Houston's Brian Cushing Keeps AP NFL Rookie Award

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In an unprecedented move, the Associated Press held a re-vote for its NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Sportswriters and editors had selected Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, but that was before it was announced that he tested positive for a banned substance. The new tally is in, and Cushing will keep the award.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

A little professional football news now. Brian Cushing is still the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year. We say still because the AP held an unprecedented revote for the 2009 award, and it announced today that Cushing won again. That's despite last week's news that the Houston Texans linebacker would be suspended for four games at the start of next season.

Cushing tested positive in 2009 for what he says is a non-steroid substance, the one that's still on the list of banned performance-enhancing drugs.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: When the panel of 50 sportswriters and broadcasters originally voted in January, Brian Cushing got 39 votes. Today, the number fell to 18, still enough to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award but certainly not the same ringing endorsement.

Associated Press sports editor Terry Taylor says one no-voter said this time around, it was a more informed vote.

Ms. TERRY TAYLOR (Sports Editor, Associated Press): With the suspension and then the admission of even a non-steroid substance was enough for him to change his ballot.

Mr. JOHN McCLAIN (Sportswriter, Houston Chronicle): People choose the times they want to be sanctimonious. And it's their right if they want to vote against it.

GOLDMAN: Just as John McClain says it's his right to vote for Cushing, which he did twice. McClain writes for the Houston Chronicle. He's covered the NFL for 33 years. He's covered Cushing's team, the Texans, the past five years. McClain voted and then re-voted for Cushing, just as he voted to give awards in the past to other players who tested positive for banned substances.

Mr. McCLAIN: And I know people will say, well, Cushing cheated, how could you vote for them? Well, I've done this long enough to know there's a lot of guys out there cheating. He just got caught. We'd be naive or stupid to think that everybody else we vote for is clean. That's just not the NFL. I think I would be hypocritical if I did not vote for somebody just because he got caught.

GOLDMAN: It's a cynical answer for sure, but it hints strongly that an anti-doping system the NFL trumpets as one of the best has flaws. And the Brian Cushing case is a good illustration of those problems.

Robert McNair owns the Houston Texans. This week, McNair criticized the process that allowed Cushing to play the entire 2009 season after failing a drug test without, McNair says, the team's knowledge.

Mr. ROBERT MCNAIR (Owner, Houston Texans): Brian had mentioned that he had an issue there, but we don't know what any of the details are, we don't know what doctors he might have consulted with, we don't know what evidence that the league might have; we don't know any of that.

GOLDMAN: They do now. Cushing reportedly tested positive in September 2009 for a substance called hCG. It's a favorite of steroid users who are cycling off synthetic steroids and want to kick-start their body's natural production of testosterone.

The NFL declined an interview request, citing confidentiality rules. A league spokesman did say in an email, it's not unusual for the process to take a lengthy period of time to ensure accurate test results and due process protection for the player. NFL critics would like to hear more. They'd like greater transparency in the process. They'd like players not to play while a case is pending.

The NFL has gotten a relative pass on the doping issue when you compare it to the scrutiny of Major League Baseball. The AP's Terry Taylor says that's changing, and the re-vote for Brian Cushing is a good example.

Ms. TAYLOR: I think there's a heightened awareness out there. I think there's less tolerance, you know, for PEDs, for steroids, for anything that could, in some way, be considered a performance enhancer.

GOLDMAN: The NFL players union also knew about Cushing's positive test during the season while he played. But yesterday, union head DeMaurice Smith talked tough. In a statement, he said, NFL players want a clean game and clean process for enforcing rules of fair play. And he said the union intends to address both in the upcoming collective bargaining process.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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