USA Sevens player Maka Unufe carefully checked the label on the dietary supplement he was taking. It looked safe.
However, the label failed to give the whole story. On July 13, 2018, Unufe tested positive for Heptaminol, a substance banned according to World Rugby Regulation 21 of the governing body’s anti-doping policy.
Unufe protested his innocence and the supplement was sent for testing. Sure enough, it contained Heptaminol, which is a stimulant used to improve blood circulation. USA Rugby and World Rugby are sure Unufe had no intention to cheat but because the substance was detected, they had no choice but to abide by their zero tolerance policy and ban him for 14 months.
The good news is that the ban is retroactive, which means it starts from the day he tested positive and ends in time for the 27-year-old to vie for a place in the United States’ Olympic squad and the 2020/21 HSBC World Sevens Series.
USA Rugby statement regarding Men’s Sevens player Maka Unufe.
— x-USA Rugby (@USARugby) June 7, 2019
“Been a rough year for me and my wife,” Unufe wrote on social media. “But I know God had better plans for me through these 9 months off the field … looking forward to be fighting for a spot in 2020 season/Olympics and making noise with the dawgz.”
USA Rugby Director of Medical, Michael Keating said in a statement: “This is an unfortunate instance of a tainted supplement in an unregulated industry. We urge all athletes to use extreme caution when considering nutritional supplements.”
Winger Unufe added in the statement: “This was a really unfortunate circumstance and a huge learning lesson for me. Because I was afraid to ask for guidance, I’ve had to face some very difficult consequences.
“In the same way I’ve learned from this experience, I want to set an example for other athletes in our game and help them understand that it’s important to ask questions and seek support from the coaches and staff around them.
“Rugby means a lot to me and I don’t want any future Eagles to sacrifice their opportunity to wear the jersey out of fear of asking for help.”
Unufe’s predicament is an unusual case. And the punishment was unavoidable for no fault of his own. But the player has been receiving support from all quarters, none more significant than that of Mike Friday, the USA Sevens head coach who has transformed the squad into world beaters.
It’s been tough for you and Bekah but “what doesn’t break you only makes you stronger”…we can’t wait to have you back with the Dawgs and this year and for once you will be looking forward to pre season 🙊 pic.twitter.com/uiPTjhUeuT
— Mike Friday (@MikeFriday09) June 8, 2019
Friday posted an encouraging social media message to Unufe, quoting the famous line from the Joker in the 2008 Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight.
“It’s been tough for you and Bekah but “what doesn’t break you only makes you stronger”…we can’t wait to have you back with the Dawgs and this year and for once you will be looking forward to pre season,” wrote Friday, who attached a picture of a joyful dog jumping up and down.
Main photo: USA Rugby