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Vargas Faces Suspension, Fine for Using Steroids

November 20, 2002|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, set to rule today on disciplinary action against boxer Fernando Vargas for steroid use, appear to favor by a narrow majority a lenient penalty.

Vargas, who will face the five commissioners at a hearing today, is expected to be suspended and fined for using the androgenic anabolic steroid stanozolol before his September match against Oscar De La Hoya. But if the commissioners are in a lenient mood, that suspension could be for six months or less, perhaps even retroactive to the fight. That would leave Vargas three months to serve, a period in which he wasn't going to fight.

At the crux of the issue is confusion over the current status of Nevada's ban on steroids for boxers and others engaged in licensed combat. A memorandum on the ban issued July 1 of this year states, "This is not a period of amnesty. Steroids have never been an approved drug or injection. Rather, there will be a period of leniency until Dec. 31, 2002. This time frame will give all competitors who may currently be under the influence of steroids time to be completely free of steroids."

Luther Mack, chairman of the commission, doesn't feel punishment should be different in this six-month period. Commissioner Edwin "Flip" Homansky, a former ringside physician, feels education of fighters on the dangers of steroids is more important over this six months.

"We want to set the record straight," Mack said, "that steroids will not be tolerated. I don't see this as an advisory period at all. I see this as something the commission cannot condone. We must let the world know it will not be tolerated. I think you'll be surprised to see how things go."

Homansky was emphatic that no agreement has been made by the commissioners, no decisions have been made and that he would not comment on the specifics of the Vargas case.

"Steroids are a major problem in our sport," he said. "Our main goal in the six-month period is the education of the fighters and that continues to be my goal."

A urine test, administered to Vargas after he lost to De La Hoya by technical knockout, came up positive for steroids. At first, Vargas demanded additional testing.

He subsequently sent a letter to the commission pleading ignorance, claiming he was given the steroids without his knowledge by others in his camp. The two indicated are strength and conditioning coach John Philbin and nutritionist Mazzan Ali.

Philbin, who resigned after the fight, has vehemently denied his involvement in a letter to the commission.

"With a guy like that [Ali] around," Philbin said by phone Wednesday, "nothing surprises me. I did not assume Fernando was taking steroids at the time, I was shocked. As much as Fernando hates to lose, I do not think he would knowingly jeopardize the biggest fight of life. This guy [Ali] came in and disrupted my entire karma."

Attempts by the commission to get a response from Ali had failed as of Wednesday afternoon.

Whether Vargas knew what he was ingesting will not be the determining factor in Mack's decision.

"If you have an accountant who gives you the wrong information," Mack said, "he's not going to jail. You are. That's a lame excuse by Fernando and I'm not sure it's something we will consider. He knew what he was doing. That's not something you buy over the counter."

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