Why the NFL Had to Act Harshly in the Robert Mathis Case

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 19, 2014

Darron Cummings/AP Images

The reason Robert Mathis gives for using Clomid, a fertility drug that's also known as a classic chemical vehicle for performance-enhancing-drug cheats, is plausible. He was trying to build a family and give his ailing mom another grandchild before her death.

I get that. And I hope it's true. But this is professional sports, where cheats have come up with the greatest excuses in human history. There is a long, eternal list of lies, finger waving and believable denials. You feel for Mathis, yet the long history of PED cheats means we have a right to be suspicious no matter how valid an excuse seems.

The PED excuses go back decades and have gotten more creative as time goes on. Ryan Braun blamed the sample collector for his positive steroid test, saying he was anti-Semitic. This, of course, was a vicious lie—one that Braun also apparently used on friends like Aaron Rodgers, who came out publicly and supported him, before Braun later admitted he did indeed use PEDs.

Lance Armstrong was so deep into his lies and PED denial, he threatened anyone who dared to expose him, sued doubters and misled the public for decades about his use.

A terrific example of the lengths athletes will go to cover up their PED use was Melky Cabrera creating a fake website to cover his PED tracks. Incredible.

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Barry Bonds said he thought he was using flaxseed oil.

A shot-putter blamed his positive test on shampoo.

A track athlete blamed his positive test on a massage therapist.

Sprinter Ben Johnson blamed a spiked drink.

Marion Jones also used the flaxseed oil excuse and then lied for years before coming clean on Oprah. Because everyone comes clean on Oprah.

Cyclist Tyler Hamilton blamed his test on a twin that died in utero. It was a lie.

Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at Congress, saying he had never done steroids. Then, well, he tested positive for steroids. The reason he gave? He blamed a faulty vitamin B-12 shot.

Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro
Alex Rodriguez and Rafael PalmeiroOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Giants pitcher Guillermo Mota blamed his positive test on children's cough medicine.

Alex Rodriguez hilariously blamed pressure for his steroid use.

Name the last athlete who tested positive for PEDs and said: "Yeah, I tried to cheat, got caught. My bad."

This leads us to Mathis. Mathis has taken responsibility for the decision to take the medication without first speaking to the league. Again, he sounds logical and believable.

But let me take you back in time just four years. Pitcher Edinson Volquez was suspended 50 games for using a fertility drug (as was Manny Ramirez not long after that). 

Volquez's statement sounded eerily familiar to Mathis':

Prior to the conclusion of last season, my wife and I sought medical advice in Cincinnati with the hope of starting a family… As part of my consultation with the physician, I received certain prescribed medications to treat my condition. As a follow up to our original consultation, my wife and I visited another physician in our home city in the Dominican Republic this past off-season. This physician also gave me certain prescribed medications as part of my treatment. Unfortunately, I now know that the medication the physician in the Dominican gave me is one that is often used to treat my condition, but is also a banned substance under Major League Baseball's drug policy. As a result, I tested positive when I reported to Spring Training.

The problem Mathis has is that his story isn't believable. It's emotional. Just not believable. In any way. Especially if you truly know how the NFL works—and Mathis does.

First: All Mathis had to do was use Google to find out if Clomid was legal. Just type a few keys into the Internet machine and whazaam, there you go.

Second: As several player reps have told me, players on each team are constantly reminded to know exactly what goes into their bodies. And I mean, constantly. As a team captain, Mathis likely knew this better than other teammates.

Third: There is an independent medical specialist—jointly appointed by the union and the league—that players can go to if there is any doubt about any medications or supplements they want to ingest. All a player has to do is say, "Doc, can I take this?" And the doc will say, "Hell no" or "Go ahead, dude."

Fourth: Players have an app that lists every banned substance. Just plug in a name and get the info. It's that simple.

Yet Mathis took none of those approaches, apparently. Which is, well, interesting. I'll just stick with that word. Interesting.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Interestingly…Mathis' urologist told ESPN he initially did not know Mathis was an NFL player. However, Mathis said in his statement that he initially asked his doctor if the meds would trigger a positive drug test. Those two statements are, um, polar opposites. And does this doctor generally run into men that are 6 foot 2 and weigh nearly 250 pounds? And when Mathis filled out his application to the doctor what did Mathis put for occupation? Actor? Comic? 

Mathis could have also applied for a therapeutic use exemption from the NFL. If approved, he could have used Clomid with the league's permission. He did not apply for the exemption before using the drug.

Remember the primary purpose for why former cheats used Clomid. It wasn't necessarily as a performance enhancer. It was used to mask performance enhancing. So if Mathis only used it for 10 days or so, as his agent says, that is not proof Mathis didn't use long enough to actually have any muscle-building benefits.  

The NFL is in a brutal spot. Its drug program has been called a joke. Then, when it works the way it should, as in the Mathis case, it's called cruel.

If the NFL failed to allow the Mathis punishment to stand, it would have created a potentially glaring hole. Anyone, after a positive test, could then make up any excuse they want.

And as we've seen, athletes can be creative with their excuses.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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