LB Brian Cushing

LB Brian Cushing

As of this writing, linebacker, Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans is no longer the Associated Press’ Defensive Rookie of the Year. After being suspended for the first four games of the upcoming 2010 season for a violation of the National Football League’s policy on performance enhancing drugs, the AP has taken the unprecedented step to conduct a revote on whom the award should go to. Cushing’s name remains on the ballot, but it would seem extraordinarily unlikely that in light of the recent developments, he will garner enough votes sufficient to win. New votes are due by 9:00 A.M. Pacific Time tomorrow.

“This is the first time we’ve encountered an issue like this,” Lou Ferrara, the AP’s managing editor for sports and entertainment, said. “Because these awards are based on on-field performance, we consider it necessary to review the matter and allow for a re-vote, especially after concerns were raised by many of our voters.” How Cushing’s 39 of a possible 50 first place votes will be recast is anyone’s guess.

The three things which bother me most right now are: the lying, the extreme measures individuals like Cushing go to to cheat the game, and the impact it has on those who play the game fairly. The totality of these malfeasances further tarnish the game so many of us love.

It was first reported, by ESPN’s Adam Shefter that the positive test was for increased levels of hCG. Though produced naturally by the body elevated levels are most commonly found in pregnant women. This is the same issue that got Los Angeles Dodgers, Manny Ramirez suspended for one third of the season. Ramirez was treated to a mock baby shower upon his returning to the team. When found in athletes it is usually being used to restore the body to a state of “normal” after engaging in anabolic steroid use. It is for this reason that Cushing could truthfully report in a Saturday press release that the test that found him guilty of violating the League’s performance enhancing drug policy was a, “non-steroidal banned substance.” He is telling the truth. He is just intentionally misleading people, which is how I define a lie.

Cushing has been a 18 month journey full of questions regarding the authenticity of his football prowess. Questions haunted him throughout last season’s draft process and forced him to address the issue publicly. What we know is that he tells the truth, but chooses his words carefully. During last season’s scouting combine, Cushing held a press conference where he stated, “…you can ask anyone I know. I’m the hardest working guy on the team, and people can just say whatever they want.” To the best of my knowledge, accusations regarding Cushing’s work ethic (or IQ for that matter) were never in doubt. The questions I heard surrounded how cleanly he did this “hardest” work. And by clean, I am not talking hygiene.

Cheating is usually perceived as a short-cut. This is true when it comes to looking a smarter classmates test answers, but sometimes it requires extraordinarily hard work. Frequently those involved in deception MUST work harder than everyone else. You see; keeping secrets, contorting the truth, and doing all the things that are involved in covering up these behaviors takes a lot of work. Sometimes being the hardest working guy requires doing things that no one else is will do, like violating rules. Ask Bill Belichick how hard he worked pouring over video tapes of every opposing team’s side-line signals. Hiding needles, phone callas to suppliers, hush money to middle-men, the added stress — these all require hard work. It is just not the kind of work an athlete should be expending their energies on.

Who might be playing in the NFL if there were no Brain Cushing (2010), Shawne Merriman (2006), or Julius Peppers (2002) (all of whom were found to have used performance enhancing substances their rookie seasons and gone one to win defensive rookie of the year honors). Three players in a span of less than 10 years! This is a problem that must strongly be addressed in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.

When a player cheats to gain a competitive edge there is always the possibility that that edge, even if slight, might have been significant enough to keep another very good player from being drafted, making the team, becoming a starter, wining awards, and getting fat contract extensions. I wonder about the guy who is unknown because he too was very gifted, worked extraordinarily hard, but played by the rules.

Going forward, Cushing will be judged by what he does with the rest of his career. If he returns and remains a dominating linebacker capable of 120+ tackles per season, he will be considered like defensive end, Julius Peppers — a player who made mistakes, but turned it around. Should he return and be a shell of his former self and get injured frequently, he will be considered like linebacker, Shawne Merriman — a guy who cheated his way to the top and potentially took glory away from others. Cushing should be ashamed of his behavior rather than continuing his insistence on innocence and being a victim.