I’m not normally a pessimist, but I can’t see anything good coming of Doug Barron’s lawsuit against the PGA Tour and its drug testing policy. Barron’s lawyer claims that he has been treated unfairly, and will use the discovery process to dig deep into the testing procedures and results. I’m not sure the Tour really wants to do this.
At the very least, the Tour will find itself slapped for hypocrisy. Shaun Micheel—the 2003 PGA Championship winner—was given an exemption for the testosterone treatments for which Barron was disbarred. From all reports, Barron had a legitimate medical issue and the Tour knew about his drug usage from the outset, since he also applied for an exemption. There surely also are others with medical exemptions. The question will arise: why was Barron treated differently. On the surface, it looks as though the Tour was willing to look the other way for a Major winner, but not for a journeyman.
Unwanted scrutiny also will come to the testing policy itself. The Wall Street Journal graded the Tour’s drug testing policy as a 56.6 out of 100—a failing grade in my classroom. That score barely eclipses Major League Baseball’s 56.2 and places the PGA Tour in 15th place out of twenty two sports leagues evaluated by the WSJ. Surely a sports that prides itself on integrity can do better.
There’s also the potential for revealing results that will be embarrassing to either the Tour, or to other players. Policy apparently says that the Tour is under no obligation to punish offenders, or to reveal the results of tests. So it’s actually possible that Barron is not the first to get caught. Since one approved punishment is simply treatment, the public wouldn’t necessarily know if anyone had failed a test. Treatment can be done very discreetly.
Jeffrey Rosenblum, Barrons’ lawyer, says that “significant” numbers of players have tested positive for substance abuse, but have not been punished. And Tim Finchem has as much as admitted that players have been caught using recreational drugs: “We may have had some test results that trouble. But we don’t publicize those. We treat those as conduct unbecoming. I’m not saying this has happened or not, I’m just saying what the process is. If we get a test like that, we will consider it conduct unbecoming, and what are our choices? We can suspend a player, we can fine a player, we can do both of those and put a player into treatment. We could also add to that regular testing.”
Rosenblum is going to ask for results and names, and those will come out in court. The PGA Tour will get a black eye at a moment it can least afford.
This is going to be a huge mess.