Chael Sonnen’s CSAC Hearing: A Case Study on How to Conduct a Witch Hunt

Posted: May 19, 2011 in Boxing, MMA


On Wednesday, May 18, at a special hearing, the California State Athletic Commission (“CSAC”) upheld an indefinite suspension of mixed martial artist Chael Sonnen, a fighter with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”). Josh Gross of ESPN tweeted during the entire hearing and reported the story here.

The Facts

To summarize the facts that are largely not disputed, Chael Sonnen suffers from hypogonadism, which resulted in a prescription for testosterone injections by his doctor. In the absence of such a prescription, those injections are against the rules and will result in a suspension. Even if there is a prescription, the fighter has a duty to disclose both his condition and treatment to the CSAC.

After Sonnen had tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, he was suspended for one year by the CSAC, which is recognized by the athletic commissions of the other states. Sonnen claimed the suspension was unjust, as he had disclosed both his condition and treatment to the Nevada State Athletic Commission (“NSAC”), which he believed satisfied his burden in California as well. As a result, his suspension was reduced to six months. On April 19, 2011, after the CSAC learned Sonnen’s claim to be false, the CSAC suspended Sonnen “indefinitely.”

Wednesday’s hearing was an attempt by Sonnen to get his license back so he could sign on as a coach on the UFC’s reality show, the Ultimate Fighter (“TUF”), which has suffered diminished ratings, and which would be greatly helped by Sonnen’s personality. Not surprisingly, the UFC brass supported Sonnen’s efforts, with their doctor testifying that Sonnen had told him about the treatment. Sonnen also changed his story a bit, claiming that it was his manager, Matt Lindland, that provided the information to the NSAC, and Lindland sent a written statement to the CSAC testifying to that effect. The CSAC refused to consider that statement.

While all of this was going on, Sonnen plead guilty to a fraud charge in Oregon. This resulted in him losing his realtor’s license, being put on probation for two years, and having to pay a fine.

The CSAC’s Real Motivation

Obviously, I don’t know any of the people involved, but I’ve followed Chael’s controversial career, the media’s coverage of it, and this latest incident. My take on this is that Sonnen angered members of the CSAC Committee, and they’re taking it personally. This, in turn, is affecting their judgment. On top of that, Chael is something of a bigot, and he’s about the best trash-talker in the sport, and he certainly talked trash about the CSAC when discussing his case publicly. His personality isn’t doing him any favors.

George Dodd of the CSAC admitted that he’s factoring in Sonnen’s fraud conviction. He’s already been punished by the state of Oregon for that crime. While the UFC, a private organization, is free to release or suspend Sonnen for this, it is horribly inappropriate for a government body to punish him again, especially considering the acts took place outside the scope of California’s jurisdiction. Granted, this is a license we’re discussing; Chael has no legal right to a license, and if I committed Chael’s crime in Oregon, the Virginia State Bar could and would suspend my license to practice law. However, my initial scan of the CSAC’s regulations didn’t uncover an “ethics” requirement for obtaining a fighter’s license, but in any case it shouldn’t. They’re licensing people to punch each other in the head, not to represent third parties in legal transactions. The license is based, for the most part, in whether the fighter is physically and emotionally fit to fight. See page 30, starting with section 280. This doesn’t mean licensees can lie to the CSAC without consequences, but I’ll address the “lie” below. Nevertheless, it’s clear from Dodd’s own words that the Oregon fraud case is factoring into the CSAC’s decision, and that the suspension is a form of punishment. California shouldn’t be involving themselves in that case. So why are they?

Answer: Ego.

The CSAC is a part of the state government. They have a responsibility not to act in their own self-interest or punish people for their sociopolitical views or personalities. Impermissibly extending their police power outside their jurisdiction is petty and unethical, and they’re doing so because either 1) they got their feelings hurt, or 2) they know they can. Perhaps it’s both.

If It Weren’t for Childlike Behavior by the CSAC, Would Sonnen’s Suspension Have Been Indefinite Anyway?

Probably not. The actual reason for the suspension reduction wasn’t because they believed Sonnen’s story about reporting the incident. The reason they reduced it was because his use of testosterone is actually acceptable behavior in light of his hypogonadism. He simply failed to meet his burden to report it (or assure himself that his management team reported it). That unquestionably deserves punishment, because it is his burden, but it warrants only six months, and certainly doesn’t warrant irreparably damaging his career.

As for his “lie,” it really wasn’t much of a lie. When he said, “I told them about my condition,” he was speaking figuratively. He meant “his camp” and specifically his manager, Lindland. His manager stands by this story, so Chael might have been duped along with the CSAC. Again, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be punished. It’s still his burden to make sure the CSAC has all the facts. It does, however, explain everything, and the CSAC should have been happy with the suspension Chael has already endured.

Sonnen did some wrong things, but he’s been punished for that, but that should be the end of it. The only bad guys left are a bunch of whiny children sitting on the CSAC.

The UFC’s Support

The UFC claimed that this could cost Sonnen his spot on the UFC roster, but that shouldn’t factor into the CSAC’s decision. The UFC’s stance is obviously based on their own self-interest. They want Sonnen to be a TUF judge in order to revive their ratings, and the show’s timing requires he get his license by early June in order to participate. If the UFC releases Sonnen over this, they’re crazy. He’ll be eligible for reinstatement in mid-June. Of course, who says his application will be treated fairly in California or other states at this point, which might be why Sonnen testified that this negative outcome would likely result in his retirement.

So Why Is This So Important?

Like I said, I don’t know anyone involved personally. While Chael is an exciting fighter, I could do without his trash talk. Of course, unlike many trash-talkers, he backs it up, but still, as I’ve said again and again, I don’t think we need that level of disrespect in this sport.

The problem is that this appears to be the seeds of the same corruption that runs through boxing. If that corruption has reached into mixed martial arts, we have a problem. I guess it was inevitable, but I didn’t want to have to see it. If people’s licenses depend how much money they draw to the sport or how well they kiss the asses of the ostensibly impartial government-appointed body, then the sport has descended into the same cesspool boxing has.

Of course, there are degrees of corruption. MMA certainly isn’t boxing yet, but it appears the process has officially begun, and that makes my eyes rain.


Follow me on Twitter @MMADork
Follow the CSAC on Twitter @_CSAC_ (unverified account)
Follow the UFC on Twitter @ufc
Follow Sherdog on Twitter @Sherdog

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