Implicated athletes still have plenty at stake in Galea plea deal

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Far away from the media storm hovering over the Roger Clemens perjury trial in Washington D.C., a Canadian doctor entered a Buffalo courthouse this afternoon and accepted a plea deal that might cause several prominent athletes to suffer anxious moments in the days and weeks ahead.

Dr. Anthony Galea, whose patients reportedly included Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez, Santana Moss, Takeo Spikes and Jamal Lewis, among others, admitted that he smuggled Human Growth Hormone, Actovegin (a derivative of calf's blood) and other unapproved drugs into the U.S. and that he rendered medical services to athletes without a valid medical license. Galea declined to risk a jury trial, particularly since one of his former assistants, Mary Anne Catalano, has cooperated with authorities since her arrest on drug smuggling charges.

Galea, who maintains that he only helped athletes recover from injury and that he did not try to help them cheat, will likely face prison time of about a year to year-and-a-half. As part of his plea deal, he agrees to share information with federal investigators. While the details of the information sharing are unknown, investigators are likely interested in two groups: those who distributed illegal drugs to Galea and those whom Galea treated.

The distributors are a far more important target of information for federal authorities than the users. Shutting down the distribution of illegal drugs to doctors like Galea would have a greater social impact than going after those who used the drugs. Along those lines, notice how the government's prosecution of athletes who allegedly used illegal performance enhancers has centered not on the illegal drug use, but rather on the supposed lying under oath about the drug use. That has been true of the Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Marion Jones prosecutions, among others.

Still, Galea could share damaging information, such as records that detail treatments rendered to athletes and how much and how often they used illegal performance enhancers. The information might lead authorities to consider perjury charges against athletes who previously testified under oath about their use of performance enhancers. Such testimony would have to have occurred within the last five years, as statements made before then would extend beyond the statute of limitations for federal perjury charges.

Even if Galea does not share information that would lead to athletes facing perjury charges, he could still expose them to investigation and discipline by their respective leagues (should damaging information become leaked). The leagues would also be interested in the information to better configure polices that would prevent other players from working with doctors like Galea.

Implicated athletes would also run the risk of violating morals clauses, which enable endorsed companies to suspend or terminate payments in endorsement deals. They might also suffer embarrassment and doubts about the legitimacy of their achievements.

Michael McCann is a sports law professor and Sports Law Institute director at Vermont Law School and the distinguished visiting Hall of Fame Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law. He also teaches a sports law and analytics reading group at Yale Law School. Follow him on Twitter.