Forrest Griffin, Xanax and the Right to Know When a Fighter Is Suspended

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterOctober 4, 2012

Jul. 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC fighter Forrest Griffin (left) against Tito Ortiz during a light heavyweight bout in UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

It's pretty safe to say that 2009 wasn't the best year for Forrest Griffin.

He lost his UFC light heavyweight title in late 2008, so that doesn't really count. But for Griffin's next bout, he was given a one-off fight with middleweight champion Anderson Silva. We all know how that went; the resulting fight was one of the most one-sided bouts in UFC history.

Silva essentially clowned and embarrassed Griffin before knocking him out with a jab while walking backwards. That fight is the linchpin of most Silva highlight reels produced by the UFC, displaying his utter dominance and ability to make a very good fighter look absolutely ridiculous.

On Monday, Griffin revealed on The MMA Hour that he was so nervous before the fight that, on the night before he faced Silva at UFC 101, he took a Xanax to help him sleep:

I failed my drug test I think for Xanax. I had a doctor's prescription, I was just, I didn't do it before the fight, I did it the night before, I was nervous and I couldn't sleep.

This was a revelation, the first we'd ever heard of Griffin taking the drug and failing his drug test. Neither the Pennsylvania athletic commission or the UFC elected to reveal the suspension, and it likely would've remained a secret forever if Griffin hadn't talked about it.

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As there often is in situations like this one, there was plenty of swift and negative reaction to the news. Was the Pennsylvania commission negligent about not informing the media and the public about the failure? Did the UFC have a responsibility to report the news once they found out?

Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission executive director Greg Sirb told that he wasn't legally able to reveal the failure due to medical privacy laws.

That's the way we operate. We have very strict HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws here. It's the same thing we dealt with with the (Nate) Marquardt situation.

The first of two questions: Does it matter that Griffin took Xanax? 

It doesn't. For starters, Xanax is not a performance-enhancing drug. In fact, if used immediately before a fight, I would say it's a major performance detractor. And Griffin took the pill the night before the fight, which means the effects had long since worn off by the time he walked into the cage, although you might think differently while re-watching his performance that night.

The second question: Does it matter that we weren't told? I think the answer to that question is a bit more vague.

As someone who has worked in the medical field in the past, I can appreciate the reasoning behind Pennsylvania's reluctance to withhold the information. Medical privacy laws are incredibly strict and they're in place for a reason.

That being said, I do believe the UFC needs to be proactive about releasing information like this, if only to serve as a warning to other fighters who may be considering taking performance enhancing drugs or smoking a little bit of marijuana before they fight.

The knowledge that your failures will be revealed to the world should serve as a mighty deterrent to those who consider cheating to be a viable option.

The UFC isn't the most transparent company in the world on a lot of aspects of their business, and that's fine. They're a private company and they can run things as they see fit, and that includes choosing what kind of information they reveal and what they keep secret.

But I firmly believe that all drug test failures should be reported, even if it's for something as minuscule and ultimately harmless as a Xanax taken the night before a fight. Not doing so sets a dangerous precedent that can and should be easily avoided.