National Columnist

Freeman 'drug' story shameful, particularly if Bucs inspired 'leak'

Josh Freeman and the Bucs are in the midst of a messy divorce. (USATSI)
Josh Freeman and the Bucs are in the midst of a messy divorce. (USATSI)

Someone leaked it to the media that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman is in the NFL drug program, and that isn't just a "thing," as the hipsters like to say. If the Bucs did this, it would be everything -- the most damaging indictment yet of a franchise that has crossed the line from pathetic to poisonous.

Up front, know this: I'm not accusing Bucs coach Greg Schiano of being -- or encouraging, or allowing -- the leak. In Freeman's own words after the leak was made public by ESPN, he has taken and passed 46 NFL-related drug tests over the last year and a half. He has taken those tests at the Bucs' facility and he has not hidden them, because there's nothing to hide. He takes ADHD medication (so does my son), and there's nothing shameful about that.

But there's something shameful, despicable really, about linking Freeman's legitimate medication to the loaded phrase "drug program" and then leaking that to a media outlet for the transparent purpose of making Josh Freeman look like the bad guy in his very public feud with Schiano.

On the bright side, it has backfired spectacularly.

Whoever leaked that information lost this round of public relations by clumsily picking on the wrong guy. Say what you want about Josh Freeman -- and he has done enough things, missed enough team meetings and functions, to create room for negative comments -- but don't say he's a meek little dude. Someone leaked his drug test to ESPN, and Freeman came out firing.

Freeman issued a statement that ran for nearly 300 words, explaining what medication he takes and why he takes it, why a previous test triggered his spot in the testing program -- he took Ritalin instead of Adderall -- and then eviscerating the anonymous leaker.

And here, for a moment, let me address the media's role in this episode. Without the leak, there is no story. But without ESPN's Chris Mortensen taking that leak and publishing it, there is no story. Who deserves the majority of the blame? The leaker, whoever he is -- and again, I'm not accusing Schiano. Nor am I trying to accuse him without coming out and just doing it. Subtlety isn't my thing. Point of fact, the person who leaked Freeman's drug test could be one of his teammates; he has submitted to 46 tests in the last 18 months at his place of work. It's apparently no secret there.

But the media played a role here. I'm not using this to attack ESPN or Mortensen in particular, but the media in general -- because we do this too much. A few years ago when ex-Gator Cam Newton was dominating college football at Auburn, someone with an axe to grind leaked Newton's academic information at Florida to FOXSports.com. That's potentially a violation of federal law, and beyond that it's a mean, scummy, tiny thing to do to a college kid. But by golly this was a scoop (!), so the reporter ran the story. Because he could.

Look, in all things -- even competition, whether it's on the field of play or in the press box above it -- there's a right way to do things. And a wrong way. You're at McDonald's and the cashier mistakenly gives you back an extra dollar. Do you pocket the buck and smile at your luck? Or do you do the right thing and give it back?

Same thing with news reports like Cam Newton's academics, Josh Freeman's drugs or whatever injurious, unfair leak comes next:

Do you pocket the information and smile about your scoop? Or do you do the right thing and tell the leaker to find someone else to do his dirty work?

Make no mistake, there would be someone else willing to do the dirty work. There's always someone else. Maybe I'm naïve here, but I'm not stupid. If it hadn't been ESPN with the "news" of Freeman and the NFL drug-testing program, it would've been someone else. Maybe Yahoo. Maybe The Tampa Tribune. Maybe someone here at CBSSports.com. Someone wanted to hurt Josh Freeman by leaking his private information, and that someone was going to find a patsy.

Doesn't make it right.

As for the Bucs going forward, listen, they have a major problem and his name isn't Josh Freeman. Maybe Freeman is a franchise NFL quarterback, maybe not -- as someone who's not carrying the water for anyone in this story, I'd say he's not a franchise quarterback until he fixes some leadership issues of his own -- but the problem with the Bucs runs deeper than their starting quarterback.

This is a franchise with no moral compass. It's a franchise that had two players sidelined in training camp with MRSA -- a crazily contagious, potentially deadly staph infection resistant to antibiotics -- but tried to keep that a secret from some of the people who walked everyday into the team facility.

This is a franchise that tried to stick it to one of those players with MRSA, kicker Lawrence Tynes, by putting him on the non-football injury list instead of injured reserve, which has implications you can read about here.

This is a franchise that continues to turn the safest play in football into a danger zone, trying to get at Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer on Sunday when Palmer was taking a knee at the end of the game.

And this is a franchise that has tried to ruin Josh Freeman's reputation in bits and pieces, first by taking away his captaincy, then by removing him from the sideline on Sunday. (The Bucs called it a mutual decision; Freeman's agent called that a lie.) Now someone -- possibly someone with the Bucs -- has leaked this drug-testing information to ESPN.

Without proper context, that "news" sat there like a bad smell -- Josh Freeman, drugs -- and whether you like Freeman or not, it was completely unfair.

Again, I don't care who you are or what it is you do -- there's a right way to do things. And there's a wrong way. And since hiring Greg Schiano, the Bucs have repeatedly done it wrong.

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