The Lane Johnson case

Posted: July 03, 2014

WHAT'S ALARMING is not that Lane Johnson reportedly took performance-enhancing drugs and/or that Lane Johnson reportedly was caught taking performance-enhancing drugs.

What's alarming is if Lane Johnson reportedly took performance-enhancing drugs and believed he would not be caught taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Because it implies at least that there are dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe even a few hundred playing in the National Football League who believe the same thing. And that implies that the NFL's steroid-testing policy is less of a policy than a crapshoot, a crapshoot full of escape hatches and denial opportunities and clouded confusion that allows players to play beyond the "be more careful next time" slap on the wrists that these suspensions amount to be, and allows players to retain or regain their popularity among the increasingly uninterested fan base by claiming ignorance ("I didn't realize the banned substance was in my supplement"), medical malpractice ("My doctor assured me there was nothing harmful in the fertility drug") or conspiracy ("My vial was tampered with").

And yes, I said increasingly uninterested fan base. Surprise, outrage, indignation - these are emotions now based in naiveté. The comments that followed reports of Johnson's impending suspension, on our website and others, at least imply this - when they're not having a little fun, like the ones below:

"Well, Chip does preach Sports Science . . . "

"Pete Carroll on Line 1."

The latter, of course, refers to the problems the Super Bowl champions have experienced over the last few seasons with those danged tests. At least seven players have been implicated, although Richard Sherman successfully appealed his four-game suspension because of collecting irregularities.

Allen Barbre, the likely replacement for Johnson when he serves what is expected to be a four-game suspension, was cut by Seattle after testing positive for a banned substance.

What substance, you ask? Well, don't bother. Because the current collective bargaining agreement between the players union and the league prohibits disclosure of the substance any nabbed players were, um, absorbing. This allows for the cycle of excuses listed above, and allows a team's more forgiving - dare we say fawning? - fans to believe it was all just a big misunderstanding.

I mean, I like Lane Johnson. You like Lane Johnson. Earlier this month, he was all over the news for tweeting a $17,000 dinner check that was heavily laced with wine and liquor charges. And we liked that, too. Made him seem human, in a gaudy kind of way.

We all love that narrative of starting college as a quarterback and lifting and eating right, all the way to offensive line.

It really stinks to consider that something else might have been involved in that metamorphosis, doesn't it?

And don't you just want to believe that Richard Sherman's innocence is more than a cracked vial?

The truth is that we just don't care anymore. Or at least we just don't care as much, or we'll convince ourselves of almost anything that protects the sanctity of our autumn Sundays. Whether these guys are adding strength, speed and girth through allowed methods such as protein shakes or Creatine - which some in the medical industry fear can lead to kidney and/or heart problems - or through the long list of cocktails on the banned list, the undeniable fact is that a football locker room looks less human and more Marvel Comics every year.

And we're OK with that.

Standing 6-6, Johnson weighed 200 pounds playing quarterback his senior year in high school. He weighed 255 when Oklahoma found him at Kilgore College two seasons later, and added pounds each year since. He reported to OTAs this spring at 317 pounds, 7 pounds heavier than his final playing weight of last season.

It was said to be all muscle.

The Eagles - and their fans - were said to be excited by this.

And when Paul Domowitch broke the news for the Daily News, and other media outlets researched and confirmed his findings? No one begged the Eagles to cut the first-round pick of 2013. ("What are you, insane?") Rather, we looked at the first four games of the 2014 schedule and figured out the Eagles' chances for survival. We looked at the drop in level of play among his potential replacements, or even began to shuffle the offensive line to compensate until he was allowed to return.

And why not? Does anyone really care right now about Lane Johnson's kidneys - including, apparently, Lane Johnson? After the concussion-related headlines and lawsuits of the last few years, does anyone believe the league's concern for the health of its players derives from a moral compass rather than a legal one?

And the union? Hiding its positive-tested players behind nebulous descriptors? Delaying the inclusion of HGH testing for nearly 3 years over small details?

If they don't care about the player, and the player doesn't care about the player, then really, why should we?

Except to say this:

Get clean soon, Lane Johnson.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

philly.com/SamDonnellon

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