MMQB Mailbag: Expert disputes Cushing's theory of overtraining
Expert says conditions can lead to high hCG levels but overtraining is a stretch
Expect the NFL to uphold the sanction and sit Cushing for four games
Mailbag questions on Brett Favre, Europe expansion and Tony Dungy
In my Monday column, I told you that Houston linebacker Brian Cushing and the owner of the Texans, Bob McNair, would be asking the league to reduce or erase the four-game suspension for a positive performance-enhancing drug test based on a defense that Cushing tested positive for elevated levels of hCG because of overtrained athlete syndrome.
Today, I bring you an expert in hCG research, courtesy of the work of SI's David Epstein. He interviewed Laurence A. Cole, hCG researcher at the University of New Mexico and director of the hCG Reference Service. Cole gave an explanation about how Cushing could have tested positive by ingesting nothing -- but simply by overtraining, as Cushing has claimed. But Cole also made it clear that, in his opinion, such a claim is highly unlikely.
Cole said there are conditions that could trigger false positives in a man. The testicles could completely stop working -- as in a case of testicular cancer, or a disease called hypogonadotropism (which basically means the testicles stop working), or a hereditary disease called hCG syndrome -- resulting in more than normal hCG being produced in the body. Said Cole: "All these things are rare and remote. The honest truth is that 999 times out of a thousand, the test gives a correct result. If they're positive, they're taking hCG.''
When Epstein asked about the overtrained athlete syndrome, Cole said: "It sounds like a far stretch ... I have never seen a case like that."
As I went about my job Monday at Indianapolis Colts camp -- and as I made and fielded phone calls about the Cushing story, one thing came through loud and clear from NFL executives: Roger Goodell would be opening up the league for major trouble from prior PED positive-testers by doing anything to Cushing's sentence except upholding it. My understanding of Cushing's defense, from talking to him and McNair on Friday, is that they claim overtrained athlete syndrome is a possible cause of the positive hCG test. How, today, could they prove absolutely that a test taken 11 months ago was because of overtrained athlete syndrome and not from Cushing taking a PED to cause the elevated levels?
That's the trouble here. The NFL has been very clear about not allowing any excuses for positive tests; the player is responsible for what's in his body. For those reasons, I don't see how the NFL can do anything but uphold the sanction and keep Cushing out for the first four games of the Texans' season.
Now onto your e-mail:
WHY THANK YOU. "I have to compliment you on your Monday column this week. Well actually all your Monday columns are excellent but what caught my attention this week was that there was absolutely no mention of Brett Favre. Six pages on pro football and no mention of Favre or his 'retirement' for that matter. Congratulations. This just shows why you are the best. You lead. You write about what interests you and not just what everyone (and I mean everyone) else is writing about. Thanks again.''
-- Jim S., Boulder, Colo.
I thought everything that needed to be said in the past few days had been said. I didn't know what there was left to add. The country has Favre Fatigue, and let's see what happens when he makes his final call.
MATT SCHAUB IS NOT EXACTLY CHOPPED LIVER. "I'm sure you're going to get a lot of these kinds of e-mails, but the comparison between Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson isn't quite fair. Larry is a phenomenal talent and hard worker, but Kurt Warner had a lot to do with Larry's success. Andre Johnson has spent the majority of his career catching passes from quarterbacks considerably less gifted than Kurt Warner. Perhaps the statistics would be tilted the other way had Kurt Warner resurrected his career in Houston instead of Arizona.''
-- Alex, Davis, Calif.
I did hear a lot of that, yes. But I don't buy it. Let's look at the past three years. That's when Kurt Warner played 45 games for the Cards and Schaub 38 for the Texans. In Warner's 45 games, he averaged 261 passing yards a game. In Schaub's 38 games, he averaged 265 passing yards a game. In Johnson's previous years with Houston, his quarterback was David Carr, mostly. In Fitzgerald's previous years with Arizona, his quarterbacks were Warner, Josh McCown and Matt Leinart, all for about a year. I don't think the quality of quarterbacking has been extraordinarily different, though I would agree that I'd rather have had Warner, on the whole, than Schaub over the past three years. It's close, however, as the numbers suggest.
THE LONDON JAGS? "Peter, just finished reading your book. Thanks for a great read! On your idea for overseas expansion (re: London Jaguars), I really think the NFL has to look 10-20 years down the road and look at setting up four teams in Europe. Although the current talent pool would not support adding four teams to the NFL, I think a lot of the logistics would be solved with scheduling if the NFL set up a European division. Thoughts?''
--Shane Richardson, Phoenix
I know an owner or two who has thought of that. The NBA has too. The question, really, is whether the NFL could get 70,000 fans a game, for eight or nine games a year in Berlin or Amsterdam or Hamburg. One or two games, I can see. But full seasons? At prices higher than prime soccer games? I think, at least now, that it's a stretch to think the NFL could get that kind of interest.
I CAN'T SEE SCAB GAMES HAPPENING. "After reading your column today and the "divide" between players and owners and the CBA and the Commissioner's stance, I am wondering if "scab" football is a possibility next year the way it occurred in 1987?''
--Cam Cameron, Felton, Del.
I think it's almost impossible. The NFL considers that a blight on its recent history, and I don't think any owner would want to go through that again. I know with certainty the networks don't want it. Bad idea.
HE'S SKEPTICAL ON DUNGY'S LEGACY. "Tony Dungy's fourth book should be 'How to capitalize on being considered a great leader when you have probably the greatest QB ever playing for you for eight or nine years.' I'm sorry, but Peyton Manning would be great without Dungy, but I'm not sure the reverse is true.''
--M. Schneider, Fort Madison, Iowa
Duly noted. But what about winning without a top quarterback in Tampa, and setting up Jon Gruden for his Super Bowl win?
DISAPPOINTED IN MY CHOICE OF CHARITIES. "I appreciate you running for charity, and the ones you listed are worthy, obviously. But why not help some of the charities that don't have such a high profile? You could really have made a difference, but you chose to help ones who already get a lot of help nationally.''
--Tom Leybold, Atlanta
Understood. I heard this from a lot of followers, and I'm sorry about it. But the reason I had to go with some of the higher profile ones is simple -- I can't be involved in collecting the money for this, and each of the organizations I listed has a sophisticated donation portal on its websites. So my apologies. I wish I could have helped more, and smaller, charities. By the way, the two winning charities, as voted by readers via Twitter, will be announced in my next Monday Morning QB column.
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