Disclosing doping violations step toward transparency

RSS

CROMWELL, Conn. – When newly-minted PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sat down with a group of golf writers earlier this year in Hawaii, one of the first things he was asked about was the circuit’s policy regarding the publication of fines or suspensions.

“I think the system works,” he reasoned. “I know there is a desire to know everything that happens, but we’re a family. If there is an issue in your family you deal with it with your family. That has worked really well for us.”

The family became a little more transparent on Tuesday when the Tour announced it would begin announcing violations of the circuit’s anti-doping program that include “drugs of abuse,” like marijuana and cocaine.

Since the circuit’s anti-doping program began in 2008, the policy has been to announce violations that lead to suspensions for drugs that were deemed performance enhancing, like steroids and testosterone, but not recreational or drugs of abuse. If the new policy is a dramatic and somewhat surprising change of course, the motivation behind the shift is still somewhat unclear.

“The more transparent you are the better,” said Jason Bohn, one of four player directors on the policy board. “The more honest you are it leads to no speculation. It’s straight out in front of you. Other sports do it, this is what happened.”

While the Tour’s new policy may be a step in the right direction, it’s only a step. Unlike violations that involve performance-enhancing drugs, the commissioner still has leeway in cases involving drugs of abuse. Monahan can decide to fine or require counseling and not suspend a player who tested positive for recreational drugs, and therefore the violation would never be made public.

But even with that proviso, the new rule is a vast improvement over the old line, which held that if a tree fell in the woods, the public and press would never hear it.

Over the years, that kind of obfuscation only led to wild speculation, both among traditional media and now on social platforms, if a player took an extended leave from the Tour. The hope is the new policy will end that kind of rumor-mongering.

“We didn’t want the possibility with social media and things to create a story that wasn’t even there,” Bohn said. “By being transparent it’s right there in front of everybody.”

Internally, this seems to have been a compromise between those in the old guard who held that the Tour must protect the brand at all costs and a growing sentiment among players for clarity.

To be clear, this was not a bold move by the new commissioner to make his mark on the Tour.

“This has been talked about way before Jay,” said Bohn, of the new commissioner who took office in January. “We’ve talked about this for many years.”

The policy changes seemed to gain momentum earlier this year when Tour officials presented the plan to the policy board and 16-member player advisory council at the Farmers Insurance Open.



What exactly prompted the change depends on who you ask. According to Bohn, the Tour came to the players and asked their opinion and the vast majority were in favor of a little more transparency.

“The thinking changed because it was approached way more by the players. They put it in front of the players and the PAC, they talked about it and we had multiple meetings and discussed it and they were asked how they feel about it?” Bohn said. “Management saw that guys think this is a good idea. They felt like they were trying to protect us, which is nice from a management point of view, but once the players kind of spoke and said this is a better way to protect us they opened their ears.”

An informal and unscientific poll of players on Tuesday at the Travelers Championship, however, provided a slightly different snapshot. There were certainly plenty of players who applauded the move as long overdue.

“You break the rules, we’re going to enforce them and if you break them you should be held accountable,” Lucas Glover said. “If there is a penalty or a fine it all should be announced. If I snap my 3-wood on 15 because I hit a bad tee shot and I get fined for it, I would hope they would announce it because they probably showed it on TV.”

And there were those who seemed to have come around on the new policy somewhat begrudgingly.

“I’m not big on that completely, I’m 50/50,” said Geoff Ogilvy, a member of the player advisory council. “Transparency when it comes to drugs of dependence [abuse], in some ways I don’t think it’s anyone’s business, at least outside of the Tour, and on the other hand, it might just put the nail in the coffin and convince players not to do it.”

Ogilvy also had a different take on why the Tour came to such a surprising crossroads.

“You guys [the media],” Ogilvy said when asked what prompted the Tour’s change of course. “You guys win when it gets announced because more people read your stories. If a conduct issue happens that no one knows about, as long as it is dealt with I’m not 100 percent sure everyone needs to know that.”

The idea that improved transparency, however qualified, could serve as a more powerful deterrent than fines or Tour-imposed treatment programs could, in theory, be applied to all of the circuit’s disciplinary policies.

Would it not help speed up the play of some of the Tour’s more sluggish members if the circuit started publishing a weekly list of players who had been fined for slow play?

“That would be awesome,” Billy Hurley III said. “It’s an added deterrent for things, but I’m in the top of the Tour in pace of play. You’re seeing our sport evolve and governance evolve, but I don’t know.”

While there are probably plenty of players who agree with Hurley, it doesn’t appear as if the Tour’s new spirit of transparency transcends the rulebook. Asked if Tuesday’s announcement could open the door for more changes to the Tour’s don’t-ask-because-we’re-not-telling protocol, Bohn smiled.

“Business wise, I don’t think so,” Bohn said. “I don’t think it should, to be honest.”