Steroids in the NFL? No biggie!

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Brian Cushing.jpgHouston Texans linebacker and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing failed a performance-enhancing drug test last year. The offending substance: hGC, the female fertility drug that snagged Manny Ramirez last year.  Cushing tested positive back in September, but the news of all of this — and his suspension — is only hitting now.

Fellow Houston star Lance Berkman had some words to say about all of that yesterday:

I will say what will be interesting will be to see the reaction
because generally when that happens to a football player it is kind of
ho-hum. You write a story about it and he serves his four games and nobody
will ever say anything else about it. If that happens to a baseball
player, they want to strike him from the record book. It’s a totally
different reaction, and I’m not sure why that is, but I will be
following this just to see.

And it is a totally different reaction. Cushing is the third NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year to be suspended
for performance-enhancing substances in the last eight seasons, following Julius Peppers and Shawne Merriman.  The equivalent to this in baseball would be if Evan Longoria, Ryan Howard and Hanley Ramirez all tested positive for PEDs. If that had come to pass Congress would be involved, columnists would have their heart medication doubled and we would all be forced to think of the children under penalty of law.

In football? No big whoop.  No one wringing their hands over the NFL’s obvious PED problem. No one excoriating the league for having a testing and appeals procedure that allows for a five-month lag between the failed test and the appeal and another three month delay between the appeal and the decision, all of which allowed a known-PED user to play the games in which he won the Rookie of the Year award in the first place.

A Rookie of the Year award, it should be noted, that the writers just this afternoon decided
to allow Cushing to keep

despite the fact that he had tested positive for a banned substance
before the season started.  Why can he keep it?  According to multiple writers who voiced their views on it before the re-vote, it’s because other guys on PEDs have won the award in the past.

One of them — ESPN’s Adam Schefter — is basically serving as Cushing’s P.R. team.  He thinks that the fact that Cushing took a lie detector test and passed, he shouldn’t be suspended. This despite the facts that (a) lie detector tests are essentially useless; (b) this lie detector test was obviously set up by Cushing’s camp for P.R. purposes; and (c) unless the NFL itself is lying, Cushing lied during his lie detector test.

Schefter also suggests that maybe Cushing’s positive test was the result of flogging the bishop.  Can you imagine if, say, Peter Gammons offered the masturbation defense when Manny Ramirez tested positive?

Another ESPN guy — Mark Schelerth — thinks that Cushing shouldn’t lose his award because “we don’t know for certain” that he took a PED (note: really?). This despite the fact that the league has already completed its apparently exhaustive appeals process and suspended the guy.  “The banned substantces list is so long!” Schelerth basically says. “How is it possible that a player could know what he could or could not take!”  I mean, sure, Cushing went to USC so he probably has some sort of learning disability, but he makes a lot of money and can afford to hire someone to read the list for him.

Look, I’ve been called a PED apologist more times than I can count, but that’s because (a) I don’t think that guys who take PEDs should be demonized and shunned; and (b) I don’t think that attempting to re-write the record books is either possible or advisable. But I’ve never argued that the league shouldn’t suspend guys who test positive, and I’ve never trafficked in the world of apparently baseless excuses for what appears to be clear rules violations. This, however, appears to be par for the course among the NFL commentariat. Which is fine. Their sport, their problems, their opinions.

In light of them, however, I’d really prefer it if, next time baseball has a PED story, these people don’t come out of the woodwork talking about how awful baseball’s PED problems are.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.