WTOP Sports Blog
Posted on: Thursday 12/12/2013 3:41am
First, it was the Stephen Strasburg shutdown. Then the government shutdown. Now comes the biggest shutdown to ever hit Washington.
The RG3 Shutdown.
In the wake of the Redskins' 5th straight loss and another rough day at the office for embattled quarterback Robert Griffin III, equally embattled coach Mike Shanahan openly mulled over whether it was worth it to play RG3 for these last three meaningless regular season games. Wednesday, we got our answer.
It'll be Kirk Cousins leading the 'Skins offense from here on out, with Rex Grossman backing him up. That means Griffin will be inactive on Sundays, effectively going from RG3 to RG3rd String.
Of course, if you let Shanahan tell it, he's not benching him -- more like preserving him. Befitting a politician in the Nation's Capital, Shanny hit all the talking points. He cited the constant hits Griffin has taken in recent weeks (presumably both on and off the field), the need for RG3 to be 100 percent healthy going into off-season workouts, and the risk/reward of playing him down the stretch of a lost season.
All of that is true. I'm just not buying Shanahan's sudden change of heart.
I still remember last season's magic carpet ride. The 'Skins won their last seven games to win their first division title in 13 years. During that streak, Griffin suffered a knee injury against the Ravens but, three weeks later, the 'Skins still capped the year off with a primetime embarrassment of their most hated rival to clinch the NFC East -- even though the Offensive Rookie of the Year was essentially playing on one leg.
That bum knee gave out the following week against the Seattle Seahawks in the wild card round, letting the air out of a Burgundy and Gold balloon that was seemingly on the rise.
Now, if Shanahan were so gung-ho about Griffin's health and wellness and his full participation in off-season workouts, Kirk Cousins would have started the final three games of last season -- perhaps eliminating the need for him to do so this season.
Furthermore, Shanahan's timing is more than curious. This team has been out of playoff contention for two weeks now. If Griffin's health were a primary concern, this decision would have been made after the loss to the Giants, thus avoiding the high risk of injury associated with last week's game -- in the snow, against an elite Kansas City defense, and on that FedEx Field turf where he hurt his knee not once, but twice. It certainly wouldn't be this week, when RG3 could play in a dome against a porous Atlanta defense.
So when Shanahan stepped to the podium for a passionate, 28-minute press conference to announce his intentions and the reasoning behind them, it was disingenuous (at best). Everyone who's followed this sinking ship of a franchise knows Shanahan is likely on the way out. And with each passing week, it's as if he's trying to agitate owner Dan Snyder into such a decision so he can get the remaining $7 million on his contract and start over.
A great way to force Snyder's hand? Bench his buddy RG3.
So all that Academy Award-worthy performance proved is that Shanahan is in full blown self-preservation mode. He's posturing and making one last-ditch effort to salvage whatever's left of his reputation so he can engineer a soft landing in Houston or somewhere else he deems the grass to be greener.
Even Hall-of-Fame coach John Madden agrees.
"I mean, you know it's baloney," Madden said on his Sirius XM radio show. "I like Mike Shanahan, and I'm not talking behind his back, but when you say something like that, you know that's not right - you're not going to sacrifice regular season games. There's only 16 of them a year. You're not going to sacrifice regular season games for an off-season program."
Madden didn't take it far enough. To be quite frank, I don't buy what Shanahan is selling because he's a liar. Which he brazenly admitted Wednesday.
"What I'm trying to do is be as honest as I can, and I don't normally do that."
Another thing he didn't normally do here is win. Which is why he'll be elsewhere a month from now.
To his credit, Shanahan did a fine job in the draft and did well in adding free agents like Pierre Garcon and Barry Cofield. But his sins in 2013 are many, and his tenure in Washington is rightfully coming to a close.
Let's just hope his final act in D.C. isn't also ushering the end of RG3's stay here.
Posted on: Tuesday 12/10/2013 11:06am
WASHINGTON - As the Washington Redskins were pummeled by 35 points on the team's home field Sunday (amid another round of needless drama), the team clenched this reality: In three weeks, the narrative surrounding the Redskins will officially flip to off-season mode.
