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Director Andrew J. Muscato Talks Epix’s Doped: The Dirty Side of Sports [Exclusive]

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How much do you know about anti-doping in the world of sports and why should you care? Is there such thing as fairness in sports? Are the cheaters exposed and the innocent exonerated? The short answer is no, but in order to answer these questions we have to look beyond the athletes. Doped: The Dirty Side of Sports takes a closer look at drug use in all sports and the mechanisms that keeps these athletes on the field and technically “drug free.” This must-see documentary is a historical journey through the biggest doping headlines, as well as the most talked-about controversies and victories in the quest to keep athletes clean and on an even playing field.

I had the chance to talk to director Andrew J. Muscato last week. I was curious about how he landed on this topic, how he got both athletes and administrators to talk to him on the record and if there’s a way the public can help start combating this problem.

TV GOODNESS: How did this topic come to your attention and how did you decide what approach to take in telling this story?

Andrew J. Muscato: “I think it’s a thematic extension of Schooled, the last film I did for Epix, which came out in 2013. It was about the NCAA and the way athletes are treated in the NCAA system. It was born out of that.

What are sport organizations are out there that say they’re working on behalf of athletes, but maybe aren’t doing the best at doing so? The anti-doping world seemed like a place I was pretty unfamiliar with and I think most sports fans are. The more I heard about them, the more I learned that it’s kind of similar to the NCAA in that they say that want to be working for athletes, but they don’t do the best job in including athletes in the decision-making process or policy making.”

TV GOODNESS: You got a great cross-section of people on camera to talk about their experiences. How willing were people to talk and tell you what they’d been through and was anything off-limits?

Muscato: “It’s funny because going back to the last film, that was a very touchy subject, people talking about their experiences as a college athlete. I know athletes are touchy about being out front on an issue that might be provocative or saying something that might meet with some sort of retribution. So, I was expecting that. But I think I found an issue that’s even more sensitive in drug use in sports and the policing of drug use in sports.

One of the problems with the whole system is the lack of data. A lot of it is guesswork and anecdotes. So there’s a lot of insinuation. There was a lot of apprehension from athletes of, ‘Wait. Why am I gonna put myself in the middle of this?’ I remember speaking to a lot of athletes agents and them saying, ‘I would never let my client go on the record to talk about the prevalence of drug use in our sport or how well or not well it’s being policed.’ It was even more challenging that getting college athletes to talk about their experiences. So, that was a surprise.

It was also a bit of a challenge to get some of the policy-makers as well, although I was very glad they were able to speak with me. It was important to show all angles of the subject. To allow themselves to be interviewed for a film that they didn’t have any sort of editorial control over was certainly a risk on their part, which I appreciate them taking.”

TV GOODNESS: It was interesting to see their viewpoints, so I’m glad you included them.

Muscato: “Of course. A lot of filmmakers say they want to make something they’d enjoy watching. That was the case with this film. If I was channel surfing, this is a film I’d want to watch. I don’t want to rely on spoon-feeding my point of view to the audience. I want the audience to come up with their own opinions on the subject. While I do have a strong point of view, I don’t want that to be the only point of view in the film.”

TV GOODNESS: These athletes who aren’t trying to game the system but get a positive test result, it seems like there’s no recourse for them. Do you have an opinion about if they’ll unionize or do something else so they can have their voices be heard in this process?

Muscato: “I think it’s really difficult and I think that’s one area where it’s important for public awareness to be raised on this issue. I think we’re a long way off from having a Track & Field union or even a Cyclist union. The talent pool is just so vast that, from what I’ve hard, there’s a lot of challenges organizing [these] athletes. That’s where the public needs to be better advocates for athletes. These people entertain us, they represent our country, so I think it’s very important that we the public also take their side.

If we see someone doing wrong, we try to correct it. WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] and USADA [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] and even the professional sports leagues, I don’t think they mean to harm athletes, however I think it’s important to raise their awareness that so many of the policies they’ve created are harming athletes.”

