Commentary

My vote goes to Matthews

Cushing keeps Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but Packers' LB more deserving

Originally Published: May 12, 2010
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

After debating the topic for two days, I decided to rescind my Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year vote for Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing and give it to Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

The reality is Cushing's 16-game season in 2009 should have been 12 games because he failed a random drug test. (HCG, a masking agent, was found in his system.) Yet, despite being suspended for four games, Cushing won a revote on Wednesday and will keep the DROY award.

For days, I've been hoping Cushing would fess up to his charges. Since Friday, when the NFL announced his four-game suspension for the upcoming season, Cushing has failed in every opportunity. On Saturday, he came out with a weak statement saying he presented a good case in his defense but lost his appeal. Then came a slew of even weaker excuses. He claimed his failed test involved a nonsteroid and he didn't fail a test throughout the remainder of the season.

What we didn't see, hear or read was Cushing's standing up against his charges and being accountable. As one of the 50 AP voters, I would be cheating three other viable candidates -- Matthews, Brian Orakpo and Jairus Byrd -- if I didn't take into account the fact that Cushing should have missed four games last season. The only reason he played the full season was because the appeals process lingered until February instead of being finalized during the season.

The Associated Press should be applauded for its handling of this unprecedented situation. Each year, the AP asks its voters to wait until the final seconds of the final regular-season games before casting votes, giving everyone the chance to judge all information from a season. We voted without knowing a key fact -- Cushing failed his test in September and faced a four-game suspension.

Now, we know. His 133 tackles should be less than 100 because he should have been sidelined for four games. If he were suspended for the final four games, he would have lost 2½ of his four sacks.

Cushing might have been the best defensive rookie on the field last season, but he shouldn't have been on the field for all 16 games.

Some people are justifying their opinion that Cushing should keep the award because Julius Peppers was able to keep his despite a four-game suspension in 2002. League rules involving steroids or banned substances have been updated since then. Now, if a player is notified of a positive test and is found guilty during a season, he is ineligible for any weekly awards, annual awards or selection to the Pro Bowl for that season.

Although NFL rules don't apply to the AP vote, the fact remains: Cushing tested positive and was found guilty.

Advances in performance-enhancing chemistry always are going to be ahead of those enforcing the rules, so policies constantly must change. What might have been acceptable a year ago doesn't apply if those enforcing the rules find new and better tests and improve their standards.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith issued a very pointed statement Tuesday in regard to performance-enhancing drug violations.

"Sport is at its best when fans can witness great achievements under the rules of fair play,'' Smith said in his statement. "Players who break those rules cheat the game, cheat the fans and cheat themselves. The players want a clean game as well as a clean process for enforcing those rules. We intend to address both in the collective bargaining process to make the system better."

The NFL had major steroid problems in the 1980s, but clean players joined with owners in aggressively implementing a strong drug policy. Baseball hid from those credibility problems and is still paying a price. Some of baseball's greatest players may never get into the Hall of Fame because of steroid use.

Those who criticize Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others can't look the other way when it comes to Cushing's situation. Cushing tested positive for the same thing that got the Los Angeles Dodgers' Manny Ramirez suspended for 50 games last season.

For the record, though, I would have kept Cushing as the Defensive Rookie of the Year if he had the same case as Kevin and Pat Williams of the Vikings. A water pill to lose weight isn't the same as a masking agent such as HCG. Plus, news of the Williamses' tests leaked out before they had exhausted the appeals process.

Cushing had his day in court and nothing leaked out until he received his verdict. Now all the facts are in for the 2009 season. Cushing might have had a slightly better rookie season than Matthews, Orakpo and Byrd, but he no longer deserves the DROY award. My vote now goes to Matthews.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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