There won't be a catastrophic home playoff loss this year. No, fans will christen the 2014 calendar with talk of coaching changes, defensive overhauls and potential special teams upgrades.
That's nothing new here. The Redskins can shore up all of the above and still be back in the familiar 5-11 realm. And it's all because the team's top off-season priority is the one that can't be addressed.
Folks, this is the one and only common thread over the last 14 years of ineptitude. Yes, the team was bad in the latter years of the Cooke family regime. However, that could probably be attributed to the NFL version of the Circle of Life -- the inevitable cycle of good teams becoming bad, and bad teams becoming good.
Washington was never going to replicate the success of the first Joe Gibbs era with every hire.
Under Dan Snyder, it's been far beyond the normal struggle to find the next Gibbs. The Redskins have been an annual theater of the absurd. And coaching blunders are only the tip of the iceberg.
This team has been saddled with awful contracts (see Haynesworth, Albert), PR nightmares (remember the story about the little old lady getting sued over her season tickets?) and enough litigation to call to mind the old "sue everybody" line from The Jerky Boys.
Throw in "The Fortune .500" team of 2000, "The Swinging Gate," the Donovan McNabb re-signing hours before the infamous Monday Night Massacre, and basically everything about the Spurrier era -- and you've got one huge vortex of futility.
What's linked to all of those events? Snyder.
Mike Shanahan is almost certainly gone, only a year removed from winning the NFC East -- the Redskins' first division title in 13 years. He'll be tossed out just as Marty Schottenheimer was chased out of town, despite winning eight of his last 11 games in his lone season here.
Before him, Norv Turner was canned during the 2000 season for not being better than 7-6 after 13 games.
But will Shanahan's ouster make a difference? Probably not. I'm on record as saying he's done just as much good as has head-scratching bad here, and that this thing isn't as bad as it looks right now if he catches a couple breaks here and there. But we're past that point.
Now the question becomes, "Who's crazy and/or desperate enough to coach here?" Snyder's track record isn't good: 14 years, seven coaches. That's an alarming turnover rate at the most important position in an organization. Established guys like Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy won't want to dive into that pool of piranhas, and hiring a college guy like Art Briles (RGIII's coach at Baylor) would only further the notion that the franchise QB is running the show in Ashburn.
Gruden's relationship with Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen could prompt him to look the other way, but right now he doesn't sound like a guy inclined to give up his cushy job at ESPN to be a punching bag for Snyder and/or the D.C. media.
I grew up a Redskins fan, so I've had front row seats to this horror show for over 20 years. I've long taken a realistic, yet cautiously optimistic, view of this team. For years, we said that Snyder simply fading to the background and getting someone credible to make football decisions would solve all that ails the Burgundy and Gold.
Now, it's become painfully obvious that Snyder is indeed the root of what's wrong with the Redskins. He's created an atmosphere of dysfunction and distrust, and any man who doesn't see how destructive it can be to coddle his most marketable players (even if this RGIII thing is false, he definitely did so with Clinton Portis) is a danger to himself and his football team.
So Redskins fans have to hope for two things to happen if they ever want to see a fourth Lombardi Trophy: Either Snyder has an epiphany and morphs into Robert Kraft, or he sells the team to someone who knows what he/she is doing. Right now, neither scenario seems likely.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Redskins Nation. It's just the hand we've been dealt.
Now let's draw the rest of the cards for Week 14:
Jaguars 27 Texans 20
Get swept by Jacksonville, get fired. It's as simple as that. Easy decision for Houston to can Gary Kubiak, who has tanked my AFC favorite two years running.
Chiefs 45 Redskins 10
Kansas City emphatically ended its three-game losing skid and clinched a playoff spot to effectively cement the team's return from last season's 2-14 debacle. Trust me: nobody wants to see the Chiefs in the postseason.
Colts 28 Bengals 42
Talk about two teams heading in opposite directions. Cincinnati has won seven of its last nine and appears to be closing in on another division title, while Indy backed into a division title by virtue of being the only team in the AFC South that's not bound to pick in the top 10 of the upcoming draft. Of course, we said the same thing about Baltimore last year, so...
