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Tainted Cushing should push back award to odorous AP

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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Brian Cushing has a duty here, one he will almost surely shirk because he's already feeling enough heat.

But he really ought to return the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and here's why.

It's now a truly silly award, with a trophy that shows a voter with his or her head on backward, a tribute to the notion that history is better when it is changed than when it is educational.

Do you still want this award now, Brian Cushing? (US Presswire)  
Do you still want this award now, Brian Cushing? (US Presswire)  
Yes, Cushing got caught using hCG, and yes the NFL gave him the four-game fun pack for getting caught. You may argue all you wish about the severity of the response, but here's something you can't argue with.

It took eight months for the NFL to get around to telling anyone that Cushing got caught. I mean, the rule here is if you test positive, you don't get extenuating circumstances as a crutch. Once the test results are in, you're guilty or innocent, period, because the collective bargaining agreement says so.

Unfair? Maybe, but when there's nobody in a position to argue who chooses to do so, then fair's got nothing to do with it. These are the rules, and that's that.

But the eight-month lag between positive result and punishment is absurd on its face, no matter how the NFL and its cheery elves want to claim otherwise. That, though, is one more reason to distrust league-policed drug testing -- the league can do what it wants with a sample whenever it wants, and that's not the same as swift, sure or just.

That's a debate for another time, though, presumably when the league's defenders can find a way to blame the union for it.

We're talking here about the AP, and how it suddenly got religion here when it didn't feel the need before. In addition, it didn't exactly define when the statute of limitations expires on a drug test, let alone other acts of misbehavior, like college teams cheating for recruits, or baseball players who admitted to felony needlepoint years after winning awards.

I mean, when does the clock actually expire? And if it doesn't, what's the value of paying an engraver? Why not just Sharpie the name of the recipient on a piece of athletic tape and slap it across the front of the trophy?

Reason: Because then the award would look cheap and stupid. As opposed to now, when it looks like the Nobel Prize in physics.

What would be preferable to a re-vote, which Cushing won largely because voters thought the process stinks? Easy. Every time the list of awards is published, an asterisk that reads, "Later tested positive for a performance enhancing drug" would adjoin his name. If four games aren't enough, four games and an eternity of shame in agate type.

You know what else would be preferable? Doing nothing at all. It is not the AP's job to clean up football. It is football's job to clean up football, and football is doing such a grand job that nobody in their right mind believes the game is any cleaner now than it ever was. You can't play the game at this speed, with this size of man, and not feel the demand to bulk up. Job security, the scorn of coaches and player evaluators, and the management of pain make it all the worse.

This is not to exonerate Cushing, who got caught red-needled, but to point out that as a practical matter, the NFL has to be prepared to use smaller and slower players if it wants to eliminate PEDs. Or coerce the union into a draconian blood-and-urine test-fest that can pass constitutional muster. Or give up the moralizing tone with one side of the mouth while telling and showing players in a hundred indirect ways that you have to get PEDs to stay fed.

More immediately, sportswriters and broadcasters are particularly inept moral guardians for reasons like Wednesday's vote, and in any event should be the ones covering the Cushing suspension, not participating in the punishment. I mean, was the AP going to eradicate the Texans' scores in 2009? If Houston had made the playoffs, was the AP going to declare that it hadn't? Why does history get to be written on an Etch-A-Sketch?

But with this fiasco at its back, the AP has a choice to make. Either eliminate its awards in all sports because the re-vote precedent has been exposed as the mockery it is, or simply declare that voting is closed when voting is closed. If someone wants to complain that Cushing shouldn't have won, the obvious and utterly defensible response is, "He was clean when we voted, to the best of our knowledge. Your hatred of him is entirely your right and your business, but we did our part already."

And until the AP can make that clear, Cushing has an award that will look and smell like it was smeared in old limburger. He can give it back and say, "I don't deserve it," or he can say, "I do deserve it, but I deserved it the first time, and if you can take it back whenever you want, take it back now," or he can say, "I just feel kind of oogie about it."

But keeping it, now that it's been tarnished by the people who get to decide who gets it, seems less wrong than it seems absurd. And an award that makes people laugh isn't an award anyone should want.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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