RENTON, Wash. — It felt normal, which means it felt weird, too.
The Seahawks did their best to shove their cornerback controversy into the background Wednesday, focusing on the Chicago Bears instead of the performance-enhancing drugs innuendo hovering over Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Though you knew they would try to change the conversation, it was still eerie. It was darn near effective.
It was life in the NFL, really, where every message is controlled, and secrecy is preferred, and the next game is embraced as the ultimate panacea.
But this cloud isn’t going away. In fact, it will linger for a painfully long time now that the news has leaked that Browner and Sherman tested positive and reportedly face four-game suspensions if their appeals aren’t successful. To be fair to the accused, the NFL wants the process to be private, but it is available for all to scrutinize now. Little about the process is clear or welcome for explanation. And so, in a crazy twist, Browner and Sherman are victims who might soon be outlaws.
It’s unfortunate that Browner and Sherman have been snitched on before the NFL is certain they did anything wrong. Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, one of the team’s players union representatives, has a problem with the leak.
“I think it puts the players in a compromising situation,” Robinson said. “I feel like the people that are hearing the appeals watch TV just like you and I, and perception is reality,” Robinson said. “If the media is driving a story that some players did something and it might not be true — who knows? — I feel personally that affects the appeals process. I think it should be very, very confidential, and no one should know about it until all the facts are out.”
On the other hand, the players have an advantage that complicates this issue, too. The NFL’s collective-bargaining agreement essentially gives players the freedom to lie when they are busted for violating the performance-enhancing drugs policy. The league isn’t allowed to declare what drug a player took, and that’s partly why Adderall — which some unnamed sources are claiming Browner and Sherman took — has become a problem.
The NFL doesn’t have an Adderall problem as much as it suffers from the burden of a convenient excuse. Adderall is the excuse du jour. A player can get popped for steroids and pass it off as an amphetamine such as Adderall to save face. It’s much better to be attached to a sin that seems less disgraceful. Some performance-enhancing drugs carry reputation-killing stigmas. The public considers others nothing more than an ineffectual supplement that naive players take.
But you’re playing a dangerous game if you cast some banned drugs as no biggie. They’re prohibited and dubbed performance-enhancers for a reason, and if they had no major effect, players wouldn’t risk taking them. If the players insist on this lack of transparency in NFL drug suspensions, then you’re left to be as cynical about what’s really going on as you wish to be. And since owners don’t fight harder to remove the veil, you’re left to conclude they don’t care enough about the PEDs issue.
The NFL’s testing for doping is rather elementary. It still can’t screen players for human growth hormone because the players union won’t agree to it. The worst-kept, dirty little secret in the NFL is that no wants to reveal or solve the real problems — not the players, not the coaches, not the owners, not the fans.
Fact is, the truth will never be clear. Browner and Sherman will have their appeals heard soon — next week, we should all hope — and they’ll either get suspended for four games or be free to play. If they’re suspended, they can opt to give any explanation they want without fear of an NFL rebuttal. If they’re cleared, the NFL put them through hell because someone leaked premature news. This will end with a decision, but it’s a stretch to call it justice.
The only thing certain is that the game will remain beloved. And it dictates that, eventually, you won’t even see the elephant on the 50-yard line. Business goes on as usual, even when it’s unusual.
As always, Sherman held court in the locker room Wednesday, smiling and answering reporters’ questions with great candor, eloquence and a little swagger. He’s not acting guilty. And he’s not worried.
“Not at all,” he said. “Not at all. It doesn’t affect me at all. It happens like that in life. There’s always misunderstandings and mishaps.
“The truth always comes out. You just go on. You know what you know.”
And you live with what you don’t know, begrudgingly.