Shutdown Corner - NFL

The hits just keep on coming for Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing(notes). Not only has he been suspended for the first four games of the 2010 regular season for a violation of the league's policies on performance-enhancing drugs, but the Associated Press is going to cast a new vote for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award that Cushing originally won. Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd(notes) finished second in the voting the first time. Though he is on the ballot in the re-vote, I'd give Cushing the same odds of winning again that I'd give myself of replacing him on the field. 

It's tough to argue the merit of this gesture. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Cushing failed his test last September but was allowed to play through the appeal process. While he maintains that whatever he took was not a steroid substance, Cushing ingested something that ran afoul of the NFL's policy on PEDs. That's really all we need to know.

Adding to the urgency of this action is that Cushing is the third Defensive Rookie of the Year to fail such a test -- former Carolina Panthers and current Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers(notes) was suspended for the last four games of the 2002 season after testing positive for a banned diuretic. He won the award anyway after amassing 12 sacks and five forced fumbles. And in October of 2006, San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman(notes) was suspended for four games after a positive test -- he had won the DROY award in 2005. Neither player was stripped of their awards.

The Cushing suspension has raised more and more questions about the NFL's PED policy, and how well it's enforced. How is it that a rookie, who went through the pre-draft process with suspicions about his possible chemical intake all over the place, could test positive for a banned substance and then play a full season? That the AP feels the need to take matters into its own hands with a new DROY vote, is one more  indication that the league needs to step up its pattern of action against such violators. As it stands now, the NFL looks more like Major League Baseball in the 1990s, when the profits generated by "illegal" home runs overrode any long-term integrity or player-safety concerns.

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