It was announced last week that Texans linebacker Brian Cushing had been suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2010 season because he tested positive for a banned substance. Each day more and more information came out about this story, including the fact that his positive test came in September 2009. This led to a big debate over whether or not he deserved to keep his awards considering he tested positive for a banned substance during the season. The debate ultimately culminated in a re-vote of the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, which is determined by a panel of 50 writers/broadcasters.
The decision by the Associated Press to hold a re-vote of the award led to a couple new debates. Namely, the story shifted to whether or not these types of awards need a re-vote when something like this happens and to whether or not Cushing deserved to win the award a second time. Some writers believed this re-voting process was flawed and that the award should stand, leading many to once again vote for Cushing. Three members of the panel felt the process was unnecessary and abstained from voting, whereas another panelist changed his vote from Bills safety Jairus Byrd to Cushing as some form of protest. The final numbers broke down like this (original numbers on the left; new numbers on the right):
1. Brian Cushing - 39/18
2. Jairus Byrd - 6/13
3. Clay Matthews - 3/12
4. Brian Orakpo - 2/3
5. James Laurinaitis - 0/1
You probably notice that Louis Delmas is not on the list, as he didn't receive a single vote in either of the tallies. The debate over how deserving he was for this award is probably best left for a separate post, but I would have liked to see him at least get on the board. I don't necessarily think he should have won the award, but it would have been cool if he got a vote or two.
Anyways, getting back to the main focus of this post, can you believe that Cushing won the award again despite the fact that the panel knew he tested positive for a banned substance during the season? A lot of people arguing in favor of Cushing have said that the positive test came at the beginning of the season and his performance after speaks for itself. To that I say big deal. The fact of the matter is that Cushing tested positive for a banned substance. Just because it was early on in the season doesn't mean he didn't benefit from it, especially when you consider all of the rumblings about Cushing's alleged steroid use long before he got to the NFL.
One NFL general manager, requesting anonymity, offered this scorching view: "We did our research on him before the draft last year and we concluded he was a chronic steroid user dating back to high school. More than a few people were surprised when he passed the steroid tests at the combine. I think the guy became a pro at masking it, until he was caught. I definitely would have taken my vote back on that award if I had one."
As Ross Tucker brought up on SI.com, it really is even more troubling that Cushing tested positive for hCG. It would be one thing if he tested positive for flat out using a steroid, but instead he tested positive for something that is commonly used to mask steroid use, as the quote above hinted at. Cushing's defense that he didn't test positive for a PED may be true, but that doesn't mean that he wasn't using them.
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."
The last piece of the puzzle of evidence piling up against Cushing was what he said at a press conference on Thursday. Rather than man up and admit wrongdoing, Cushing threw this out there as his excuse:
Cushing claims that he initially feared that he had a tumor after learning of the positive test in October, and that he spent the balance of the 2009 season fearful that he might die. (Seriously. He said that. And no one asked whether he had an MRI or other medical tests that detect the presence of, you know, tumors.)
The problem with this excuse, aside from the fact that it is filled with holes in regards to why he didn't take other tests to make sure he didn't have a tumor, is that it already has been refuted by a doctor who is no stranger to the world of doping.
Dr. Gary Wadler, who leads the committee that determines the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned-substances list, said there have been cases of malignant testicular tumors producing HCG. Still, those cases are "extremely rare."
"If he had a tumor that produced HCG, he wouldn’t be playing football," Wadler said of Cushing. "He would be under treatment for a malignant tumor."
Wadler also noted if Cushing tested positive once because of such a tumor, HCG levels would be consistently elevated and he would continue to have positive tests.
"Malignant testicular tumors producing HCG are rather lethal," Wadler said. "It is a fairly aggressive tumor and you’re not playing in the NFL with one."
Did Cushing perform and did his play make him worthy of winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award? Sure. Did he deserve to win it again after his violation of the substance-abuse policy was announced? Absolutely not. The thing I keep coming back to is the pro-Cushing argument that his positive test came at the beginning of the year, therefore meaning he was clean during the remainder of the season. Now, I'm no expert on steroids, but it seems to me that, based on all of the evidence presented, the allegation is that Cushing has been using performance-enhancers possibly since high school. Combine those allegations (from multiple sources) with the fact that he tested positive for a common masking agent and it's not too tough to read between the lines. As the anonymous general manager quoted earlier said, "the guy became a pro at masking it, until he was caught." Up until he was caught last September, Cushing was allegedly experiencing the benefits of using steroids for at least a few years. Like I said, I'm not an expert on steroids, but I highly doubt all of that alleged use suddenly wore off right after his positive test.
What this boils down to for me is that Cushing was cheating one way or another and got caught. What's more, he is maintaining his innocence with a seemingly bogus excuse. Usually players in this situation will just claim that a legal supplement they took must have had a banned ingredient unbeknownst to them. It's not too tough to see through that excuse ("I did take the supplement, but I didn't know about such and such ingredient"), but Cushing is going beyond that and is taking no responsibility whatsoever. It'd be one thing if his excuse was even within the realm of possibility, but based on the doc's comments, it certainly doesn't sound like it.
At the end of the day, Cushing tested positive for a banned substance and has yet to provide any compelling evidence that this was all one big mistake on the NFL's part. Until that happens -- and it certainly doesn't seem like it will -- I see no reason why Cushing should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year.