But when it comes to this kid, the 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year (twice over), and NFL lightning rod over the last few days, there are a few things I do know, and those are things a lot of you know as well.
Right or wrong, Cushing’s been dogged by steroid rumors since high school. Upon entry to the NFL, he was given all the information he could ever want on the league’s substance policy, and that information remained available to him as he entered his rookie year. And yet, this guy — who (if innocent of everything) you’d think would be sensitive to all of this and have his radar up for any evidence that he’s a user — found a way to fail a PED test in the first month of his rookie season.
That’s why I don’t believe that Cushing, as it stands right now and no matter what he took, now has much of a leg to stand on in this case.
He knew the rules. This wasn’t a punter failing a test because he took something by mistake. This was a guy who’s been suspected in the past, so early in his NFL career, confirming a reputation that he’s tried like hell to shed. To what degree did he cheat? That’s up for debate, but what matters in the eyes on the league is that he’s guilty.
Still, the truth is that, among the guilty, Cushing’s got company.
We, as a press corps, have botched this thing as much as anyone. First, the Associated Press puts its voters in a very difficult position, by opening the process and forcing them to play judge, jury and executioner with short time to research the topic and get answers. Then, those voters (I don’t have a vote) did the same thing the baseball union did for years by fighting testing, which is implicitly condone cheating.
The difference here?
In baseball, the owners and players only had themselves to blame for the mess they created. The owners looked the other way. The players fought testing. And the only progress in this area was reactive, after both sides had botched everything so horrendously that they had to strengthen their process to save any remaining dignity the game had.
Football’s different, and that’s why all that talk of double-standards and baseball players getting hosed in this whole deal is complete hogwash.
The NFL and its union have worked in lockstep to address the PED issue. Have they stamped it out? No, of course not. But they’ve made an honest effort to do everything they can to keep it out of the league, and have been proactive in doing so.
That’s what bugs me most about this vote.
So many people will just look at this say, “Oh, well, see? The NFL just looks the other way with steroids”, when people in the league and the union have worked upstream against that notion for years. Those critics won’t make the distinction between the league and players, and the people who are voting on these things, who cover the game.
The league has suspended Cushing for four games. Union chief DeMaurice Smith came out and supported the ruling publicly.
The writers (and we’re supposed to be the watchdogs here) voting have given Cushing a pass.
Does that make much sense?
The AP needed to either leave this thing alone, or re-open the voting with Cushing ineligible. And while those voters were in a tough spot, I think the responsible thing to do, in making themselves accountable to the people they cover and the rules of the league, would be to act as if Cushing was off the ballot.
Instead, now, the league and its union look bad in this whole thing for a decision that they had literally nothing to do with.
Some people in the press voted for Cushing again based on believing the thing shouldn’t have been re-opened in the first place. The thought is valid. The vote is not. Picking a winner or loser for an award — in light of new revelations on the conditions the competitors performed under — is the wrong place to try and make a point on the process.
Other people voted for Cushing on past precedent, based on failed tests by Julius Peppers and Shawne Merriman earlier in the decade that didn’t result in awards revocation. That’s also flawed logic, in my mind. If you made a mistake once, are you going to keep making the same mistake just to be consistent? Come on …
In the end, this situation is still awfully cloudy.
So let’s boil it down, again, to what we do know.
Cushing, suspected in the past, had full knowledge of what was and wasn’t allowed by the league (or at least, access to that information), and still failed his test. The NFL punished him for it, and the union agreed with that decision.
And somehow, this is the conclusion we come to? That he still wins the award? Based on what? Principle? And to prove that principle, you come to the aid of someone who broke a rule, had his chance to appeal, and was again found responsible?
It just doesn’t make much sense.
But what does is this: The NFL and union have done the right thing here, and they deserve credit for it.