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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 12, 2010

NFL: Associated Press’ re-vote unfairly singles out Texans’ Brian Cushing

By Mark Craig
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Being asked to re-vote for the Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year feels like being asked to play judge and jury without the key piece of evidence, no subpoena power to force it from the NFL and a precedent that screams it would be unfair for voters to single out Texans linebacker Brian Cushing for punishment.

First of all, we don't have an official explanation as to what Cushing did. We know the NFL suspended him for the first four games of the 2010 season for violating the league's anti-doping policy. But the NFL refuses to tell us what Cushing actually tested positive for.

That's the key piece of evidence. As we've witnessed during the Williams Wall/StarCaps fiasco, the NFL's drug policy is so massive and convoluted that positive test results don't always produce equal levels of guilt, intent to cheat or actual performance enhancement. It's time the NFL and the players' union agree to start providing details to go along with positive tests.

Cushing did admit that he took a non-steroid banned substance. But, right or wrong, that's not something the Associated Press can use fairly — based on precedent — to strip him of his defensive rookie award or his All-Pro second-team selection.

In 2002, Julius Peppers admittedly tested positive for a banned supplement and was suspended for the last four games of the season. Yet he still won the AP's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

In 2008, Kevin and Pat Williams tested positive for the banned diuretic bumetanide, an unlisted ingredient in StarCaps, and were suspended for four games. While the suspensions have been on hold pending their legal battle, Kevin Williams has earned two first-team All-Pro selections.

If we strip Cushing of his awards, shouldn't we also go back and strip Kevin Williams of everything he's won since 2008? Especially since Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson ruled last week that the NFL can now go ahead and suspend the Williamses?

I asked AP lead football writer Barry Wilner why we're re-voting on Cushing and not Kevin Williams. He said it's because voters were aware of Williams' positive test before they voted, whereas they weren't in Cushing's case.

That makes sense, even if it does set up an awkward situation in which we, the voters, feel pressured to treat Cushing differently because of the extra attention surrounding the re-vote. One voter who isn't afraid to announce his re-vote for Cushing is the Houston Chronicle's John McClain.

"Why?" McClain wrote in describing his reasoning. "Because a lot of players have won AP awards after being suspended."

Cushing won the defensive rookie award with 39 of the 50 votes. Bills safety Jairus Byrd was second with six. Cushing also received five All-Pro votes, which were good enough to make the second team behind Elvis Dumervil and DeMarcus Ware.

Besides the precedent in favor of Cushing keeping his awards, I also question why Associated Press voters would feel obligated to police the players. Cushing reportedly tested positive in September yet continued to play on while passing many more random drug tests throughout the season. For whatever reason, his appeal wasn't heard and denied until after the season. So if the league is OK with a nine-month process that allows a guy to play an entire season before being officially pinched, then a voter shouldn't feel obligated to consider that player tainted until the league's own suspension process runs its course.

Many will point to the ESPN report that cited a source in saying Cushing tested positive for "slightly elevated levels of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), a banned substance that is widely used to stimulate the body's testosterone production after an athlete uses anabolic steroids." Cushing has long been suspected of using steroids. But suspicion isn't enough for me to brand someone.

In January, I voted for Dumervil and Ware as the All-Pro outside linebackers, and Cushing as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Wednesday morning, I'll re-vote for Dumervil and Ware ... and Cushing as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.