Robert Mathis: Please shut up about your positive test

Late last week Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis earned a four-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, but instead of accepting the punishment he and his agent launched a media counterattack.

Over the weekend they explained Mathis flunked a drug test not because he knowingly embarked on a doping program, but because  he was prescribed the fertility drug Clomid to help him and his wife conceive a child. According to Mathis’ camp, his doctor assured him the drug wouldn’t trigger a positive test.

If that story’s true Mathis, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks last season,  received some dreadful advice, only marginally worse than the advice telling him to embark on a media relations offensive.

So here’s some good advice, offered much more cheaply than the counsel Mathis is receiving from his legal team.

Shut up.

Shut up about Clomid and why you were taking it. Shut up about the doctor, and shut up about everything else until the four-game suspension — which you will serve without protest or complaint — expires.

Not because you’re necessarily guilty, though even the explanation suggests Mathis is less than innocent. But simply because this is the NFL, where PED suspensions are short and the public’s memory about it even shorter. There’s a time to fight to protect your reputation, but now’s the time to let people forget it was ever tarnished.

Where the NFL and steroids are concerned people will forget.

They always do.


When track superstar Tyson Gay tested positive for testosterone last year he forfeited 12 months worth of results and prize money, lost all his sponsors and received a two-year ban that was shortened only when he agreed to squeal on his coaches and other steroid enablers.

Barry Bonds never failed a drug test but faces a de facto ban from baseball’s hall of fame because we all know he did steroids. It doesn’t matter that he had a Cooperstown-worthy career before he touched a syringe. For many fans and media, five years of doping taint his entire body of work.

But Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing? He tested positive for Clomid after the 2009 season without folks affixing asterisks to his long list of accolades that year. The Associated Press briefly suspended his Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but when football writers held a re-vote Cushing won again.

Over the past decade the word “disgraced” as grown into sports writer shorthand to describe athletes, usually in Olympic sports, whose PED use is well-known and whose achievements we no longer respect as legitimate. So we have “disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson” and “disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.”

But if an NFL player falls from grace it’s never steroid use that topples him.

Selling cocaine and marijuana?


A string of sexual assault allegations?


But steroids?

They didn’t cost Cushing his 2009 accolades, or stop NBC from hiring admitted HGH-user Rodney Harrison as an analyst. Nor did they cause anyone in the media to look as skeptically at the roster of NFLers caught using Aderall as we do at cyclists, runners and baseball players who we know — or just have a hunch — are doping.


Disgraced NFLer Brian Cushing? Why would anyone suspect he used steroids?

Because as much as people care whether NFL players use PEDs, nobody really cares whether NFL players use PEDs. Otherwise we’d ask serious questions about how the league went from one 300-pound player in 1970 to more than 530 when training camp opened in 2010. Evolution of the game explains part of it. Evolution of human beings does not. Advances in steroid science could tell us a lot.

Either way, washing off the stain of a positive test is only marginally more difficult for NFL players than passing a scheduled drug screening. It’s not tough at all — which makes the Mathis camp’s vigorous media offensive even more perplexing, especially given the drug we’re discussing.

We know doctors prescribe Clomid to boost fertility in women and in men.

A string of positive tests also tells us male athletes use Clomid the way they do the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen — to reverse the side-effects of steroid use.

And we know any doctor who knows his patient faces doping tests several times a year wouldn’t prescribe a drug that has tripped up athletes from Cushing to Manny Ramirez to Brian Roberts. We could ask Mathis’ doctor about it, but’s peek into his practice reveals he knows more about anti-aging than he does about fertility.

And if Mathis didn’t know an anti-aging doctor would offer him PEDs he should watch more CNN, where you can’t pass an hour without seeing an ad for Axiron, Androgel or some other legal testosterone gel designed the make older men feel more virile. Or he could have paid a little attention to the Biogenesis scandal that rattled the sports world in early 2013. A laundry list of pro athletes exposed as dopers after copping steroids at anti-aging clinic in Miami.

Or he could read up on Gay, whose positive test came after he started using a testosterone cream prescribed by an Atlanta-based anti-aging guru.

At this point, any pro athlete who doesn’t know the phrases “anti-aging expert” and “steroid dealer” are synonyms is either painfully dull or thinks the rest of us are. So the more Robert Mathis reveals about how he came to ingest a fertility drug, the more he either insults our intelligence or highlights his own gross naiveté.

As the folks at Deadspin point out, Mathis has picked a PED fight he will certainly lose. Winning this case in the court of public opinion means keeping quiet and letting fans and media forget you juiced in the first place.

When you play in the NFL it takes a lot more than steroids to disgrace you.




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