Out in the Open

Football player speaks up after the Waterloo steroid scandal that cost him his dream

In 2010, Matt Socholotiuk found himself in the centre of one of Canadian Varsity football’s biggest steroid scandals. After being caught for taking Human Growth Hormone, he was banned from playing football for three years. Ultimately, this would cost him his dream of playing in the CFL.

Matt Socholotiuk was caught taking Human Growth Hormone.

Matt Socholotiuk the first athlete in North America to be caught using Human Growth Hormone (HGH). (Courtesy of Matt Socholotiuk)

Matt Socholotiuk grew up as "Matt the football guy" to his family and friends.

But in 2010, he became known as the first athlete in North America to be caught using Human Growth Hormone (HGH).

So what happened?

Well, if you follow football then you probably remember what happened that year at the University of Waterloo.

Nathan Zettler was caught stealing furniture, and when the police searched his house they found performance enhancing drugs. Because Zettler was on the football team, the entire team was tested for doping the next day. Nine players were caught, including Matt Socholotiuk.
Matt Socholotiuk running the ball before he was blacklisted from football. (Courtesy of Matt Socholotiuk)

As a rookie, Matt  had one of the highest scores in summer athletic testing. But when he came back to school in the fall, one of his teammates who had benched much lower than him suddenly had the highest score on the team.

"And then all of a sudden the coaches loved him and then he was like the star and everyone was, you know, patting him on the back. And I'm like man that used to be me. How can I make that me again?" 

Matt also says it wasn't just the pressure of being the best on the team. It was the pressure of achieving his ultimate dream of playing in the CFL.

"You see the players that are doing so successful, not necessarily in the University league but in the maybe CFL or the NFL, and you go 'how can I ultimately reach that goal?' And you look at the size of these guys and you figure that's kind of your only option to get where they're at. So it kind of pushes the decision in a sports performance way."

That's my next level, that's what I'm known for, so I'm gonna do whatever it takes to get to that level.- Matt  Socholotiuk

Matt decided he would do that at any cost.

"When I took it there was no thought of getting caught. I took it the morning we got tested ...it's only detectable for about I think 36 hours and I took it literally the morning of. Like 7 a.m. — we got tested at 8."

But Matt was caught, and banned from playing football for three years.

He admits to Piya that he knew what he was doing was wrong. And he knew it was a huge risk.

So how did he balance out this decision in his head?

"I would see so many other sports characters and professional athletes get caught or things like that and they would get a year ban or a slap on the wrist or fined — and then it kinda went away.  And you know, they're still where they want to be minus like a little bit of tarnish to their record."

And in my mind it's like if they're  gonna  do it when they're professional athletes I figure they would have done it when they're amateur athletes to get to where they need to be.- Matt  Socholotiuk

To Matt, he pros of using performance enhancing drugs outweighed the cons. 

He tried everything he could to stay in the game. He even went to a CFL combine to try playing again after three years out.

"I exhausted all of my options to still play football and keep that dream alive. And it did not go too well for me." 

He says he was not the same player, or the same person. He didn't play for three years at that time. And for him even just putting on the pads felt completely different.

"You know with sports you get injured, six months later and the game has already passed you by. You can imagine what three years was like."

So, what did being blacklisted mean to Matt?

Matt says he knew they had to make an example of him. He says he has learned from his mistakes, and tells Piya he wants to help people out so that they don't make the same mistakes that he did. 

"I just want someone to go down the right path, and not have to deal with what I had to deal with. I want them to deal with my mistakes. Sucks I had to make them but they have to learn from that now."

Matt "the football guy" is now Matt the professional MMA fighter.

This story originally aired on September 10, 2017. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Blacklisted".