I wish I believed Brian Cushing was telling the truth.
In fact, I'm more dubious now than I was before the Houston Texans linebacker spoke publicly about his failed NFL steroid test.
I flew from Miami to Houston on short notice Thursday for a news conference because I wanted to see and hear firsthand what Cushing had to say. I didn't cast my ballot for Cushing in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year re-vote because, beyond a brief statement, he had failed to come forward in the five days since news of the failed test surfaced.
Cushing said his silence stemmed from having to spend time with his family in New Jersey following the death of his aunt. Fair enough. This was his chance to convince me I made a mistake in changing my vote to Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd.
Cushing still won the Associated Press award without my support. But what transpired inside Reliant Stadium made me more certain I did the right thing even when 18 of my peers didn't.
Clearly nervous addressing a crowd of 30-something reporters and 11 video cameras, the 23-year-old stammered through his prepared opening speech. He acknowledged testing positive for a substance -- HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) -- that is normally found in pregnant women. In the context of athletics and performance-enhancing substances, HCG is a fertility drug often taken by steroid users to boost natural testosterone production at the end of a cycle. This is prohibited under the league's drug-testing policy.
Cushing said that he didn't know what HCG was before last September's failed test. Cushing insisted he never ingested or injected HCG.
Cushing then dropped the bombshell that makes me think his HCG claims were B.S.
"I was told the only way it could get into your body was through injection or a tumor," Cushing said. "I personally don't inject myself with anything. I played this whole season not only thinking it could be my last season but my last year."
Not to diminish the possibility Cushing may be afflicted with a serious medical condition that could be revealed in future medical testing -- I pray that's not the case -- but the tumor revelation was news to even those who intimately know Cushing.
Like the Texans themselves.
Even for a player with such a passion for football, it's implausible that Cushing wouldn't have addressed a potential life-or-death matter with Texans officials, doctors or teammates. Fellow linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who is one of Cushing's closest friends on the roster, admits he "didn't know anything about tumors."
Texans general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak left the news conference without taking questions. A request for a team comment about Cushing's tumor claim was responded with, "No comment."
Really, what can the franchise say that wouldn't cause further embarrassment?
Harold Henderson didn't believe Cushing's excuses, either. Henderson was the league executive appointed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to hear Cushing's appeal in February. It was rejected. Cushing, who said he would not try to fight the decision in court, will be suspended for the Texans' first four games this season.
Cushing came to the podium Thursday with no tangible, physical proof of his innocence. No medical records. No supporting physician. Not even an attorney. Instead, we were merely supposed to take the word of a played already dogged by rumors of steroid use since college at face value.
Again, I can't. As adamant as Cushing was in proclaiming his innocence Thursday, we've gone down that road too many times with dirty athletes who would rather blame the drug-testing system than confess their guilt.
I hope Cushing gets his "medical issues" corrected. I'd love to see him present documentation and statements to clear his name. I hope he never tests positive again. I hope he doesn't have to spend what can be a glorious NFL career remembered as this generation's face of steroid use.
In the team meeting room where Cushing spoke, 18 posters of Texans greats hang from the walls - including Cushing himself. It was here that Cushing swore he would "never do anything to cheat this game."
He already has.