If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.
That seems to be the motto for several of Jeff Adams' teammates on the Canadian national Para-Athletics team, as the elite wheelchair racer deals with the fallout over his two-year suspension for cocaine, announced this week by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.
As fellow Paralympic star Chantal Peticlerc, among others, refuses all interviews on the controversial topic, blind runner Jason Dunkerley, who has been a teammate of Adams since 1998, did offer comment -- albeit carefully.
"I think it's important that the point of view be expressed that people shouldn't jump to conclusions until he has a chance to defend himself," said Dunkerley, 29, who works in public affairs for the Royal Bank of Canada Olympians program in Ottawa. "It's definitely shocking and you hope that he didn't consciously do it, you know?"
Dunkerley is the reigning world champion in the 800 and 1,500-metres with his guide Greg Dailey, and first met Adams in 1994 when Adams was a guest speaker at W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford.
"He had accomplished a lot in sport even at that time and I remember definitely feeling motivated after listening to him speak," Dunkerley said. "I think he has done a lot of good for Paralympic sport in Canada, just being someone who speaks his mind and follows it up on the track, and I hope that will live on whatever the outcome."
Along with the two-year suspension, Adams is also permanently ineligible for federal sport funding, which at the top level pays amateur athletes $1,500 a month, tax-free.
Adams is a four-time Paralympian and six-time world champion. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the Brampton athlete raced to five medals, including two gold.
At an emotional and packed news conference Tuesday, Adams explained that he had involuntarily ingested cocaine a week before the 2006 Canadian Wheelchair Marathon Championships, when an unknown woman shoved it in to his mouth at a Toronto bar. It had cleared his system within 72 hours, Adams said, but because he used the same catheter from the night of the alleged bar incident when asked to provide a urine sample after the marathon, it contaminated his test.
According to the World Anti-Doping Code, cocaine is banned only in-competition, but not out of competition.
Adams' story seems outlandish, but then he has often appeared larger than life in so many of his ventures: Climbing both the CN Tower and the Acropolis in Greece in his wheelchair, campaigning for accessibility, fighting discrimination. He's not lacking in smarts, and is a brilliant speaker.
Still, how hard is it to simply stay away from places where banned drugs risk coming at you?
For an athlete described as meticulous and single-minded, Adams' story seems to scream poor judgment. Still, who are we to judge?
"I want people to understand there's more to a human being than one positive doping test, and for those of us who don't think so, we should just look in the mirror," said Earl Church, the Para-Athletics head coach for Athletics Canada. "I can't say whether Jeff's explanation fits or not, but I know that mistakes are made, we get ourselves into strange situations as human beings. I would hate people to forget the Jeff Adams that stood up when people needed someone to stand up on their behalf."
Church, who coached at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta and the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, remembers an incident at a training camp in Australia just before the 2000 Paralympics. Athletes had complaints about the food, and it was Adams who piped up and took the matter to the chef.
"It's a small example of the fact that Jeff is going to let us know if he has got something on his mind," Church said. "Jeff's overriding feature, to me, is his intensity."
Church said his reaction this week upon learning of Adams' doping infraction was disappointment.
"I'm disappointed for the program and I'm really disappointed for Jeff," Church said. "I cannot condone in any way the fact that he tested positive. He is well known and certainly this will hurt our image. There's no question about that.
"And I'm disappointed in that Jeff has done so much for Paralympic sports and so much for people with disabilities, because this will overshadow those tremendous contributions he has made."