While the league might enjoy having a hand in such matters, they really don't. So when it's time to look at who the awards were given to and hand out criticisms, most people blindly blame the league while not understanding the process that decides the winners.
Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2009. And no one questioned the vote. After all, Cushing was a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie, and he tied for the AFC lead with 133 tackles. Them's some impressive credentials for a first-year pro.
However, Cushing's past caught up to him along the way. Last year, before he was drafted, rumors of the use of performance-enhancing drugs clouded Cushing's draft status. He boldly proclaimed he wasn't "that kind of guy," and Houston bought the act.
Hook. Line. Sinker.
Now, the Texans are left to pay for their faith in Cushing, who was suspended four games Friday for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Guess he might be that kind of guy after all.
ESPN reports the test he failed was actually taken last September, and the matter was stuck in appeal since then.
The article also notes an NFL rule that bans players who test positive for PEDs from playing in the Pro Bowl, so Cushing won't be eligible to go to Hawai'i, no matter how well he plays in 2010.
Sports Illustrated's Peter King, as well plugged-in and knowledgeable as any scribe who covers the sport, has some harsh words for Cushing in Monday's MMQB.
Cushing admitting that he appealed the positive test in February makes it virtually certain that he derived benefit from whatever illegal substance he took during his rookie season. And if this suspension is the result of a positive test at any point during the 2009 season, I'm in favor of stripping him of the defensive rookie of the year award and giving it to second-place finisher Jairus Byrd of Buffalo.
FanHouse colleague Dan Graziano blasted Cushing -- who acknowledged the suspension but refused to admit using steroids -- in a Saturday piece.
Really? We're expected to believe this? Again? Nearly every athlete who's ever tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs has fed us the same garbage story. Nothing about Cushing's denial is believable or even original. He's just another cheater who got caught and refuses to fess up, hiding behind an overrated NFL drug policy that's not transparent enough to tell us whether he's telling the truth or not.
Because the league's drug policy doesn't allow it to reveal the substance for which Cushing tested positive, we are left with his word, which in this case is worth less than the test tube that held his tainted urine. You can believe Cushing if you want, but if you do then you're the kind of person who's going to be surprised the next time this same exact thing happens with your favorite player and fall for that player's story even though it's the same one you've heard time and time again.
The rest of us are tired of this. We're waiting for somebody who gets caught cheating to actually stand up and say, "Yeah. Sorry. I cheated. I took a drug that I'm not allowed to take. I did it because I thought it would give me an advantage in the game I play for a living. I knew it was wrong, and I didn't think I'd get caught, but I did and now I have to take my punishment like a grown man."
Dan notes that some have admitted to taking stuff for their own benefit. Others have admitted to taking PEDs, but not for the reason of gaining an advantage. They used the tired excuse of "needing to recover from an injury," instead.
Reality is that the AP -- given ESPN's report, which came courtesy of insider Adam Schefter -- has no choice here. They must strip Cushing of his award and offer the honor to Byrd.
Of course, if I were Byrd, I'd have a bit of a hard time accepting. No, it's not out of sympathy for Cushing, who made his own bed here and must be punished for his misdeeds. Instead, it just has to be awkward accepting a pretty big honor so far after the fact.
(Never said I wouldn't accept it ... just that it would feel weird.)
Frankly, the AP is making a bigger statement if they honor someone. Vacating the award doesn't mean as much, compared to actually handing the award to the second-place finisher.
And the AP owes the league, the players who choose to avoid PEDs, and the writers who work hard to fairly fill out their ballots every year. They owe us all an award that goes to a proper recipient, as opposed to the all-too-typical guy who chooses to cut corners and take things he knows he can get in trouble for taking.
Cushing is the worst kind of pro athlete. Not only is he a cheat, but he's a liar. He's willing to lie to potential employers, denying rumors and speculation about his off-field habits that obviously carried more weight than he acknowledged before the 2009 draft. He's willing to lie to a thriving, boisterous fan base that just wants a winner in a great, fertile football area. He's willing to lie to teammates, coaches, owners, media types, and league officials.
Even now, after he got caught with his hand (buttocks?) in the cookie jar, Cushing refuses to admit to anything. Instead of fessing up, admitting he cut corners and took PEDs, but will now vow to lead a clean life and educate other young players about the dangers of PEDs and the fact that -- you know -- they're against the rules, Cushing continues to dig himself a hole.
These guys have out-of-control egos that we continue to feed on a weekly basis. It's why they take the crap in the first place, and moreover why they don't bother to admit any wrongdoing when they get caught.
It's always an accident, a tainted sample, a false positive, a misunderstanding, or recovery from an injury.
In this case, Cushing should lose more than four games' pay. It's not enough to make this guy wear the badge for the rest of his career. Go back and take away the award he "earned" under false pretenses. Give it to the guy who really earned it, and also managed to pass his drug test.