Some quick-hitting thoughts on the Brian Cushing/performance-enhancing drug saga...
• Veterans playing just one more year need not worry. Cushing tested positive in September, didn't have his appeal hearing until February and ultimately found out last Friday that he'd be suspended for four games at the beginning of the 2010 season. Listen, I'm not in favor of athletes using performance enhancers, but Cushing's timeline tells me that any veteran player who is looking to play one more year can seemingly take a banned substance without having to worry about any potential consequences like losing money or missing any games. And it really doesn't matter whether it is a fringe player just trying to squeeze out one more year or a superstar looking to go out on top. Either way, the repercussions appear negligible.
• Players should sue if it is a tainted supplement. A common reason given in recent years from players who tested positive for a banned substance is that they took a supplement that failed to disclose all of its ingredients. Fine. I think a rule should be established in which any player who uses this excuse has to reveal the name of both the supplement and the banned substance. And then they have to file a lawsuit against the supplement manufacturer. I mean, how can you not? Not only is the player going to lose significant amounts of money as a result of the impending suspension, but the damage to his reputation is even worse. If a player isn't going to sue the supplement maker, like Rams outside linebacker David Vobora has recently done, then I don't think they should be able to use that excuse. It just rings hollow.
• The league needs stiffer punishments. Clearly the current four-game suspension is not a big enough deterrent for players to either shy away from taking PEDs or be more careful with the other substances. As such, I think a one-year suspension for an initial positive test and a lifetime ban for a second is in order. Any player, like Dolphins nose tackle Jason Ferguson, who is found to have tested positive a second time does not deserve to play in the NFL again in my book. Yes, the one-year suspension may sound a bit rough for somebody who may have legitimately taken a tainted supplement, but the harsher punishment should only serve to help their lawsuit against the supplement company.
• Maybe it is the water in Jersey. One former USC teammate of Cushing once told me that he strongly suspected that Cushing was taking some type of PED. "I don't know for sure that he takes anything," the player said, "but every time he goes back to New Jersey for a while over the summer and then comes back to Los Angeles he looks like a different person. It is unreal."
• Respect the truth. More than anything, I am sick and tired of all of the excuses constantly offered up by athletes who test positive for a banned substance. If it isn't the tainted supplement excuse, it is the "I didn't know what I was taking" excuse or the "I only did it once to come back from an injury" refrain. How about just being honest for once?
I'd have a lot more respect for a player who said he decided to take a PED because of his burning desire to be the best and the pressure he felt to have some type of an edge. Or they could say they took it to level the playing field because their perception is there are a lot of players taking it and they didn't want to get behind. I don't care what they say, just as long as they admit they were trying to cheat the system and gain an advantage.
• Is non-steroidal better or worse? Pretty much the only quote offered up by Cushing thus far is that he tested positive for a non-steroidal banned substance, later revealed to be hCG. Perhaps that sounds better to the common fan than "I took a performance-enhancing drug." Not to me. Every banned substance is banned for a reason. Either it enhances performance or it masks drugs that do. That's why when I read Cushing's quote, all I thought was not only was he taking a PED, but also he was trying to cover it up and get away with it. That makes it worse, not better.
• The Houston Texans knew there was a risk. The Texans somehow managed to escape any criticism during this incident for their decision to draft Cushing so high in the first round. They shouldn't get off the hook that easy, especially considering there was such rampant suspicion about Cushing, dating to his high school days in North Jersey. Maybe the fact he played so well as a rookie has partially absolved them of any blame for selecting him. Well, now one of their top five players won't be available for the first four games of a critical season for a franchise looking to make the playoffs for the first time.
• The Texans now have something in common with the Steelers. Both teams are playoff contenders in the highly competitive AFC for the upcoming season. They also both narrowly missed making the playoffs last season. Now, both teams will have to play the first four games of the 2010 season without one of their best players -- Cushing in Houston, Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. That's a big problem considering one game could be the difference between a playoff berth or not.
More on Cushing:
Peter King: Why I'm not voting for Cushing againDon Banks: Why revote sets a bad precedentReact: Share your thoughts on Cushing saga