Testosterone replacement therapy and the debate over its use in professional athletics has been one of the hottest topics in the discussion about sports performance.
It is a hot-button in MMA in particular with notable fighters such as Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Dan Henderson, Frank Mir, and others regularly being granted therapeutic use exemptions to enlist the assistance of TRT.
ESPN's Outside the Lines (watch the video here) recently shifted its gaze onto TRT use in mixed martial arts, focusing its white-hot spotlight primarily on Belfort, whose recent career resurgence, which has co-incided with his TRT use, has made him a lightening rod for criticism. Beyond Belfort, however, ESPN's Mike Fish focused on the disproportionate allowance of TRT in mixed martial arts compared to most other sports.
Of particular note, Fish pointed out that not a single athlete in the summer Olympics in London in 2012 received a TRT exemption, and that the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees thousands of athletes, issued but a single exemption in 2013.
Outside the Lines confirmed that mixed martial arts, by comparison, has had at least 15 athletes over the past five years that have been issued exemptions for the use of TRT. Six Major League Basebell players have received exemptions in the past six seasons, while no professional boxer is known to have received an exemption from the athletic commissions that oversee combat sports.
The Outside the Lines piece certainly casts light on some damning facts about TRT usage in mixed martial arts, although there is no clear end in sight to the debate on whether or not TRT usage is purely medicinal or if it is definitively performance enhancing.
The Association of Ringside Physicians recently issued a statement calling for an end to TUEs for TRT.
“The incidence of hypogonadism requiring the use of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) in professional athletes is extraordinarily rare. Accordingly, the use of an anabolic steroid such as testosterone in a professional boxer or mixed martial artist is rarely justified,” read the statement. “Steroid use of any type, including unmerited testosterone, significantly increases the safety and health risk to combat sports athletes and their opponents. TRT in a combat sports athlete may also create an unfair advantage contradictory to the integrity of sport. Consequently, the Association of Ringside Physicians supports the general elimination of therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) for testosterone replacement therapy.”
The Association's statement has rippled through the mixed martial arts world, but has yet to produce any tangible results. The Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is one of the leading commissions to oversee combat sports in the United States, is however slated to discuss and possibly take action on its current policy on therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy at a commission meeting on Thursday.
With Vitor Belfort currently slated to challenge UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman in an event slated for May 24 in Las Vegas, the NSAC's discussion on the topic on Thursday, depending upon the outcome, could be a tipping in the conversation leading to action.