Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The O. J. Syndrome

Geez, NASCAR people are naive about drug testing. They act like it is brand new science instead of something that has been going on, without much controversy, for years.

NASCAR just instituted its new drug-testing policy in 2009. A few garage and pit crew guys came back with dirty drug screens and got kicked out of the sport. There wasn't any fuss about it. But then, Jeremy Mayfield, a Sprint Cup driver, tested positive and was suspended from racing and, Lord, all hell broke loose. Jeremy swore he was innocent, that NASCAR's testing procedures were flawed. First, he said that he was taking Adderall (for adult Attention Deficit Disorder) and over-the-counter Claritan and the combination of the two had caused a false positive. Of course, prior to a drug test, those to be tested are asked what medications they've recently taken so they can be accounted for but, for whatever reason, Jeremy failed to do that at the time.

Then Jeremy hired the most high-profile attorney in the NASCAR world. Well, maybe "hired" is the wrong word. I doubt if Jeremy hired Bill Diehl since he has barely enough money to fund getting his car on the track so I assume the operative phrase was: "will work for publicity". And there was a lot of publicity with Diehl filing a flurry of motions alleging that NASCAR had screwed up Jeremy's drug test and their lab was incompetent, etc. etc. Eventually, it was reported that the substance for which Jeremy's test had come back positive was methamphetamine. Jeremy's team produced a doctor who declared that it was very possible that the combination of drugs Jeremy claimed to have taken could have resulted in a false reading but then it turned out that Jeremy's doctor's wasn't really even a doctor.

In the course of time, Jeremy's legal team filed for an emergency injunction to lift the suspension. The judge agreed that more harm could come to Jeremy if he was innocent and didn't race than would be done to NASCAR if he was guilty and did - a decision not necessarily agreed with by many of the drivers who'd have to be going 200 miles an hour on the same track with him. The judge, however, did give NASCAR the right to test Jeremy whenever they chose.

In spite of the supposed emergency nature of the injunction, Jeremy did not appear at Daytona, the first race after his suspension was lifted. And he did not appear at Chicago, the next race. He said he planned to be at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis at the end of July. NASCAR then informed him that he was required to do another test. What followed next was a comedy of errors. First, Jeremy said he didn't hear his phone or read his voice mail in time to appear at the testing site in the two hours he was allowed. He finally got in touch with somone who told him to go to a closer location but he got lost and never found it. And then he couldn't reach anyone at NASCAR or the testing facility to find out what to do next. So he just went home. Eventually, NASCAR appeared on his doorstep with someone to administer the test, as well as a security guard. It still took almost an hour before Jeremy gave the sample. His attorney was incensed because NASCAR insisted that someone watch him urinate in the cup. He lawyer thought it was outrageous that NASCAR implied Jeremy couldn't be trusted. Anyone who has ever worked in law enforcement or the criminal justice system for as many years as I did knows that the most common method of beating a drug test is to substitute "clean" urine for your own. Some substance abusers have even been known to make their children provide them with urine.

Well, we waited a week and a half and guess what? Jeremy tested positive again. In addition, his step-mother gave a sworn affidavit stating that she'd seen Jeremy snort meth on several occasions. Did Jeremy fold his tent and admit defeat faced with such overwhelming evidence? Nope, now he believes NASCAR deliberately falsified results to target him and his step-mother is a lying bitch.

All this is exactly what I predicted at the start of this circus. I never believed Jeremy would ever race again. It seemed obvious that this court battle was all about pressuring NASCAR into a large settlement to make the negative, high-profile case go away.

What amazes me is how much so many NASCAR fans seem to hate the sanctioning body of their sport. They willingly suspend their common sense in their desire to believe that NASCAR is capable of falsifying records with the goal of destroying a driver although what the motive would be, I have no idea. None of this has been in NASCAR's best interest. The case has tarnished NASCAR's reputation right along with Mayfield's. But fans want so strongly to identify with the little guy against the powerful organization that they ignore what seems to me to be incontrovertible evidence of Jeremy's guilt.

Poor NASCAR. I think if the situation had been reversed and they'd only slapped Mayfield on the wrist, they'd have been accused of letting Jeremy get away with it because he was a elite driver while the lower level people got tossed out of racing. They can't win either way.

What confounds me most though is the smoke screen that this case has thrown up around drug-testing. Folks, we've been doing this for a long time. Jails and probation departments around the country order thousands of drug screens daily and judges invariably accept those results. As a consequence, thousands of Americans lose their freedom, not just the chance to race a car. Most of them don't protest their fate.

It is a sad fact of our legal system that if you have access to high-powered counsel (a la O.J.), you stand a good chance of beating the rap via attorneys who swamp the court in a tsunami of paperwork. They hire paralegals to comb every document for the smallest inconsistency or innocent error to protest. A misspelling or a misplaced comma can be the cause of an indignant appeal. Definitions are twisted, statements are distorted, witnesses are tormented.

And you are oh-so-much more likely to make the court of public opinion work in your favor if you are well-known. If O. J. Simpson had been O. J. Jones, he probably would be in prison right now for murder. If Jeremy Mayfield, Sprint Cup driver, had been Jeremy Smith, garage mechanic, nobody would likely give a damn about his future, or lack of, in auto racing.

NASCAR nation wants to root for the underdog but Jeremy Mayfield isn't the underdog any more than O. J. Simpson was the underdog. The underdog is that anonymous little garage guy who fails the test and doesn't have a team of attorneys to help him beat the system.