Did Cushing get a free pass for too long?

Pardon my indulgence, but a couple quick notes.

First, Happy 40th Birthday to my lovely bride Lisa.

Second, as a long-suffering Washington Bullets/Wizards fan, hope floated Tuesday night when they won the NBA lottery for the first pick in the draft. Hopefully, my downtrodden Wizards will make better use of that asset than the previous time with the Kwame Brown calamity. Nice to have them No. 1 in something, though.

On to football and a final look at l'affaire Cushing, the Brian Cushing suspension/steroid/hCG/AP re-vote issue.

Not a surprise

There are several members of the football team in my undergraduate class at Penn. On the day we covered the issue of steroids, many of the students strongly believed that cheaters are out there in droves.

The name that came up most often in class was Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing. According to the group, in the high school football community of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and the college football community nationwide, Cushing was alleged to be a habitual user of anabolic steroids. Many students who played against him, or with him on all-star teams in high school, as well as students who knew teammates from USC, knew of his alleged use. Although I tried to keep the debate from naming names, there was no let-up on calling out Cushing. At the time I thought it was curious; now I think it could be more.

In later talking to some league people – and this was before the events of this month -- I learned that Cushing came into the NFL with a cloud of suspicion about alleged steroid use. Scouting personnel, coaching staffs, front offices and team executives seemed to suspect something there. Yet there he was, a No. 1 draft pick, with $10.435 million guaranteed as part of a $14-million deal.

Cushing experienced great success on the field. As a valuable asset to coaches and administrators, Cushing's rumored behavior may have slid through for years.

Cushing had to know about the allegations of his use, as did those close to him. Where were the people who needed to intervene? Again, as we’ve seen with bad conduct and players continuing to exhibit questionable judgment, where are the people telling these athletes what they need to hear, not what they want to hear?

The news of Cushing's suspension is hardly a shock. His reputation as an alleged "user" has followed him from high school to college to the pros. His latest consequences are more reputation than financial, and in time, he’ll be back on the field making tackles and cheered by many who have ridiculed him lately.

The piling on

As to the issue of stripping Cushing of his honor of Defensive Rookie of the Year and casting doubt on his Pro Bowl selection, I felt like this was inconsistent with similar situations.

The substance that Cushing reportedly tested positive for, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), is a substance commonly used by steroid users to restore normal testosterone levels during down cycles. Although not a “steroid,” it is part of a steroid regimen.

In 2008, in the much-discussed StarCaps case, suspensions were handed down to Vikings players Pat and Kevin Williams and Saints players Will Smith and Charles Grant for a diuretic banned substance bumetanide. Setting aside all the legal machinations of this case, it is not significantly different than Cushing’s case. Some have shown empathy for these players, suggesting a diuretic a "weight-loss pill" cannot be compared to a masking agent for steroids.

Hello? Sure, a diuretic causes water loss and temporarily reduces weight, but let's not be naive about what a diuretic does. It masks the presence of other substances for testing purposes. Again, although not a “steroid,” it is obviously used to hide their presence. Do we really think these players were simply taking this substance to lose weight? Sure they were, and the tooth fairy is alive and well.

Pat and Kevin Williams both made the 2009 Pro Bowl, and Kevin Williams was selected to the 2010 Pro Bowl. There was no cry for a re-vote, no outrage at their selection. And the two Saints players now have Super Bowl rings. Any mention of the fact they had positive tests on their record for a drug that masks the presence of performance-enhancing substances?

Cushing has taken some heat over the past couple of weeks, including some here in this column. When it comes to re-votes and questioning the honors he received, though, he seems to be painted with a different brush than others. For that, although for little else, he deserves a break.

Unfortunately, he may have been catching another break for far too long.

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