TV GOODNESS: It does seem like USADA and WADA have some questionable practices. What do you think needs to happen for these agencies to become more transparent?

Muscato: “USADA and boxing, for example. Even though it sounds official, the United States Anti-Doping Agency is not a [branch] of the United States government. It’s just an NGO, another entity that receives a bulk of their money by way of a federal grant. The rules still apply to them, but when they’re doing work for fire and taking on these private contracts, it would be great for there to be more transparency. In my own experience trying to obtain information, ‘How much did you charge for that?’ and “What test did you conduct?,’ it’s an area where I would hope they’re not intending to be opaque. But they don’t hand over that kind of information lightly and I think they have more leverage in this area than they realize.

If you want the US Anti-doping agency to conduct testing and supervise the anti-doping rules in your sport, then you have to follow our rules. And those rules should include more transparency saying how much for what. Globally, I think the World Anti-Doping Agency needs to do a better job of figuring out how prevalent doping is in sports because right now, like I said in the beginning, it’s all guess-work, all anecdotal.

The one study they did that I’m aware of, they commissioned in 2013. It just came out. British Parliament had a hearing where they [presented] this document as evidence. This survey was conducted by researchers all around the world at various track events. Their conclusion was that they think 40% of track athletes are or have doped. So, what does that mean? We don’t know because there hasn’t be consistent data collected. Was it 70% ten years ago and now it’s been reduced or has it gone up? They need to do a better job of keeping track. What is the problem and where are the problems? To me, as an observer, it seems like a lot of guesswork.”

TV GOODNESS: I like how you make the point that coaches and GMs and executives rarely ever come under fire and they certainly don’t ever get held accountable. What do you think needs to happen for that to change?

Muscato: “Again, this is where I think public opinion is very important because they’re the ones with control. They’re not gonna readily cede control and say, ‘Yeah, we’ll let athletes have more oversight over what we’re doing.’ I think there has to be more of a public outcry when there is a doping scandal. I think people have to be more skeptical, not just of the athletes who are doping but of the people behind the scenes who enable them.

They’re starting to look at coaches, but I think it needs to go even higher than that — to the governments of the world whether it’s the Olympics or the sports leagues. What’s in the culture of your system that allows this to happen? So I think more finger-pointing from the public [will] hopefully lead to more change on that front. We saw it in the NCAA in Schooled. Athletes really don’t have any more power now then they did 2 years ago, but because of such an outcry over the way athletes were treated in college sport, the establishment has ceded over some reform that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. It’s just public awareness.”

TV GOODNESS: That’s an important step. I have to say I learned so much from watching this documentary. Do you think this will help kick-start a change?

Muscato: “I really hope so. One thing that surprised me in starting to make this film was how WADA’s been focused on the athletes who dope, like Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones, but there hasn’t been a look at how the system operates. That’s a really important piece of the puzzle. One of the goals of this film is to educate people.”

TV GOODNESS: And, finally, what do you want viewers to take away from this film?

Muscato: “When they hear about a doping scandal that it’s bigger than just one athlete or just some rogue person. Usually there is some sort of apparatus in place. Look at Alex Rodriquez recently. There was a whole system in place, the anti-aging clinic he was getting the stuff from, the people he had giving him drugs at the clubhouse. It’s a systemic problem, he’s not some renegade athlete. So, that’s important.

The other thing, too, is I know it’s unpleasant but hopefully it serves as a bit of a reality check in that whether we like it or not drugs play a role in sports, even like the painkiller issue in football. I think we watch sports as a form of escapism. We want to believe all these people are doing these superhuman feats, but I think we all have to be realistic in what’s enabling that to take place. I think there will never be a purely drug-free sport. I think most people do realize that, but at the same time every time there’s a drug scandal they jump to the conclusion that, ‘Oh, this person’s a terrible human being,’ when I think it’s not as black and white. That’s ultimately it. It’s a much more gray issue than the establishment wants to paint it.”

Edited for space and content.

Doped: The Dirty Side of Sports premieres Wednesday, September 30th at 8/7c.

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