EVERY TIME you hear about a major league athlete facing a second or third suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs, you roll your eyes a little.
And every time, you have to pause and reflect and admit that testing positive for PEDs, even repeatedly, does not necessarily indict every athlete that pops.
According to a tweet Tuesday from a radio personality that was supported by two other reports, Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson is facing a 10-game suspension for testing positive for PEDs for a second time. He missed the first four games of 2014 when, according to Johnson, he tested positive in the offseason for a banned drug prescribed by his family doctor, then lost his appeal.
This time, according to a tweet from Fox Sports reporter and trainer Jay Glazer, who is also a former mixed martial arts fighter, Johnson told him he tested positive for a banned substance.
The knee-jerk response: excoriate Johnson for putting his career in jeopardy, not to mention the immediate outlook of his team, already thin at the tackle position. Johnson also was the Eagle most critical of former coach Chip Kelly’s controversial processes. A first-round pick in 2013, he is a cornerstone of the franchise, having signed a six-year contract extension in January. But suddenly the criticisms from an emerged locker room leader ring hollow when that guy might be a two-time drug cheat.
But is that a fair characterization?
When you think “drug cheat,” you think Barry Bonds, A-Rod, the Seattle Seahawks — generally duplicitous and unsavory characters with little moral fiber.
Johnson seems to be the opposite. He was contrite, sincere and accountable in 2014. This time, he clearly is stunned to find himself facing this sort of lifelong stain. He first denied the impending suspension, then went silent, then had his agent deny it.
Why the apparent confusion? Because, according to Glazer, Johnson believes he ingested an approved amino acid that included a banned peptide, which sounds innocuous on its face.
However, peptides can be powerful when used as enhancers and, because they quickly leave an athlete’s system, very difficult to detect. Some are legal. Some are not. It is up to the athlete to make sure whether or not they are ingesting the proper supplement.
Which raises another issue: If an athlete has tested positive once for PEDs, why would he ever take another supplement? And, if he does take another one, why not restrict his options to team-issued supplements?
As for the first question, the past few generations of athletes have been convinced that their addiction to supplements is necessary — that only through specialized formulaic nutrition can they hope to compete with their peers for the millions of dollars at stake, and the ineffective nature of drug testing combined with the protection of labor unions makes skating on that thin ice an incredibly smart gamble. Most retired athletes will tell you that, given the rampant use of PEDs in sports, it isn’t remarkable that so many athletes test positive; it is remarkable that so few do.
As to the latter question, we don’t know where Johnson got whatever he took. In fact, aside from Glazer’s vague tweet, we don’t know for sure if Johnson is facing a suspension, though a tweet from NFL employee Ian Rapoport, who works for NFL.com, says Johnson intends to appeal his impending suspension.
What we do know is that Johnson appears to be careless enough that this is an issue again. After all, he attended Glazer’s offseason training program in 2015, a regimen that incorporates MMA and one that, you might correctly have guessed, has a connection to at least one other cheat: Brian Cushing, who popped in 2010.
Glazer has denied any connection with Cushing’s positive test.
The drug-addled MMA culture is exactly the place where you want to spend your time coming off a PED suspension.
Feel free to roll your eyes now.