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The Carletonian

Should honors be rescinded because of steroid usage?

<ong>By David Sacks

In January, Brian Cushing won the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year award.  Then last week it was reported that Cushing had failed a drug test during the season, testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug often used as a masking agent for steroids.  Sports writers called for a revote.  The votes were cast and the result was that Cushing retained his award.

So now we have a player who unquestionably failed a drug test and has been dogged by drug allegations since high school – when he went from a 165-pound freshman to a 225-pound upperclassman – who gets to keep a prestigious award he earned while cheating.  Contrast this to baseball, where Mark McGwire, who has hall of fame credentials, won’t even sniff the Hall of Fame because he took performance-enhancing drugs even though at the time such drugs were not yet banned in the game. 

This case seems to reveal how little the NFL and its writers care about steroids and other drugs in the game.  After all, on every Sunday during the season we see on TV athletes who do not look human.  We watch athletes who are over 270 pounds and can run just as fast and are just as athletic as those who are significantly lighter.  There is no question that illegal drugs are aiding some of these players. 

The NFL, though, looks the other way and its writers send a message that whether a player does great things on the field through dedicated training or through illegal substances the way that player is viewed won’t be impacted.  After all, in 2006 Shawne Merriman won the defensive rookie of the year award and was selected to the Pro Bowl, only to test positive for steroids and serve a suspension.  Julius Peppers also won the defensive rookie of the year award in 2002 and tested positive for a banned substance. 

Clearly some writers changed their votes, as the revote was closer than the original vote.  One NFL writer wrote that he changed his vote because he wanted all of the information as a voter, but did not know about Cushing’s failed test when he cast his original vote.  Another writer, David Goldberg, said that changing his vote was an “easy decision” and that Cushing, “broke the rules, so he’s punished.”  Other writers said that since they voted for Peppers in 2002, they couldn’t change their vote for Cushing this year. 

However, as Peter King said in his column, two wrongs don’t make a right and just because Peppers kept his award doesn’t mean that the writers should continue to make the wrong decision in each subsequent case.  Writers and the NFL should start punishing those who do not play by the rules and reward those who achieve greatness the right way.  When a player tests positive for steroids or any other banned substance, a revote should take place – without that player on the ballot.  The NFL has sent a strong message with how it deals with off-field incidents, as its suspension of Ben Roethlisberger shows.  That is a good step, but it should start policing its players on-field conduct as well.

-David Sacks is a Carletonian columnist.

By Justin Rotman

On Wednesday, the Associated Press held a revote for their annual NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, after it was learned that the recipient for the 2009-10 season, Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, had tested positive for a banned substance last year.  In September, Cushing tested positive for the fertility drug HCG.  While not a steroid, HCG can be used as a masking agent for steroids.

The reason that the media only recently learned about the test Cushing failed in September is because the NFL kept the results a secret while Cushing went through a lengthy appeals process which was only finalized recently.  Because the appeal was denied, Cushing is now suspended for the first four games of the 2010-11 NFL season. 

More noteworthy, though, was the unprecedented revote ordered by the AP for this award.  This revote has caused enormous controversy among media, fans, and current and former players.  Cushing’s failed test has most crying foul.  Many were certain that he would be stripped of the award after the revote, but when the votes were tallied again, Brian Cushing became the first player in NFL history to win the Rookie of the Year award twice.  OK, not exactly.  Still though, Cushing lost half of his first place votes (receiving 19 from 38 originally, out of a possible 50), thus Cushing’s

While I did not really care one way or the other how the second vote turned out, I did not agree with the AP calling for a recount.  Yes, Cushing failed a test for a banned substance, but at the time the revote was called for, it was unclear what had triggered the positive test.  It could have been Sudafed.  While it may be banned, I’m not sure anyone would have qualms with someone “enhancing” their performance while trying to beat a sinus infection.  Yes, all in all, I realize that this is unlikely, but the AP should have had more patience in finding out details before hastening a revote— what’s the rush?

This argument really has nothing to do with Cushing.  I am absolutely in no way defending him or his actions.  As the NFL says, it is ultimately the athlete’s responsibility to know and control what goes into their body, even if it is done so unintentionally.  Cushing will be suspended for four games next season, and will have to spend the rest of his career validating his rookie season and earning back the trust of his fans, and he deserves every ounce of those consequences.

To set a new precedent during such a contentious moment is ill conceived, and starts leagues down a slippery slope.  Writers awarded the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year to stars Julius Peppers and Shawne Merriman for the 2002 and 2005 seasons, respectively, only to find out after their rookie campaigns that they had failed substance tests.  No revote or rescission occurred in either case.  Barry Bonds won four of his record seven National League MVP awards after he allegedly took steroids, yet they still sit in his trophy case.  So why Cushing?  Why now?

It is one thing for the Associated Press, or any other organization that sponsors an award, to enact policy to automatically strip or revote on an award for a player testing positive for a banned substance.  It is not right to do it in the midst of such controversy.  I would not be surprised at all if the AP enacted such policy in fact, I’d be shocked if they didn’t.  Until then, let current rules stand for themselves and the controversy will evaporate after that precedent is set.

-Justin Rotman is a Carletonian columnist.




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