Falcons 21 Packers 22
Before the season, I think we all would've guessed this would be a possible playoff preview. Instead, it was an exhibition game to see who gets a higher pick in the 2014 draft.
Browns 26 Patriots 27
True to form, Cleveland was just about to knock off former Browns coach Bill Belichick's current team in its own building -- when fate intervened. There is truly no greater torment than being a Cleveland sports fan.
Raiders 27 Jets 37
Ed Reed got an interception, Geno Smith didn't suck and "Ground and Pound" was in full effect. Enjoy it, New York ... it's probably the last time we say that this year.
Lions 20 Eagles 34
It's often said that pro-football players are grown men paid a king's ransom to play a kid's game. We were certainly reminded of this seeing the California guys (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Ross) playing in the 6 inches of snow in Philadelphia.
Dolphins 34 Steelers 28
Troy Polamalu looked like his old self instead of an old version of himself. But the Steelers lost anyway. See, NFL? You didn't have to dock Pittsburgh a draft pick, after all. The Football Gods exacted their own vengeance on the for Mike Tomlin's sideline gaffe on Thanksgiving.
Bills 6 Bucs 27
E.J. Manuel and Mike Glennon combined to throw for six interceptions and neither completed half of their passes. You'd think this game was played in the snow instead of Florida.
Vikings 26 Ravens 29
This was the first time in NFL history we saw six lead changes in the fourth quarter of a game. Couple this fast and furious finish (Baltimore outscored Minnesota 22-20 in the final stanza) with the snowy conditions, and this is an instant classic for the Ravens' short franchise history.
Titans 28 Broncos 51
Remember when Pierre Garcon said the Redskins offense could be one of the greatest of all-time? Well, he must've thought he was still playing with Peyton Manning. Look at what Denver is doing. This looks more like Madden than real NFL football. Not bad for a team with a QB that can't throw in sub-freezing temperatures.
Rams 10 Cardinals 30
Arizona's bid for a wild card spot was hampered by the loss of Tyrann Mathieu to a torn ACL. The Honeybadger is a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and a legit playmaker for the Cardinals secondary. This one hurts.
Giants 14 Chargers 37
In case you're wondering, Eli Manning is now 0-3 against the San Diego franchise he refused to play for back in 2004 (this one hurts the worst, too -- the New Yorker was eliminated from playoff contention Sunday). This stat helps Chargers fans sleep at night, but Manning's two Super Bowls sort of gives the impression he made the right call.
Seahawks 17 49ers 19
As expected, two of the NFC's best split the season series with the home team winning each game. The Niners better hope this is the last time they see the 'Hawks; the rematch will be in Seattle -- where San Fran has been shelled by a combined 71-16 in the last two trips to the Emerald City.
Panthers 13 Saints 31
Drew Brees is the 5th QB all-time to throw for 50,000 yards in his career. Amazing how this guy went from a late-bloomer in San Diego to a surefire Hall-of-Famer in New Orleans.
And don't mourn for the end of Carolina's eight-game win streak. The team hosts the rematch in two weeks and that defense will at least get them a wild card spot.
Cowboys 28 Bears 45
On the night Chicago finally retired Mike Ditka's #89 jersey, I was almost sure Josh McCown was going to lead the Bears to 89 points against that putrid Dallas defense. If the Cowboys again fail to win the NFC East, that unit will be the cause.
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Posted on: Tuesday 12/10/2013 10:17am
Posted on: Tuesday 12/3/2013 12:53pm
WASHINGTON - It's that time of year, folks.
The holiday season doesn't just ring in the end of the NFL regular season. It's a time to give thanks. So what better time than now to offer up a few things I'm thankful for this football season?
Before getting mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday, the rallying cry in Washington all season was "even though we suck, we're only a couple of games out of first place." Plus, with 13 weeks now in the books, there are 27 teams still alive in the postseason race. This can only be true in a league rife with parity.
Tip of the cap to Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant and Mike Tomlin for making this year special. The tips go to Megatron for just being great, Dez for the fantasy football points and Tomlin for becoming the most photoshopped and/or memed coach in NFL history.
