Thursday, 4 a.m.
The problem isn't that Doug Martin cheated.
The problem is that even after he cheated, Martin was a lousy running back.
Simple as that.
Why, with the high-test coursing through his veins, Martin still couldn't manage three yards a carry. With the joy juice unleashed, he still couldn't get anywhere close to a 100-yard game.
Geez. How mediocre would Martin have been if he had normal blood instead of this Captain America serum stuff?
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Can you imagine the offices of the NFL when they got the dirty sample back from Martin? "He had 'roids? What was it? The Pee-Wee Herman steroid collection?"
Frankly, it's just sad. Steroids turned Mark McGwire into a hitting monster, and they pumped up Alex Rodriguez into an all-star. They turned Lance Armstrong into a punch line.
And they made Martin the 42nd-ranked back in the NFL.
I'm sorry, but I can't say I'm exactly eaten up with sympathy toward Martin. He cheated. The Bucs can talk all they want about supporting Martin, but it's hard to get around the notion that, at the worst possible time, he betrayed his teammates. It's hard to blame him for being a two-yard-a-carry-back. But for trying to take a shortcut? That's tougher to swallow.
When I first heard about Martin's suspension, I assumed his drug problems were PEDs. After all, Martin is a smaller guy, and he's known as "the Muscle Hamster."
Profootballtalk.com and NFL Media both reported that Martin had tested positive for Adderall, a drug that helps with a player's concentration. It isn't something to pump up the biceps, but it's illegal nonetheless. It's wrong. It's cheating.
But if you examine Martin's statement closely, he talks about "receiving the help I need" and "there is no shame in asking for help." Most of all, can you take a performance-enhancing drug if it doesn't enhance your performance?
“I was notified last week of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy," Martin said in a statement. "My initial instinct was to appeal the suspension and finish the season with my teammates. However, after numerous discussions with people close to me - including Coach (Dirk) Koetter - I am starting the suspension immediately so I can enter a treatment facility and receive the help I truly need.
“On the field, I must be strong and determined to push through both pain and injuries to become an elite NFL running back. Off the field, I have tried that same approach in my personal life. My shortcomings in this area have taught me both that I cannot win these personal battles alone and that there is no shame in asking for help.
“I sincerely apologize to the Glazer family, General Manager Jason Licht and the entire Tampa Bay organization, my teammates and our tremendous fans. This was not the season I envisioned and I have let everyone down, including myself. However, adversity yields opportunity and I ask for your support in my battle to overcome these personal issues.”
Question: Do PED users have to "overcome personal issues?" Don't most of them take the juice to bulk up and get strong?
My problem, frankly, is Martin's cut-and-run. They aren't personal issues, not on a 53-man team. They're team issues. They make you question Martin's good years. And his bad. And his future. How much of Martin's performance was fake? We may never know.
The sad part is that, for so long, so many made excuses for Martin. He was hurt, they said. His offensive line wasn't complete all season because of injuries. He was running hard. And so on. Turns out, a lot of people were making excuses for Martin that he didn't deserve.
"I know we’ve got a great franchise running back in Doug Martin," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "I’m not worried about his situation, I’m concerned about how can I get better, how can I help put this team in better situations to win football games when it’s time to win a playoff game. That’s what I’ve got to focus on.”
Ah, but is Martin really a franchise back? Or, if you ran the Bucs, would get as far away from him as possible?
That's going to be the Bucs' decision in the weeks to come. With this year's disappointment, and considering next year's salary, do you trust Martin to carry the load again? Doesn't a team at least have to hedge its bets and bring in another runner?
In the weeks to come, that will be an interesting discussion. How should the Bucs proceed? Do they cut Martin and let him walk away? Down deep, he has talent. Do they re-sign him to a lesser contract? Do they trust him? And if so, why?
And how do you feel about he way the Bucs have handled this? Initially, they acted as if Martin was simply a back who was left out because he didn't play special teams. It was only when presented with his absence from practice the Bucs owned up. Why not be honest as soon as the team found out he wasn't going to appeal the suspension?
In recent years, there has been that air from the Bucs that certain decisions really aren't anyone's business. But aren't they? If you want the fans to buy in, don't you at least have to let them know who is on the team?
All in all, there isn't much in this suspension to be proud of. The franchise was thrown for a loss.
The fans, too.