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The Kissing Defense Has Never Failed

What’s the best way for athletes to get out of a failed drug test? Blame it on a passionate three-hour (!) smooching session.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Gil Roberts is an Olympic gold medalist, having won in Rio as a member of the U.S. 4-x-400-meter relay team. But you know what’s cooler than being one of the best athletes on the planet? Kissing somebody — and Roberts has apparently done a lot of that, too.

Roberts was suspended in May after testing positive for a substance called probenecid, an agent that is known to mask various banned substances. It was his first positive drug test, and he offered an explanation: As the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s report on the incident reveals, it was a result of some serious smooching.

According to the report, Roberts’s girlfriend Alex Salazar was on vacation with her family in “semi-rural” India just before his positive test. While there, she came down with a sinus infection, and her stepfather brought her to a local “chemist” whose office was “makeshift” and “messy.” The chemist prescribed her a drug called Moxylong, which contains probenecid. Salazar couldn’t take the capsules the chemist gave her as intended, so she opened them by hand and poured the medicine into her mouth.

Upon returning to America, she didn’t seek out a better medicine, per the report — she kept pouring the chemist’s Moxylong into her mouth. And on the day Roberts was tested, she took the medicine and then “found Roberts and started kissing him.” Apparently, they kept at it, kissing on and off for more than three hours, from 1 p.m. until a doping control officer showed up to take Roberts’s urine sample at 4:07.

An expert supplied by Roberts, Dr. Pascal Kintz, testified that probenecid is known to bind to the inner cheek, teeth, and gums, and that the amount of probenecid in Roberts’s system was (a) too small to mask any performance-enhancing drug use and (b) small enough to be transmitted via kisses. The USADA’s expert, Dr. Matthew Fedoruk, noted that it was unclear how the medicine would come unbound from Salazar’s cheek and gums, but clearly that USADA expert is a nerd who has never made out with someone so passionately that he removed material from that person’s cheeks and gums. All the cool kissing boys and girls have done kisses this good.

There are a couple of takeaways from this news. First: Congrats to Roberts on all the kissing! My guy! So much smooching. The USADA report notes that the kissing was “frequent” and “passionate,” and that “Roberts could not count the number of times” he kissed his girlfriend in this roughly three-hour stretch. That’s how you know the kissing was good — if you come away from a date like “we kissed exactly 27 times,” you know you don’t have a future with that person.

Second: This worked! The independent arbitrator in the case, Judge John Charles Thomas, found that this was “incidental doping” and that Roberts showed “he was without fault.”

This isn’t the first time that a kiss has threatened to take down an athlete. There was the unforgettable instance when Beth Phoenix eliminated the Great Khali from The Royal Rumble by tricking him into making out with her near the ropes:

More relevant, though, is French tennis player Richard Gasquet and Canadian pole vaulter Shawn Barber successfully using the kissing defense to clear themselves of fault after both tested positive for cocaine. That makes Roberts the third athlete to recently claim he unwittingly kissed his way into a positive drug test, and the third athlete to have that excuse work.

Gasquet argued that he had met a woman identified as “Pamela” on a night out during a 2009 tournament in Miami that ended at a French DJ’s show in a nightclub called Set. (Some other tennis terms I think would make for appropriate nightclub names: “Spin,” “Fault,” and “Match.”) He said the pair kissed and he drank from Pamela’s glass before being tested the next day. Hair tests on Pamela revealed she was a frequent cocaine user, while tests on Gasquet found he’d consumed an amount of cocaine equivalent to “a grain of salt.” His two-year International Tennis Federation ban was reduced to 10 weeks. (Dr. Kintz was also Gasquet’s expert in his tribunal.)

Barber claimed he wanted to relieve stress the night before the Canadian Olympic qualifiers last July, and thus put up a Craigslist posting searching for a woman who was “drug-free” and “professional.” A man replied with photographs of a woman described as a “mother of two,” which appealed to Barber, who reportedly was looking for someone “cautious” and “reserved.” The three met at a local hotel, where, unbeknownst to Barber, the woman snorted cocaine in the bathroom. Barber and the woman kissed and had “a sexual encounter,” while the man “exit[ed] and re-enter[ed] the room from time to time.” The woman testified in support of Barber’s story: She explained that the mystery man was her then-current, now-ex-boyfriend; that she “felt horrible about what happened” and “would hate to be the reason” Barber’s career was derailed; she said the night was a “onetime situation” and the tribunal noted she “was quite upset in recounting the events … and seemed regretful about the whole thing.” Barber successfully contested a potential four-year ban and was cleared to participate in the Rio Olympics, where he finished 10th in his event.

We can neither prove nor disprove any of these stories. All are plausible: Roberts’s and Barber’s stories were corroborated by the women they kissed; all three athletes maintained otherwise clean doping records; and all three tested positive for small amounts of drugs. Still, it’s hard not to be skeptical. Roberts’s story seems the flimsiest of the bunch. It’s easy to believe cocaine might be around sexual partners of athletes trying to have a good time; it’s harder to imagine Roberts’s girlfriend spending multiple weeks incorrectly consuming medicine prescribed by a foreign non-doctor, and that the foreign non-doctor’s medicine just so happened to contain a substance useful for athletes attempting to dope.

What I do know is that the kissing defense is now officially a thing. Thomas, the judge in the Roberts case, cited both the Gasquet and Barber decisions as precedent. With each person who successfully argues a positive test was triggered by kissing, it becomes more likely that future athletes will be able to smooch their way out of trouble.

How far will this go? How much of a substance will an athlete be able to blame on a kiss? How improbable could the substance be? (“I know there was a full pound of HGH in my urine sample. But I’d been kissing the Hulk — WITH TONGUE, Your Honor — for 72 consecutive hours.”) So far, all three athletes to pull off the kissing defense have been men, blaming femmes fatales for smooching drugs into their bodies. Will any female athlete ever blame someone for kissing illegal substances into them?

Oddly, Thomas argued that Roberts had shown more judgment than the other two athletes; they had kissed women “about whom they knew nothing,” which was “arguably reckless,” while Roberts had kissed his girlfriend of two years. Thomas has hit on the enormous kissing problem facing athletes across the globe. We all understand that it is common for a stranger to kiss drugs into a world-class athlete. But for an athlete to be betrayed by a kiss from a longtime partner? That’s unthinkable.

There is only one way to stop to what’s becoming an epidemic: ban kissing.