The rapid emergence of the Kansas City Chiefs
I've been doing this NFL Recap for five years. This is on track to be my worst batch of season predictions yet. The one thing I got really right was the Chiefs rising from 2-14 doormat to playoff contender. Almost makes up for being loud wrong about the Texans, Redskins and Falcons. Almost.
Even amid trade rumors, Big Ben has resurrected not only his Pittsburgh Steelers' playoff hopes but he's also saved my fantasy football season -- my first without an elite QB. With Colin Kaepernick, I was an awful 2-6. Since picking Roethlisberger up off waivers, I'm 5-0 with a legit shot at the playoffs. Don't call it a comeback.
As long as he's the GM of the Dallas Cowboys, they will remain mediocre. The fact that Jerry Jones the owner thinks Jerry Jones the GM is doing a good job confirms this. In Washington, we like that. We like it a lot.
We also like a nice, tasty NFL recap to go with our cranberry sauce:
Packers 10 Lions 40
Detroit posted their first Thanksgiving win in 10 years and may have delivered a death blow to Green Bay's playoff hopes in the process. It's starting to look like the Year of the Lion in the NFC North.
Raiders 24 Cowboys 31
Not to be a football fashionista, but there's something terribly wrong about the Dallas Cowboys wearing their blue jerseys at home. Completely unacceptable, circumstances be damned.
Steelers 20 Ravens 22
Baltimore looks like a team poised to make a late playoff push when they're matched up against teams equal to or lesser than they are. But with games at Detroit and against New England, it's hard to see the Ravens keeping pace with the Bengals.
Jaguars 32 Browns 28
Josh Gordon just posted his 2nd straight 200-yard receiving game (an NFL first) and has the 2nd most receiving yardage in the league despite catching passes from the likes of Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. This kid is legit.
Titans 14 Colts 22
As Andrew Luck took yet another pounding behind that porous Indy offensive line (5 sacks for a loss of 40 yards), I wonder if Colts fans discuss benching him so he doesn't get killed like Redskins fans do regarding RGIII.
Bears 20 Vikings 23 (OT)
Adrian Peterson topped the 10,000-yard rushing mark for his career, again reminding us all that he's literally the only thing good going for Minnesota.
Dolphins 23 Jets 3
Memo to Geno Smith: if you keep your starting job despite leading the league in turnovers and getting benched at halftime for one of Phil Simms' kids, then you most definitely are Mark Sanchez.
Cardinals 21 Eagles 24
Nick Foles stayed hot against one of the best and most underrated defenses in the league, and continues to make history by throwing 19 TDs and still no interceptions. He's more than earned the starting spot in Philly and maybe even an honorable mention as an MVP candidate.
Buccaneers 6 Panthers 27
Cam Newton may not have eaten any turkey for Thanksgiving, but he sure ate up the Tampa defense on Sunday en route to an 8- game win streak. Carolina is hot and getting healthier, making them a legitimate threat to New Orleans for the NFC South. I'll be waiting all week for Sunday Night...
Patriots 34 Texans 31
Hey Houston...New England didn't have to cheat to beat you. You just stink.
Falcons 34 Bills 31 (OT)
If the presence of Rob Ford in Toronto doesn't get Buffalo to cease and desist this already lame practice of exporting a home game North of the Border every year, I'm not sure what will.
Rams 13 49ers 23
Is it me or is San Francisco the only NFL team that seems to have a story about the abuse of male genitalia on a weekly basis?
Broncos 35 Chiefs 28
Yes, Denver basically locked up the AFC West by sweeping KC. Yes, the Chiefs are mired in a 3-game losing skid after the 9-0 start. But all of that is secondary to the comically gigantic tears shed by Knowshon Moreno. No human should be able to do that without instantly fainting from dehydration.
Bengals 17 Chargers 10
Now that Cincy is 8-4 with a pretty favorable remaining schedule, it's growing increasingly likely that they'll have the AFC North title already in hand when their Week 17 showdown against Baltimore rolls around.
Giants 24 Redskins 17
Props to @SadlyLacking for tweeting this resolution to the Redskins' name debate: "rename the team: 'The Washington Casinos'. You enter the stadium full of hope, but you undoubtedly leave broke and miserable." Couldn't say it any better myself.
