The Indianapolis Colts will be without defensive end Robert Mathis for the first four games of the 2014 season after the 11-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowl defensive end was suspended by the NFL for a violation of the league's policies regarding performance-enhancing substances.
The context, though, may be more complex than the standard violation. Mathis, who amassed a league-leading 19.5 sacks last season, was taking a fertility drug called Clomid to give another grandchild to his mother who is suffering from Stage 4 esophageal cancer. According to Denise White, Mathis' spokesperson, Mathis quit taking the drug when he discovered his wife was pregnant. He was notified earlier this year of the PED violation and lost his appeal with the league.
"We have learned that Robert Mathis will be required to serve a four-game suspension under the league's policy on prohibited substances," the team said in a statement. "We recognize the extreme seriousness of this matter and will honor the confidentiality requirements of the league's program. We nevertheless wish to assure Robert and our fans that he remains an honored and cherished member of the Colts family, and that we support him as he deals with this difficult challenge."
In its own statement, the NFL said that its drug policy does not give Commissioner Roger Goodell leeway "to override the policy's procedures and assess discipline on an after-the-fact, ad hoc basis."
The league said that Mathis withdrew his appeal and accepted the discipline handed down, and only after the NFLPA requested a reinstatement of appeal did the hearing take place.
"The drug for which Mr. Mathis tested positive is not approved by the FDA for fertility in males and is a performance-enhancing drug that has been prohibited for years," the league went on to say. "Importantly, Mr. Mathis did not consult with the policy's Independent Administrator, a physician jointly approved by the NFL and NFL Players Association. Nor did he consult with his team doctor, the team's training staff, the NFLPA, the league office or the hotline established under the policy to give confidential information to players. Each of these sources would have warned against using this substance.
"A cornerstone of the program is that a player is responsible for what is in his body. Consistent application of the policy's procedures is critical to the integrity of the program."
Mathis released his own, rather more substantive statement.
"It is difficult for me to address the circumstances surrounding this suspension because they involve very personal medical information, but it is very important to me that my fans, particularly young people, understand what did and did not occur. Like many families, my wife and I faced fertility challenges, and I sought medical assistance. I specifically asked the doctor if the medication he prescribed for me would present a problem for NFL drug testing, and unfortunately, he incorrectly told me that it would not. I made the mistake of not calling the NFL or NFLPA to double-check before I took the medication at the end of last season.
"The union has worked very closely with me to present all of the facts and medical records for consideration of discipline that does not include a suspension because of the unique facts of my case, but the commissioner refused the request. I am deeply saddened that this situation will prevent me from contributing to my team for four games, and I regret that I didn't cross-check what my doctor told me before I took the medication. I hope that my fans will understand the unique circumstances involved here and continue to know that I am a man of integrity who would never intentionally circumvent the performance-enhancing substance policy agreed to by the NFL and my union.
"The incredible blessing of this very upsetting situation is that, after I took the medication very briefly at the end of last season, we learned that my wife is expecting a baby. We are thrilled that we will be welcoming a new member in several months, but I apologize to my teammates, coaches and Colts fans that I will not be able to contribute to my team for the first four weeks of the 2014 season. I will work extremely hard during that time to stay in top football shape and will be prepared to contribute immediately upon my return."