By Ken Stone
Updated at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 4, 2016
Like the famed O.J. Simpson defense attorney, Jacobs of Westlake Village has a reputation for winning tough or unpopular cases, especially involving USADA, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
He helped Olympic sprinter Marion Jones beat a doping rap in 2006 involving the endurance-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO).
“Look, if you have a doping problem, it’s like ‘Ghostbusters’ — who you gonna call? Howard Jacobs, obviously,” wrote Alan Abrahamson, a former Los Angeles Times writer.
Greg Pizza is the 62-year-old sprinter seeking an arbitration hearing after testing positive for testosterone, part of a hormone replacement therapy he says his doctor ordered. Pizza (PIE-zah) has launched a GoFundMe drive to raise money for the legal fight.
“Howard quoted me [a] $15,000 flat fee as the cost to pursue a rule change and arbitration with USADA with his representation,” Pizza said Tuesday.
Jacobs represented Sloan Teeple, a masters age-group cyclist and triathlete. The result was a new recreational TUE (therapeutic use exemption).
But Pizza says the recreational TUE needs to be redefined. It should include all older athletes, not just ones below national-class level, he says.
On GoFundMe, Pizza writes: “The objective is to present rational reasons for modifications to the current USADA drug use rules to allow maturing athletes access to recommended medical therapies while still being able to compete in masters athletics.”After two days, he had raised $600.
Thanks to the Teeple success, Pizza thinks his case might also lead to change.
“It has become bigger than me,” Pizza said via email. “I’ve heard from a lot of athletes since the article came out and it is sad how many have quit the sport or [the] therapies they need so they can run. It seems at our ages there can be rules written and modified.”
Pizza has asked Jacobs to represent him at a still-unscheduled arbitration hearing on a possible four-year suspension.
On Thursday, local track coach Paul Greer said he sympathized with athletes with health issues, but “the fact remains that testing positive for testosterone is established as an illegal practice and the rule is reinforced by our governing body of the sport.”Greer, an assistant professor at San Diego City College, said testosterone provides an unfair athletic advantage over others who aren’t taking it.
He said athletic success is a product of dedication, hard work and staying healthy.
“The fact remains that attempting to remain healthy by using a banned substance is illegal, and it’s critical that our great sport has a level playing field with no added chemical benefit,” he said via email.
Sports lawyer Jacobs, himself a former college distance runner and pro triathlete, did not respond to a request for comment.
But he is featured in many media articles.
In a 10-year-old USA Today story featured on Jacobs’ website, sports writer Dick Patrick wrote:
“Jacobs is turning into drug testing’s version of Johnnie Cochran, an attorney who becomes high profile because high-profile clients turn to him during a crisis. While exonerations are rare under a system that assumes a charged athlete is guilty, Jacobs has gotten clients reduced sentences and earned another a half-million dollar settlement from a supplement manufacturer.”
Jacobs represented Floyd Landis, the Tour de France winner who contested a positive testosterone test, and handled the case of Tim Montgomery, the former world record-holder in the 100 meters who faced a lifetime ban but was given two years.
John Ruger, a former U.S. Olympic Committee athlete ombudsman, was quoted as saying: “I think Howard right now is one of the top anti-doping lawyers certainly in the United States in the Olympic movement.”
But Jacobs appears modest about his success. (He’s represented 160-plus athletes.)
“Sometimes you get unfairly blamed when an athlete gets suspended and sometimes you get unfairly credited when an athlete gets cleared,” Jacobs told the Ventura County Star in 2011. Marion Jones “is maybe a case where I got more credit than I deserved. All I did was hire an expert and have that expert attend and that was it.”
He says most of his Olympic-related cases are about explaining how the positive happened and “how the athletes did not want to cheat,” he said in 2011. “I am representing them in a way to get the shortest possible repercussions so their career is not ruined.”
After five days, 54 percent said no, 31 percent said yes, and 15 percent were unsure.
For Pizza’s part, “This is a fight for the community of masters athletes,” he says. “I hope it clears up that HRT is not enhancing but that many, many maturing athletes need this to supplement their dwindling supply as they age.”
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: