Don't lay up, Vijay. Not here. Not in the Great Deer Antler Spray Challenge.
The attorneys for Vijay Singh will want to settle his lawsuit against the PGA Tour with a confidentiality agreement attached. That's the way it's almost always done, so no one admits defeat and the ugliest secrets never spill. Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will be thrilled to move on without a deeper public examination of golf's murky efforts to police performance-enhancing drugs.
But the suit will amount to frivolous litigation if it can't expose farcical elements of the sport's PED program. The Tour already dropped its attempts to impose a 90-day suspension on Singh for using deer antler spray when the World Anti-Doping Agency said the substance had been dropped from its banned list. The suit says the attempt to penalize him damaged his reputation, but the Tour had no choice but to follow up after Singh told Sports Illustrated that he used the spray, which was on the WADA banned list at the time.
His lawyers said they plan to argue that the PGA Tour should have tested the spray on its own, instead of relying on WADA's list, and learned that it contained only trace amounts of the hormone IGF-1 and provided no performance-enhancing effects. This theory is absurd, because Tour policy states that it will rely on the WADA list. Any golfer who enters a Tour event agrees to abide by that policy.
Singh's best argument appears to be selective enforcement, accompanied by an indictment of the policy as a PR sham intended to placate sponsors, keep Congress at bay and move golf seamlessly into the 2016 Olympics.
We already know that Mark Calcavecchia admitted to using the same substance in 2011 and did not face a suspension, in part because he played primarily on the Champions Tour, which has no such policy. (The PGA Tour still could have barred him from crossing over.)
We know that Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has the discretion to block any penalties for a doping violation and then never reveal that someone faced discipline. We know that in a survey of 54 players conducted by Karen Crouse of the New York Times this winter, not one said he had been tested away from a tournament site, a vital component of random screening.
The Finchem veto is the most damning element. It obliterates trust in the program and calls to mind pretenses of the past, all made possible by officials willfully short on vigilance. There were the positive drug tests that went unreported at the 1984 Olympics and remained secret for 10 years. (A Belgian prince was in charge back then instead of an independent agency with a wonkish acronym.) There was the postdated prescription that allowed Lance Armstrong to say for years that he never failed a drug test.
When the BALCO lab case broke in 2003, the female runners called to testify and then brought up for discipline by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency were certain that one person connected to BALCO would get away: Marion Jones. She was too big to fail. Powerful people cutting monster Olympic sponsorship needed her to appear clean.
To some extent, the other women were right. While they stayed home from the 2004 Olympics, Jones flew off to Athens, scathed but not ruined. The truth about her doping didn't come out until she got involved with check-fraud scheme years later.
This is partly why MLB investigators have dug hard into the Biogenesis case. They need to reassure other players that Bud Selig is not asserting Finchem's privilege under the table, that red flags about stars such as Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun will not be ignored.
The MLB investigation also keeps Congress at bay. The PGA Tour may have undertaken the Singh case for the same reason, rather than giving him a Calcavecchia-style hall pass. He admitted to using the spray in the same article that the most combustible of NFL linebackers, Ray Lewis, made a similar acknowledgment and in close proximity to the release of the Biogenesis report. It all went down dangerously close to the Armstrong revelations, as well.
With all that heat, the Tour had to be, or appear, vigilant. In the absence of a penalty for Singh, not only would other players have rebelled, but Finchem, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson might have been cordially invited to attend a get-together in Washington. Somebody on Capitol Hill might even have noticed that only one other Tour player had faced public discipline since the arrival of the drug policy in 2008: a journeyman pro named Doug Barron.
He sued over his suspension, using at least one of the lawyers on Singh's team, and settled a year into his ban, with a confidentiality clause. His attorneys had originally contended that other players had tested positive and been let off. One of them ultimately told Sports Illustrated's Michael Bamberger that they had never been able to prove anything and that the Tour settled to keep the information to itself.
Back when Jones was fighting to protect her reputation from lab owner Victor Conte, who gave her up as a doper on national TV, she filed a defamation suit. It never went to court. Conte never had to pay a dime. He just had to shut up so he could stop incurring legal fees. They were the price of telling the truth.
Singh will have a hard time collecting on the merits of his case, since any damage to his reputation began with his own words. A settlement could mean many things -- the Tour wanted to prevent the public airing of its policy's flaws; he had no case and got no money but walked away with the opposition's promise not to extend his embarrassment -- but it would ultimately maintain the murk behind the policy.
Does Singh have any reason to wait for a court battle, out in the open? Almost no one does. But he's already taken a strange, huge strange risk by filing this suit. He may be trying to reassure his own sponsors, trying scrub away the remaining taint of the proposed suspension. But once you've reached this spot, settling seems weak. He should go for the green, with a golfer's brio, not a litigant's greed.