Yoel Romero, manager now claim tainted supplement to blame for failed USADA test, push for leniency

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

Yoel Romero (photo credit Gary A. Vasquez © USA Today)

Yoel Romero and his manager Malki Kawa opened up about his failed USADA drug test on Monday, and he’s not quite as off the hook as they led fans to believe over the weekend.

During an interview with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, Romero and Kawa explained that he did indeed test positive for a banned substance, but that they’ve traced it back to a supplement that contained the drug off without it being labeled.

Arguing that Romero couldn’t have known the banned substance in question was in the supplement he took, Kawa argued for leniency from USADA even as some form of punishment is likely to come.

“The substance has a label with a bunch of stuff on it,” Kawa said. “None of that is illegal to take. What he got popped for is not on the label. So it’s obviously not his fault that he popped for this… He did take the supplement. If you take a supplement, you run the risk of this happening. The responsibility does fall on Yoel.

“…I don’t expect it to be two years. I don’t think two years would be fair.”

For his part, Romero is hoping for a lenient punishment as well, and doesn’t think he should be wholly held accountable for what was in his system.

“I think it’s my responsibility when I take something. But I think maybe a public warning [would be a fair punishment],” Romero said. “I don’t know. … Nobody knows. When you see the supplement, outside it says it’s clean, you can take it… My whole entire life, I’ve trained very hard. I abstain from a lot of stuff in life. To reach not just the world title, but also to maintain my family. If I would have committed what they’re saying, I’m running the risk that I can’t support my family. I think more about my family than I do a title. I’m conscious that if I take one of these supplements, they’re going to catch me.”

USADA released a comment regarding the matter after Romero and Kawa made the situation public, and said they’re still in the process of investigating how the positive test came about.

“At this time we are investigating the circumstances surrounding his positive test to determine the appropriate outcome, in accordance with the rules,” USADA said in a statement. “It is also important to remember that there is a full and fair legal process to handle the adjudication of any case, and all athletes are provided full due process before any decision is reached.”

Penick’s Analysis: The way they seemed to characterize things over the weekend was that all was clear, suggesting the B sample that was supposedly being tested would have cleared him. Now they’re admitting that he did, indeed, test positive for a banned substance, and tainted supplement or no it’s not as compelling an argument. The supplement industry is unregulated, and it’s well known that many oftentimes contain things that are not revealed on the label. While it may be true that these athletes are then not knowingly taking banned substances, they’re taking a known risk in using them because of that fact, and USADA may not be entirely sympathetic to the argument as a result. We’re back to Romero’s immediate future being in question, and though he may receive a warning at best, he’s still potentially facing a two year suspension.

[Photo (c) Gary A. Vasquez via USA Today Sports]

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