Commentary

Brian Cushing's creative excuse

Updated: August 11, 2010, 12:07 PM ET
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

There's a book out there waiting to be written on performance-enhancing drugs and the athletes who either did or didn't use them. It should center on the creative excuses used by those athletes who believe their tests have mistakenly turned up positive. Maybe it should be titled: "From Flaxseed Oil to Jack Daniel's: An Oral History of Lame Excuses."

[+] EnlargeBrian Cushing
Thomas B. Shea /Icon SMIBrian Cushing attributes his NFL size, speed and strength to hard work.

You see, we complain loud and long when athletes are boring and rote, so it's only fair that we give them credit for being creative when they believe creativity can fool a gullible public and get them out of a jam. Barry Bonds said he believed he was getting flaxseed oil when the evidence shows he was getting a super-steroid known as The Cream. Floyd Landis said a positive test for elevated testosterone levels was attributed to a few shots of Jack Daniel's in the middle of the Tour de France.

But Barry and Floyd, you ain't got nothing on Texans linebacker Brian Cushing. This guy might have just retired the trophy. Cushing put himself in exalted territory Monday when he -- with the blessing of Houston owner Bob McNair -- declared himself a victim of a previously unknown medical condition: Overtrained athlete syndrome.

To which Albert Haynesworth undoubtedly smacked his palm against his forehead and said, "Undertrained athlete syndrome -- why didn't I think of that?"

Cushing failed a drug test last September, played the entire NFL season, was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and then -- and only then -- was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of this season.

It has to be noted that steroid rumors followed Cushing around high school and USC like a well-trained dog. That doesn't prove anything, but it does mean that not a lot of people were overly surprised that he couldn't figure out how to beat the NFL's testing procedures. He tested positive for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, and yes, the first two syllables of the last word indicate he was trying to get some testosterone buildup going after a cycle of steroid use. That's what the NFL thinks, anyway.

(I keep waiting for an athlete to use the addiction defense. Why hasn't this happened? It's foolproof and way more plausible than the fantasies we're being fed. Addiction is way more socially acceptable -- and medically backed -- than OTAS. For one, Cushing is the only guy in the world who has been diagnosed with OTAS, so that might work against him in the arena of public opinion. But what happens when the first athlete stands at a podium, tears streaming, and says he is addicted to the feeling of power and omniscience that comes with PED use? He gets at least a temporary jolt of public sympathy, that's what.)

Cushing and a doctor came up with the idea of overtrained athlete syndrome, and Cushing admitted the diagnosis didn't come up with the first doctor he visited. Or the second. Or maybe even the third. It was a long, hard road to get to OTAS, but when someone finally mentioned it, Cushing knew he'd struck gold. OTAS -- that's the ticket. It allegedly means that a guy who works out a lot and then stops can build up testosterone and pixies can walk onto the field from the magical forest and wave their magic wands and HCG can inexplicably appear in urine.

Floyd Landis
Denis Doyle/Getty ImagesFloyd Landis proclaimed his innocence for years before finally coming clean.

It's a tough way for a guy to lose four games, but that's life as a trailblazer. Someone's got to do it. To add embarrassment to insult, McNair actually presented the OTAS defense to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the league office Monday. Presumably with a straight face, McNair sat across from Goodell and asked that Cushing's suspension be lifted because of the previously unknown condition OTAS.

If there's any justice in the world and any hope for the NFL, Goodell cough-laughed into his hand and excused himself to cover it up. Then he said he'd be sure to look into it. Then he shook McNair's hand, walked him to the door and gave a big horse laugh into the video camera hanging on the wall of his office. In the process of defending and believing Cushing, McNair issued one of the most ill-informed statements on steroid use in the history of bloated athletes: "His weight hasn't changed appreciably since he's been with us," McNair told Peter King of Sports Illustrated.

Bob, that could mean that Cushing isn't and never has been a steroid user. Or it could mean he's been a steroid user for so long that he's managed to find a weight that works for him. His performance last season indicates he's operating at a good weight. Besides, he tested positive in September, which means he was a Texan for all of three months when it happened. Weight change? Unlikely and unnecessary.

But the particulars of the issue are beside the point. If you're in the business of commenting on sports, this is priceless. This is better than flaxseed and better than Jack Daniel's. This is better than Roger Clemens claiming Andy Pettitte "misremembered" and probably better than Clemens claiming he didn't do steroids because he doesn't have at third ear growing in the middle of his forehead.

This, to put it bluntly, is one of those rare times when the story writes itself.

Cushing's proclamation of history's first case of OTAS is good enough, but having the ability to persuade your owner to make the case to the commissioner with the hope of removing the suspension? That's as good as it gets.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

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Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com

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