Game Time: Brian Cushing -- Saga of the Overtrained Athlete

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For he today that juices his blood with me shall be my brother...
"It's not a lie, if you believe it." -- George Costanza

No one could carry out a lie like George Costanza.

If you watched Seinfeld, you remember the episode where George told his would-have-been in-laws, the Rosses, that he had a timeshare in Long Island's luxurious Hamptons just to get out of having to participate in a charity event in honor of their late daughter and George's late fiance, Susan.

Unbeknownst to George, the Rosses found out he was lying about the Hamptons lease but they played along with it, asking George numerous questions about the place, arousing suspicion from him that (gasp!) the Rosses didn't really believe that the timeshare even existed! George even went so far as to get in his car and drive with the Rosses out to the Hamptons to show them his nonexistent compound (complete with fictitious horses named "Snoopy" and "Prickly Pete.").

Like I said, Costanza would go to the mattresses for a good lie. If you were drafting a fantasy liar's league, Costanza would be the no-brainer number one overall pick.

If Brian Cushing's latest attempt to clear his name from performance enhancing drug allegations and expunge his four-game suspension to begin the 2010 football season is not true, then he makes George Costanza look like George Washington.

Problem is now he's taking Bob McNair with him.

The latest chapter in a book that everyone was ready to close and put on the shelf three months ago, never to be opened again, is that Cushing has found at least a few doctors who support a theory that his heightened hCG levels that triggered a positive drug test during the early part of the 2009 season are the result of a condition called "overtrained athlete syndrome."

Cushing explained...

"That's the final diagnosis we came up with...A lot of doctors support it as to why this has happened -- the overtrained athlete syndrome. Anytime you take a leave of absence (from training), you get a hormone spike."

But, Brian, surely you can't be the first athlete who has ever taken a PED test after a period where your training levels were "reduced." Surely, you're not the first athlete to "overtrain." Are you unique?

"Every individual is genetically different. I had a unique situation where something like this occurred, and we have the science to back it up. It's really beyond what we ever thought, and it's beyond a lot of regular medical doctors. We've got a lot of money spent on the research, and there's a lot of interesting results that can help us."

Now that's a new one -- I mean, literally, the syndrome has to be brand new. So new that it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Everything has a Wikipedia page. So Brian Cushing is either lying, or he is the one NFL player that has been PED-tested through the last several years who is cursed with this groundbreaking affliction.

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"He overtwained!! He overtwained!!"
​Color me skeptical. Again.

Unfortunately, if this latest attempt at a Cushing Redemption is executed like the last one -- we all remember the now infamous press conference where Cushing casually mentioned he'd been fearful all season that he had tumors, mentioned with an urgency level normally reserved for pimples or hemorrhoids -- then we probably won't get a chance to ask questions about this startling medical evidence. We didn't last time.

Questions I would ask Cushing, or even better, the uber-doctors (not you scrub "regular medical doctors") into whom Cushing and/or the Texans have invested presumably thousands and thousands of research dollars:

-- Exactly what tests have you run on Cushing since the positive test that Cushing generated last September?
-- Have any of these tests indicated non-NFL sanctioned levels of hCG in Cushing's blood?
-- What exactly constitutes "a leave of absence" from training?
-- What was different about Cushing's training regimen around the time he failed the NFL's test last fall?
-- Cushing's failed test occurred during the NFL season. Sooooo, you can actually play NFL football at a Pro Bowl level during a "leave of absence" from high intensity training?
-- Is it possible to have negative levels of hCG from never training at all?

(That last question was just my attempt to slip a Carlos Lee-related question in for the doctors while I had their attention.)

Honestly, with respect to Cushing himself and the general public, other than now having the next flavor of bizarre explanation for a failed test (whose actual reason may be much less complex), nothing has really changed. He claims he did nothing wrong, he's trying to find evidence to support this, virtually no one believes him. That's the way it was before Sunday evening, which is when the story about McNair's trip to New York on Monday broke, and that's still how it is.

However, it has changed for McNair. He's now walking into Roger Goodell's lair to appeal an already-appealed suspension armed with "overtrained athlete syndrome" as his weapon of choice. If Cushing were playing Call of Duty, he basically just sent his guy into a machine-gun firestorm waving a feather duster.

I hope Brian Cushing knows what he's doing.

I've never owned an NFL team, but I have had employees report to me in a previous life. The worst kind of direct report was always the one who put stuff on your plate, who added unnecessary labor to an already laborious grind. If Cushing is being untruthful (stressing "IF"), he's not only making things very inconvenient for McNair, he's making his boss's boss look like a party to the whole folly.

If there was ever any question about McNair's willingness to go the extra mile as an owner, whether motivated by loyalty or putting the best possible product on his field for the foreseeable future (probably both, with the latter being more important), the last week or so should make progress in dispelling that. He took care of Andre Johnson, making him the highest-paid wide receiver in football; he's flying to New York to try and get Cushing's suspension overturned.

On the surface, McNair's reworking Johnson's deal and taking up for Cushing both have the same general headline -- "McNair Has His Star Player's Back." But the content underneath each is drastically different. In Johnson's case, it was a contractual issue, a reward in the ultimate "not all players are created equal" argument. Andre Johnson is the best at what he does on the field, and a damn good ambassador off of it. McNair's choosing to pay Johnson as such is a choice where McNair can still tell virtually any other player with a similar request to "talk to the hand". In other words, go become the best at your position, like Dre, and then we'll talk.

Defending and protesting on behalf of Cushing is a completely different flavor of unconditional love. Accusations of performance enhancing drugs strike at integrity issues that transcend where a player fits on the depth chart. Brian Cushing has been accused by the NFL of cheating; it just so happens, he's a Pro Bowler.

It begs the question "Would Bob McNair fly to New York and put his reputation on the line for a second- or third-stringer?" I don't ask that question out of skepticism, I ask because this is the Pandora's box that is now open. Taking care of a star player and ONLY a star player by reworking his contract is allowable capitalism; taking care of a star player and ONLY a star player for a PED suspension is favoritism.

Likely, it will never come to that. Just based on sheer probability, the odds of another Texans player flunking a PED test (much less, subsequently protesting it...TWICE) any time soon are remote, at best. But a protested positive PED test from Kevin Bentley or Danny Clark would certainly be the set up to some fascinating drama.

I think we all thought that the Brian Cushing Saga would end without any serious drama -- with the Texans and Cushing absorbing the four game suspension, moving on and all of us agreeing to figuratively never mention hCG again. Little did we know that the saga had an alternative ending that now potentially puts the owner of the team in a battle-red clown suit.

In the aforementioned Seinfeld episode, George Costanza was ultimately forced to admit to the Rosses that he lied about having a place in the Hamptons, even after spending exhaustive hours and driving hundreds of miles to conceal the truth.

That's the thing about Long Island -- if you keep driving, eventually you run out of real estate and you drive into the ocean.

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.


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