Golden Tate’s P.R. strategy sidesteps cheating stigma

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Giants receiver Golden Tate may indeed have been telling the truth when he explained that he began taking a fertility drug, that he realized in a matter of days that the drug is a banned substance under the PED policy, and that in the interim he was randomly tested under the PED policy. Like Tate, nearly every player who gets caught violating the PED policy has a plausible (or at least semi-plausible) excuse that softens the stigma of using PEDs for cheating.

Indeed, apart from receiver Julian Edelman (who didn’t bother to offer an excuse at all), every player who ever has tested positive for PEDs has had an explanation that didn’t involve using Performance Enhancing Drugs to actually enhance performance. Most often, the player took a supplement that unbeknownst to him contained PEDs. On other occasions, it was a fertility treatment. Most recently, Cowboys defensive end Robert Quinn claimed that otherwise permitted medication was tainted at the pharmacy with a banned compound.

From the NFL’s perspective, it doesn’t matter. And it shouldn’t; as a wise man once told me, “I may have a perfectly reasonable excuse for showing up to work without pants on, but that doesn’t change the fact that I showed up to work without pants on.”

From the perspective of court of public opinion, it’s much easier to sell a semi-plausible excuse than to embrace the stigma of cheating, especially since so few players who test positive for PEDs ever embrace that which for some of them has to be the truth. Still, the constant steam or semi-plausible excuses means that only innocent and well-meaning players have ever found themselves ensnared by a positive PED test — and that the PED testing process has never caught cheating a deliberate, premeditated cheater. Other than Edelman.

It’s unfortunate for the players who are telling the truth, but that’s one of the basic realities of a strict-liability PED policy that imposes discipline without proof of intent to cheat. The easy (and perhaps most appropriate) approach would be to simply regard all PED violators as cheaters, ignoring their excuses, no matter how persuasive they may be.

That’s a tough concept to sell, especially since fans and media don’t get nearly as bent out of shape about PED use in football as they do about PED use in baseball. Indeed, how much of a stigma is there even for guys who actually cheated? Edelman’s silence put him squarely in that category, but no one seems to care that, by all appearances, he used PEDs to hasten his recovery from a torn ACL so that he’d still have a job in the NFL — even if he possibly took a job away from someone who wasn’t using a PED.

It’s important to remember that point. Players who use PEDs, whether to more quickly recover from an injury or to run faster, jump higher, and/or push harder, gain an unfair advantage when competing for roster spots and depth-chart position against players who don’t use PEDs. For every player who uses PEDs to keep his roster spot or to enhance his status, chances are that some other clean player ends up with the short end of the stick.

Not that any of it matters. Fans and media will continue to shrug their shoulders, not wag their fingers, when it comes to PED use in football. Especially when the player who tests positive finds a way to check the “plausible excuse for violating the PED policy” box.

17 responses to “Golden Tate’s P.R. strategy sidesteps cheating stigma

  1. Players who use PEDs, whether to more quickly recover from an injury or to run faster, jump higher, and/or push harder, gain an unfair advantage when competing for roster spots

    Perfectly stated.

  2. I’d be less sympathetic if, in my family of 4 (me, my wife, and 2 kids under 10), we weren’t collectively taking 3 substances on a regular basis that are banned by the NFL. I can assure you that no member of my family is experiencing enhanced performance as a result.

  3. Not a GT fan but I will say that in today’s world you never know what you are getting, especially in off the shelf stuff. I am 100% against gaining an unfair advantage (looking at you Patriots, although I totally respect Edelman for manning up) because it only bends the rules or breaks them entirely. But seriously? If the guy was using fertility stuff and didn’t know what was in it? Do you know everything that is in your own stuff?

  4. Peyton Manning didn’t use any excuse for HGH. It wasn’t for him, it was for his pregnant wife because, you know, HGH is often (never) given to pregnant women.

  5. Peyton Manning didn’t use any excuse for HGH. It wasn’t for him, it was for his pregnant wife because, you know, HGH is often (never) given to pregnant women.
    Oh no, the NFL cleared him… it only took a couple of day to complete their very in depth & thoroughly on the up & up investigation…..

  6. How many games did Eli Manning get for selling fake memorabilia? How many games did Peyton get for, “more likely than not. using HGH? NFL and NFL Media are in the tank for the Mannings and their PR machine. Dollars talk and……. walks.

  7. The difference between performance enhancing drugs and a medical treatment is the duration. A medical treatment restores the body to its previous condition, while PEDs enhance the body beyond its normal capacity. In order to maintain that enhanced capacity, however, one must maintain the treatments. The PED policy therefore makes maintaining an ongoing enhancement incredibly risky and unlikely to succeed for long.

    The four game suspension for a first time PED bust is a negotiated part of the CBA, making it a business decision for an injured player, no different than holding out or refusing to sign a tender. This allows a player to seek legitimate treatment for a career ending injury at a moderate reputational cost, and allows the NFL to keep merch-moving superstars on the field longer.

    The NFL can choose to climb on a moral high-horse and adopt a zero tolerance policy, but it is hard to see how that would benefit the owners, the fans or the players.

  8. Good. There’s way too much finger wagging in this world. It’s like an Ice Age only it’s the Regulatory Age. Perhaps one of our 30 year religious revivals — only a secular one run by government rather than the church. The wrath of the metoo movement. The demonization of people with any condition that causes them to need scripts for painkillers. The strict control of language in the workplace. I’m afraid to leave the house for feat of inadvertently breaking 10 laws, 8 regulations, and 4 county ordinances.

    What ever happened to live and let live. The world was not a worse place back before all these new laws.

    We’ve seen Edelman make catches no one else could? His role in SB 51 was just as pivotak as SB 53. And same with SB 49 (the TD catch and hit knocking CB Lane out of the game). So why should he lose a roster spot just bc that person was healthier than him at the time of a cutdown? Now THAT would have been the injustice.

  9. These men play a sport for our amusement that is practically designed to break their bodies. We then give them all sorts of medical care to rebuild and repair, so that they may go out again and rip a tendon, break a bone, or suffer blows to the head that will likely diminish their capacity to function in the future.

    So why are we limiting them as to what is a “legitimate” repair process? Why do we tell these people “go forth and wreck yourself”, and then say “Nu-Uh” to medical options that are offered to non-players in hospitals?

    Not to mention the career risks if they can’t make it back. Someone (who’s presumably a lesser player) may get their spot? Are you saying the incumbents should play cautiously so they don’t get hurt, and so risk their livelihood?

    There’s nothing new in what I’m saying, but we never address this Catch-22 situation. Why?

  10. Indeed, apart from receiver Julian Edelman (who didn’t bother to offer an excuse at all)…
    How can he try to explain how it ended up in him if the NFL can’t say what “it” is?? I’m not saying he’s innocent but they’ve accused him of taking “something” – they don’t know what. And yet IF he’s innocent or it’s accidental he’s got absolutely no way of excusing/defending against it because he’s no way of figuring out how else it could have happened. Just sayin.

  11. And btw, the “fertility” excuse is BS – because though low testosterone is a symptom of male infertility, no clinic/doc/pharm would offer anything with testosterone in it because it’s well known to actually make male fertility worse. Indeed, if NFL could take sperm counts and it’s abnormally low or goes markedly down, and the guy is otherwsie ok, good chance its PEDs.

  12. What exactly is the logic behind PED rules? You can’t say they give an unfair advantage because if EVERYONE could use them, then NO ONE would have that advantage. So rather than punish people for using them, why not simply allow them?

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