from the NFL, which is part of why Smith was projected as a possible top pick before this.) TSN draft guru Duane Forde said on a conference call Thursday that he didn't think Smith's test would kill his draft stock, especially given this draft's lack of high-end depth:
"I think it's going to affect him a little bit, but I don't think it's going to take him out of the first round," Forde said. "That's the supply and demand."
Forde said there were notable jumps in most of Smith's numbers between last year's East-West Bowl and this year's combine, so where he goes will likely depend on whether each team thinks his test results were mostly enhanced by drugs or mostly just the product of hard work.
"It's going to depend on how much each team thinks his test results have been affected by a banned substance."
An important question there is how long Smith was taking stanozolol. He told Zurkowsky he only took the supplements in question after the Stingers' season ended. While it seems likely he took them relatively soon before the combine (according to infamous BALCO chemist Victor Conte, oral stanozolol clears the body in about three weeks), that doesn't mean he wasn't using them for a longer period of time. There's no way to know for sure beyond his word, though, as Smith wasn't tested at the CIS level. In any case, his stock is probably going to slip as a result of this. We'll see just how much it falls, though, and whether that's enough to deter other prospects from using performance-enhancing drugs in the future.