In May, when the news came down that Brian Cushing had been suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, the reaction among many Texans fans was as much resignation as it was anger.
Rumors of performance-enhancer usage have been swirling around Cushing since his days as a USC Trojan, so when the announcement of Cushing's suspension turned Twitter upside down that Friday afternoon, many reacted like Newman on Seinfeld when the police finally showed up at his front door to pinch him for kidnapping a dog in Elaine's building..."What took you so long?"
If you buy a pit bull and are then surprised when it bites someone, the problem is as much with you as it is the animal. I won't say with Cushing we expected a drug test failure, but we weren't surprised by it either. Anger didn't set in until Cushing denied using anything illegal, failed to detail anything about the supposed mountain of evidence supporting his claims, and divulged his fear that his body was ridden with tumors.
Three months later, Cushing made medical history by attributing the hCG (the substance which triggered the positive test) in his system to "overtrained athlete syndrome," an affliction so obscure that it did not have a Wikipedia page on the day Cushing announced he had it. (It prompted some of us to start calling the press box at sporting events "Wikipedia," as in two places you won't ever find "overtrained athlete syndrome.")
During the Cushing saga, I wrote about the Texans linebacker for six straight days to the tune of about 10,000 total words. I had at least two of those pieces picked up by the Wall Street Journal online. In short, Cushing's version of the "truth" (and it's cartoonish improbability) gave fans all over the country plenty to discuss, debate, and process.
Yesterday afternoon, the Texans announced that offensive tackle Duane Brown had been suspended for the next four games due to a violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. Texans general manager Rick Smith made the following statement:
We are disappointed that Duane Brown has been suspended. This is a significant blow to our team. Our players have to understand that they are responsible for what goes into their bodies and that they take risks anytime they use a supplement not approved by the NFL.
Our head athletic trainer, head strength and conditioning coach as well as our team nutritionist have had many meetings and presentations constantly reminding our players about the dangers of the supplemental industry and risks associated with taking non-approved products.
Gary and our coaches are game planning for Dallas and he will be available for comment tomorrow after practice. I am confident in our coaches and our players that we will work through this adversity and continue to play winning football.
Rick Smith is not a general manager that likes to be in the spotlight during the season. He does very little media in season because the Texans have a philosophy whereby chain of command is important. During the season, the voice of Texans' management is head coach Gary Kubiak -- Rick Smith respects and embraces that. So if you're hearing from Rick Smith during the season, it generally means that some transaction is being made (which nine times out of ten, in season, is a bad thing) or...well, stuff like this Duane Brown situation.
In the same press release, Brown had the following to say:
First off, I want to personally apologize to Mr. McNair, Coach Kubiak and the rest of the coaching staff, my teammates, family and to all the great and loyal Texans fans. I take full responsibility for putting myself in this situation.
I unknowingly took a supplement tainted with a banned substance and now have to deal with the consequences. After reviewing the appeal process and speaking with legal counsel, I have decided not to appeal my suspension. I understand the rules and accept my punishment.
I vow to learn from this mistake and be a better player and teammate because of it.
The easy thing to do is turn every column, blog post, and talk-radio segment into our own Duane Brown Festivus, which as we all know is highlighted by the time-honored "airing of grievances," and list all of the way in which Duane Brown has disappointed us. The impact of his screw-up on the Texans is obvious.
Any list of the most important Texans begins and ends with quarterback Matt Schaub. Duane Brown's primary purpose in life is to protect the blind side of the Texans' most important player, which makes him, if not the team's second-most important player then certainly someone who, when hand-counting players in the order of importance, would not necessitate the use of a second hand. (For the record, my Texans Players Importance scorecard goes like this -- 1. Schaub, 2. Andre Johnson, 3. Mario Williams, 4. Duane Brown.)
Add to this the fact that DeMarcus Ware, a fixture in any argument of "Who is the league's most fearsome pass rusher?", is coming to town this weekend and the timing could not be worse for Duane Brown to have to take an unplanned, unpaid, unwelcome vacation. Schaub has been sacked seven times in the first two games and knocked down a number of other times. And now it's up to Rashad Butler to keep DeMarcus Ware from swallowing Schaub whole.
Duane Brown let everyone down -- his teammates, his coaches, Texans management, the fans, his family, himself. We all know this.
We also all make mistakes.
My big problem with Cushing was never the violation itself, but instead how he handled the fallout -- his bizarre hypotheses on why he tested positive and a behavior pattern that even if he were innocent made it awfully difficult for a reasonable person who doesn't know him (which I do not) to believe that.
It's a different flavor of the same methodology Roger Clemens decided was the best defense -- shout from the rooftops that everything you're being accused of is false and deal with the fallout later. Fortunately, for Cushing and unlike Clemens, the fallout doesn't include six to twelve months spooning with a bunch of white-collar criminals.
And it's not out of the question to think that Denial 101 might be a course at USC after Cushing's former teammate Reggie Bush decided to forfeit the 2005 Heisman Trophy back to the Heisman Trust to, according to him, just make the ugliness of the accusations that he and his family took money from fledgling sports marketers go away. Bush was adamant that the forfeiture was not "an admission of guilt." I guess it was just an early Christmas present.
You see me working, don't you? For the last year or so, our sports stars have made accountability in the face of punishment optional, and in the process, created distractions for their teammates, their coaches, their owners, and their families. Duane Brown, at the very least, owned what he did, apologized for his ignorance, and took his medicine.
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The football ramifications of Duane Brown's mistakes will play out over the next four weeks, but I won't judge him by his mistake. I'll just thank him for his reaction to the mistake, and for turning the page and accepting his punishment. Juxtaposed to Cushing, Clemens, and Bush, it's actually praiseworthy.
One thing that is now not optional for Brown -- living up to these words in his statement: "I vow to learn from this mistake and be a better player and teammate because of it."
So yeah, I'm the one guy in Houston who has something nice to say about Duane Brown today. Now, I just hope for his sake that nothing happens to Matt Schaub the next four weeks.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.