Saints 7 Seahawks 34
In the nearly inevitable preview of the NFC Championship Game, Seattle made a huge statement. They shutdown one of the most prolific offenses in the league, scored at will against a solid defense, and set the Guiness World Record for loudest outdoor stadium in the process. Now that the 'Hawks have a playoff berth locked up, they can shift focus to nailing down homefield advantage.
Posted on: Monday 11/4/2013 9:43am
WASHINGTON - It was clear after the 30-24 overtime win against the San Diego Chargers that as a drama series the Redskins win would some awards. They also might be good enough or lucky enough, or both, to make it to the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
The win over the Chargers has a potential to be a turning point in a season saddled by questions and inconsistency.
From uncertainty over quarterback Robert Griffin III's knee to the team's 0-3 start, we were starting to think the party was over. Maybe last year was just a tease and the days of hand-wringing on a regular basis were on their way back.
Luck in the form of timing is on the Redskins side. This is the year to be a part of the NFC East. At 3-5 the Redskins are very much in the mix in the division. The first place Dallas Cowboys are only 5-4.
It begs the questions: Are the Redskins on the rise or is the NFC East on the decline? It doesn't matter.
Teams that make the playoffs in the NFL find a way to make plays, even when they are not having the best of days. Darrel Young scored three touchdowns on 1-yard runs including the game winner in overtime. In the third quarter, Griffin kept a drive that resulted in a touchdown alive when he scrambled and lunged 10 yards for a first down.
The game and maybe the season came down to the fourth quarter.
The Redskins blew a 24-14 lead and appeared set to lose in regulation. The Chargers thought they had the winning score on a Danny Woodhead touchdown catch with 21 seconds left. It turns out Woodhead did not touch the pylon with the football or cross the goal line and upon review the touchdown was called back.
Still the Chargers had first and goal inside the 1-yard line. Not to be a buzz kill, according to ESPN, the Chargers have only scored touchdowns twice in 11 tries this season from the 1-yard line. That means the Chargers have only scored touchdowns on 18 percent of their chances from the 1-yard line, compared to the league average of 49 percent.
Despite the Chargers curious play calling, one rushing and two pass plays from the 1-yard line, the Redskins defense refused to bend. The defense is part of a Redskins team, which despite all of its stumbles and blunders, still believes in itself.
In the NFC East, belief might be all that matters.
Posted on: Saturday 11/2/2013 2:05pm
WASHINGTON - There are ways to see live sports events in HDTV without getting stuck with the cable or satellite TV service bills.
Maybe consumers have become accustomed to paying each month, but sports fans have forgotten that plenty of these games are featured on over-the-air networks like Fox, NBC and CBS. Plus, over-the-air broadcasts are free.
USA Today recommends the $40 Mohu Leaf antenna to pick up the games.
It's also worth the time to check online. Some sporting events, subject to local blackouts, are streamed online free of charge.
Posted on: Tuesday 10/22/2013 2:59pm
WASHINGTON - What a show.
Before and after Week 7, no game had been talked about more than the previously undefeated Broncos' trip to Indianapolis to play the Colts. Denver entered the game 6-0. Indy was 4-2. And, oh yeah, that dude currently playing quarterback for the Broncos spent his first 14 NFL seasons as a Colt.
Peyton Manning versus Andrew Luck. Old school versus new school. The master versus the phenom.
As if those storylines weren't enough, Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay added fuel to the already raging media fire by insinuating his Colts underachieved during the Manning Era, winning only one Super Bowl during the team's historically dominant run in the 2000s.
On the one hand, Irsay has a point. Indy won more games during the 2000s than any other NFL team in any other decade. More than the 49ers in the 80s, the Cowboys in the 90s and even the rival Patriots in the 2000s.
Yet the Colts have only one title to show for it.
For that reason, I've been as harsh a Manning critic as they come. I've long maintained that the Colts winning anything less than two or three titles during that run is borderline criminal given how good the players were in the regular season and how many times they held home-field advantage.
That said, such sentiment coming from Manning's former boss is a game changer -- and his current boss was right to call Irsay out on it.
