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Pressure mounts on NFL over steroids policy

It’s unclear whether the name “Brian Cushing” eventually will be synonymous with a comprehensive overhaul of the NFL’s steroids policy. For now, however, it is clear that the Cushing case has sparked the most intense debate and analysis of any suspension for use of a performance-enhancing substance by a pro football player.

Criticism is coming as to various aspects of the situation, from the stubborn adherence to confidentiality that allows the player to say whatever he wants to say regarding the positive test to the unprecedented decision to redo the vote for AP defensive rookie of the year to the reality that players who choose to juice easily may resolve the cost-benefit analysis by accepting the one-in-five weekly risk of a random test in order to, for example, return more quickly from an injury.

But most are troubled by the fact that Cushing tested positive in September, and that he was permitted to continue to play for the rest of the season. If the Texans had qualified for the playoffs, he presumably would have been eligible for the entire postseason, too.

The matter has drawn the attention of anti-doping experts. “It is so far beyond the pale that it negates the intent of the policy,” Dr. Gary Wadler, an associate professor of medicine at New York university and an adviser to the World Ant-Doping Agency, told Michael O’Keeffe and Nathaniel Vinton of the New York Daily News. "[Cushing] gets tested in September and plays the whole season? He played so well he was named defensive rookie of the year? Then it is announced that he was taking a performance-enhancing drug? That doesn’t make sense. . . . It makes a mockery of the anti-doping process.”

The league explains that it takes time to sift through the facts and to respect the player’s rights. “It’s not unusual for some cases to take a lengthy amount of time from specimen collection through the appeals process and the announcement,” the NFL said in a statement, per the Daily News. “All of the time periods and protocols in place are designed to ensure that the result is accurate and the player has every appropriate due process protection.”

Meanwhile, the notion that hCG is a “non-steroidal” obscures the fact that, as reported by the Daily News, “the substance is well-known in the steroid underworld as an accessory to steroid use.”

“I have never heard of somebody just taking it just to take it,” Scott Siegel, a former steroids dealer who played one in The Wrestler, told the Daily News. “Mostly everyone I know would be bodybuilders taking it after a cycle.”

It’ll be interesting to see what Cushing has to say about the presence of hGC in his system when he meets the media on Thursday; John McClain of the Houston Chronicle advises that Cushing will be taking questions.

It’ll also be interesting to see whether any of this catches the attention of Congress, which in the past has been placated by the efforts of baseball and football to police themselves. The Cushing case could cause Congress to revisit the situation.

If it results in stiffer penalties and a clearer path to the truth after a positive test, we’d have no problem with that.