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A (moderate) defense of Brian Cushing

Several days ago, it came out that Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans tested positive for a banned substance last year, and would be suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season. Over the weekend, the Associated Press voted to strip Cushing of his defensive rookie of the year award, and conduct a revote. On Monday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the positive test for hCG occurred last September.

Yes, Cushing was linked to using performance enhancing drugs all through his tenure at USC, and even going back to when he was roaming the sidelines for Bergen Catholic. I'll even readily concede that the preponderance of evidence suggests steroids. That doesn't mean that it is fair to strip this award, or shun him as a pariah. There's still no conclusive proof of usage, and all banned substances are hardly created equal when ephedra and diuretics are treated the same as anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.

Football is not analogous to baseball in this respect. The use of performance enhancing drugs in football is regarded as far more common than in baseball, that very fact generally drawing a collective shrug from fans and the media. Cushing is hardly the only Bergen County football star from that era alleged to have been a user (it's not necessarily who you'd always think either). No one has any room to throw stones here. Football's statistical records are hardly regarded as sacrosanct, and no one has definitively verified what exactly are the effects of substance use in the sport.

The drugs may well make you a better player, but there has to be some underlying talent and drive. They're not a panacea. Vernon Gholston's physique is as sculpted as it gets, but he's tasked with putting on pads and beating offensive tackles, not winning a body building contest. NFL teams certainly had to be aware of the years of speculation here, and Brian Cushing still went in the first round last year. Colleges knew of the rumors too, and nearly every single one still would have happily taken his name on a signed letter of intent. It can't all be steroids.

Brian Cushing isn't the first NFL star to be linked to steroids, and he certainly will not be the last. Regardless of what the Associated Press ends up doing, it's safe to venture that these allegations will fade with time. He'll surely have a long and successful career.