To understand Irsay's wrongheadedness, you have to understand the landscape in Indianapolis. That place was a football wasteland before Manning's arrival. The Colts made the playoffs just three times between the move from Baltimore in 1984 and Manning's rookie campaign in 1998, giving the state of Indiana little reason to deviate from its lifelong love affair with basketball.
Posted on: Friday 8/23/2013 4:49am
WASHINGTON - Thursday proved to be a revealing day. But, as always, there are still uncertainties about about some Redskins favorites.
The big news of the day was that London Fletcher revealed to Sports Illustrated that he suffered a concussion last year in the preseason game against the Buffalo Bills and nobody ever knew. He acknowledged that he didn't tell the team about the effects, and was dealing with balance issues until late last season.
Asked why he never disclosed the injury, Fletcher said, "I'm an old-school player."
He did say that he regrets not telling the team about the concussion sooner. Fletcher spoke at length in open locker room on Thursday about concussion and his situation.
"It's Football, man. I play inside linebacker and I like to play physical. It can happen a couple times a game, but I wouldn't classify them as concussions," he said. "It's just a little bell ring. You'll see stars for a second then you're back to normal after two, three seconds or whatever the case may be. It's just the way the game is."
After practice Mike Shanahan addressed the situation and was asked if he knew Fletcher had a concussion after the first exhibition game. "I don't know for sure," Shanahan said. "Any time you deal with a balance issue, my first thoughts are that it could be a concussion, but that's what the doctors are for. That's what they're experts in." Fletcher is 38-years-old and hasn't missed a game in his 16-year career, playing 240 consecutive games.
Griffin Practice Update
Robert Griffin III went through his second straight day of practice in which he went against the first team defense. Mike Shanahan said, "It has been a full practice for him. We've had a chance to go against cards (scout team), we've had a chance to go against our defense. So he's had two excellent days, same thing he would have during the regular season." I'm sure Griffin will go through a full pregame warm up on Saturday as he has the last two games.
Saturday's game and Injury Update
Mike Shanahan said he expects the starters to go about 20 plays on Saturday against the Bills. He also mentioned that Josh Wilson should be on the field for the first time this preseason. He has been working his way back from torn labrum surgery this off season.
The coach still isn't sure about Brandon Merriweather. Do not expect to see him on Saturday.
Dante Stallworth said that he is hoping to play on Saturday. He hasn't played since the first preseason game in Tennessee. He was on the practice field again Thursday for the second straight day, and has been taking it slow but is ready to get on the field in game action.
Kirk Cousins and Barry Cofield did not practice on Thursday. I wouldn't county on seeing Kirk Cousins on Saturday. If he does not play, then you should get ready for the Rex Grossman/Pat White show against the Bills. Expect them each to play a half.
Posted on: Wednesday 8/14/2013 12:39am
Richmond, Va. - As the team moves past the focus on RG3's comment on Coach Mike Shanahan, injuries and scuffles both made an appearance.
First Real Scuffle Aldrick Robinson and Chase Minnefield had a minor confrontation during a 7-on-7 drill Tuesday.
For a little bit, the two went at it. Mike Shanahan was not a fan and stopped practice to bring the team together at midfield.
"When you have confrontations like that, you have 15 yard penalties," Shanahan said. He knows these situations happen, but wanted the team to make sure that they can make a difference in a lot of things. "In a game you can't have that happen," says Shanahan. "There's nobody that's worth that 15-yard penalty you have to keep your composure. It's the difference in winning and losing, and if they don't do it here, they won't do it obviously in a game." He did make the two players run after practice.
Tough Injury News
- Rookie safety Phillip Thomas has a lisfranc ligament that will require a 4 to
5-month recovery. He will be placed on injured reserve.
This is a big blow to the Redskins secondary, a position that was thin already
coming into this season. Brandon Merrieweather did get more work with the first
team in 11-on-11 work on Tuesday. He's still trying to come back from the knee
injury as well so is not 100 percent yet. The team knows it can count on Reed
Douhgty, just has its done year after year.
- Dante Stallworth still out resting his hamstring.
- Linebacker Roddrick Mudkleroy sat out with a sore shoulder.
