Matthews, Cushing and guilt by association

Take a look at the background picture of Green Bay linebacker Clay MatthewsTwitter account. It’s a 2009 Sports Illustrated cover featuring Matthews and two of his former USC teammates: Brian Cushing, later drafted by Houston, and Rey Maualuga, who landed in Cincinnati.

Barely a year later, Matthews is the only one of the trio unscathed by controversy. Maualuga was arrested in January for drunken driving and was scheduled to spend 30 days in rehab. Cushing, the 2009 NFL defensive rookie of the year for Houston, was suspended four games Friday after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

And for those who will start the guilty-by-association discussion between Cushing and Matthews, who gained some 60 pounds between his junior year in high school and the start of his college career, let’s follow the lead of Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Bedard points out Matthews’ April 2009 response to rumors he had tested positive for steroids himself. Matthews explained how he developed from an unrecruited 161-pound high school junior to a 220-pound college linebacker and expressed frustration at how quickly steroid rumors start when young football players gain weight.

Let’s allow Matthews’ unambiguous words, courtesy the Packers’ website, speak mostly for themselves.

Clay, were you part of an erroneous report?

Clay Matthews: Yeah, the same website actually reported that B.J. [Raji] had tested positive for recreational drugs and me and my other teammate, Brian Cushing, had tested positive for steroids, which is completely false. Unfortunately in years past people have had to just wait it out and let the smoke clear and at that time their name is damaged. No matter if you come out clean, people are going to think less of you as a person. So [we] were fortunate enough to be able to call the head administrator for the drug test and he let us know, no, you didn't test positive. It was just a matter of shutting a guy down and letting people know the real story. It's unfortunate, but I guess we're in this position that we are today and it wouldn't be happening if we weren't in this position. You learn from it and you grow from it really.

When you went to SC, were you 161 pounds?

CM: No, that weight has been exaggerated tremendously. I want to set the record straight and say I was 228 coming into SC. After camp, around 220. I just worked hard. I'd love for the writer of that article to come see how I train and live a day in my shoes, and he can see how I put on this weight and what not. It was funny, I just heard the other day Aaron Curry was 195 at Wake Forest when he first checked in. People can put on weight. They work hard. It's not that hard provided you have a workman's mentality.

You redshirted and were there a long time, so was it not just the weight room but you hit some growth spurts there too?

CM: Yeah, absolutely. Fortunately and I guess unfortunately, Matthews are just late bloomers. The same with my dad and my Uncle Bruce, we all going into college, we put on a tremendous amount of weight. It was just a little late in the recruiting process so you have to walk on here and there and make a name for yourself. That's what I had to do. You can talk to anyone at that program and they'll say I'm one of the hardest workers and I'm going to be in the weight room. Not just in the weight room, but on the practice field, watching film, game film, and they'll tell you the type of character that I possess.

So what did you weigh your junior year when they wouldn't recruit you?

CM: 166.

How tall were you?

CM: Probably around 6-foot, 6-1. Probably the only college guy to have actually grown in height too throughout college.

Some of you will suggest that we in the media perpetuate guilt-by-association themes by introducing them in the first place. Writing about it draws a connection readers might not otherwise make, you might say, and extends the damage rather than letting the issue settle.

I strongly disagree. I covered baseball from 1996-99, the years leading up to the steroid revelation era. At the time, writers bent over backward to avoid mentioning steroids, even in the presence of obvious clues, in order to avoid sullying the reputation of players who hadn't admitted to using them. And since there was no reliable testing at the time, no one admitted it. So for the most part, steroids were not part of the public discussion even though, as we now know, they were being used by some of the best players in the game.

Nowhere am I suggesting that Matthews should come under more scrutiny now that one of his college teammates has tested positive. But we would be naïve to think that ignoring the connection would help diminish its legitimacy. Every American with a computer can publish his or her opinion via the Internet. So in an era of unattributable accusations and connecting of the dots, we need more openness, more public discussion and maximum accountability. I'd rather have someone like Clay Matthews step forward and assert he has never taken steroids than sit back and believe rumors will dissipate if they go unaddressed.