In the aftermath of the news on Roman Torres’ 10-game suspension by MLS for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, the prospect of an appeal or reduced suspension was raised by both Torres and Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer. The Panamanian defender held a press conference after the suspension was announced arguing that he had neither the intent to ingest a banned substance nor the knowledge he was taking performance enhancing drugs.
After practice Saturday, Schmetzer expressed support for his player, noting he’d be welcomed back, and hoping for a shorter sentence from the league. “If there is any avenue to shrink the sentence, we want to be supportive,” Schmetzer said. “I don’t know what our process is, what our rights are, I believe that the Union (MLSPA) takes care of that for the players.”
The MLS and the MLSPA collectively bargained the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Policy, and the policy itself is not public. Reached for comment, the MLSPA has explained why it is highly unlikely that Torres’ suspension will be overturned or reduced.
First, MLS and its players operate under a “strict liability” standard as it pertains to substance abuse violation. That means regardless of knowledge or intent, a positive test will put the player at risk of a suspension.
“Under the policy, players are responsible for what they put in their bodies irrespective of whether there was any intent to take a prohibited substance,” according to a statement from the MLSPA.
That obviously puts the onus on players to research and be apprised of the ingredients in supplements they are taking. In Torres’ case, he indicated he ingested an over-the-counter supplement he purchased in the US, though he maintains he is to this point unsure what exactly triggered the positive test, because MLS has not told him.
Because knowledge and intent have no meaning in the context of violating the Policy, the only avenues available to Torres or the MLSPA are to challenge the test itself via filing a grievance. Unfortunately for Torres, the MLSPA does not believe such a tactic in this case will bear fruit.
“While a grievance is theoretically possible, to prevail, we would have to demonstrate that the test results were wrong, rather than Román did not intend to take a performance enhancing substance. That is a virtually impossible standard,” according to the MLSPA.
With the options for overturning the test limited and intent and knowledge irrelevant, there is no path to have the fines and/or suspension reduced.
“The policy also provides for a set schedule of fines and suspensions for players who test positive for performance enhancing substances and that schedule was collectively bargained,” the statement says. “Roman’s fine and suspension is in accordance with that collectively bargained schedule, so the length of the suspension and/or amount of fine could not be challenged successfully.”
The bottom line is that as it currently stands, players are the ones responsible for what substances go into their body, and they bear the risk when they either don’t do the research or rely on the opinions over others, good faith though it may be. A fact that frustrates the MLSPA, given what they believe is a lack of regulation in the area of supplements.
“The problem is that in this country, lawful nutritional supplements that can be purchased over the counter lack sufficient regulation,” the statement concludes. “As a result, they can and often are contaminated with undisclosed ingredients that may cause an adverse test. Román had absolutely no intention to try to cheat, and the unfortunate fact is that he is the victim of an industry with insufficient oversight.”
A request for comment from MLS has not been returned as of the publishing of this article. The article will be updated when/if a statement is provided.