- Wide Receiver Devery Henderson has been attending a funeral and is expected back on Wednesday.
Griffin On the Field Update Robert Griffin III went 12 -15 during the 7-on-7 sessions Tuesday. All eyes now turn to Wednesday to see whether or not he takes the field with the team for the first time this summer.
Practice Moving Forward Tuesday was the final day of 2-a-day sessions. Beginning on Wednesday there will be one practice a day and it will be open to the public. Practice begins at 12:40 p.m.
Posted on: Wednesday 8/7/2013 7:20am
WASHINGTON - Since reports surfaced last week that several MLB players -- the biggest being New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez -- would be suspended for using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), I've consistently been asked two questions by my colleagues here at WTOP, and friends:
"Drugs have run rampant in the major leagues for years, why go after these players so vigorously now?"
And: "Did you ever take PEDs?"
A little context for the second question: Before getting into the news business I played in the minor leagues for the Milwaukee Brewers organization from 1997-2000. Some would call that the height of the "steroid era." So, I've seen some things.
No, I never took PEDs. I didn't take them because I think every player has a moral obligation not to take banned substances.
Heck, in the 1998 offseason, I was a 6-foot-4, 18-year-old toothpick who needed to bulk up. Some teammates introduced me to the nutritional supplement creatine. It helps add muscle mass quickly, which I needed. As a competitor, you're always looking for an edge. Physically, I thought creatine would give me one, and it became part of my workout regimen.
But after three months I stopped taking it. I got tired of drinking a Pacific Ocean's worth of water to stave off the side effects of dehydration and muscle cramps. Plus, creatine's long-term term effects on the body weren't known, so I was scared to continue using it. It's also why I haven't taken another supplement since.
Truth be told, though, I never bothered to ask if creatine was banned. The MLB had no mandatory drug testing in 1998, so what was legal or illegal wasn't talked about in a lot of clubhouses. My teammates and I never thought to ask if what we were using was banned.
The overwhelming majority of professional athletes take some sort of supplement. Baseball, especially in the minor leagues, was no different. It was a sign of the times.
I can say without hesitation, though, that if I found out creatine was illegal, I would've stopped immediately. Being seen as a cheater isn't something I would've wanted. But from the guys I was around, myself included, that wasn't the overriding factor in our decisions to take or not to take PEDs. We all had parents who taught us right from wrong. Guys I played with juiced. All it would've taken is my interest, and they could get me on a program.
If someone was taking a shady substance, it was because -- in his mind -- it would give him an edge to get to "The Show" faster. If a player stayed away from PEDs, it was out of fear he'd make his body more vulnerable to injuries.
It's said that "you can't make the club in the tub." In the minors, you don't have millions of dollars to fall back on if you suffer a major injury. For us, our bodies were all we had. Half the battle was playing well. The other half was staying on the field.
I also chose to hang my hat on my work ethic. Like a lot of guys, I felt that alone would get me to the big leagues. It's what got me drafted in the fourth round as a 17-year-old, snot-nosed high school kid. It's also what made me play through painful shin splints the day I collided with a teammate and suffered a compound fracture in my left leg, effectively ending my career less than two years later.
The guys I know personally who made it to the majors did it with hard work. So I know it can be done.
Really, if you cheat, and you get caught, you gotta go. It's that simple. The 12 players who accepted their 50-game suspensions for admitting they took PEDs knew the risk of their actions the first time they ingested a pill, took a shot or smeared on a cream.
They're cheaters. They were caught. They gotta go.
The 13th guy, Rodriguez, still gets to play while he appeals his 211-game suspension. He has every right to defend himself. But if reports from ESPN are true, Rodriguez likely will go down as well.
Besides, he's a known cheater. He was caught, again. So he's gotta go. Hopefully, he'll stay gone.
Even when this latest charade is over, PEDs still will be part of the game. I doubt I'll be alive when they're completely out of baseball.
But the sooner the "steroid era" has run its course, the sooner the next crop of minor leaguers trudging it out in rookie leagues and making the climb through Single and Double A can get to the business of restoring the good name of the world's greatest game.
That's an era I'll look forward to.
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