Suspension of Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is a stunner due to his reputation

Posted: 07/03/2015 in football
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It certainly was a bit stunning to hear that San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season due to violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Gates is known for possessing a strong work ethic and had never previously come under suspicion in his career. During the time I covered the Chargers, he was known as being “clean” and nobody ever brought his name up as somebody who might use unsavory substances.

You may recall that early in Gates’ career, there was another San Diego player who was suspended for four games for a violation of the NFL policy. That was outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, who vociferously claimed that he was innocent and even threatened to sue the stimulant company.

Funny, Merriman didn’t follow through on his threat and his productivity declined in alarming fashion. And there also were people in the organization who weren’t buying his story.

So now we have to wonder about Gates: Is this a one-time mistake or has he been getting an edge during the course of his All-Pro career? Or could he now be going that route because it is harder to prepare for an NFL season when you are 35 years old?

The four-game suspension will cost Gates close to $1.5 million so it certainly would qualify as a costly mistake.

Remember, Gates has never been suspected of doing anything illegal during his previous 12 NFL seasons. Then again, players have been known to lie or use spin control when they get caught.

Before we go further, let’s look at Gates’ statement:

“In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails. I have taken extreme care of my body with a holistic approach and I have never knowingly ingested a substance that was banned by the NFL.

“In an effort to recover from this past season, I used supplements and holistic medicines, and unfortunately, I have now learned that those substances always present a risk because they may contain banned substances even if the ingredient list doesn’t reflect them. As an NFL veteran and team leader, I should have done my due diligence to ensure that what I was taking for recovery was within the NFL guidelines.

“I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues. I take full responsibility for my actions.

“I’d like to express my sincere apologies to the Chargers, my teammates, coaches, fans and the league who have always supported me and expected and gotten nothing but the highest level of integrity from me.”

Part of me wants to give Gates the benefit the doubt. Yet the skeptical part remembers all the times that players, coaches and other people in the Chargers organization lied. Including right to my face — hey Norv Turner, remember all those times?

But Gates was always straight up with me. He was a go-to guy per the locker room quote mill and he always was cordial and had insightful things to say. In addition to being a tremendous athlete, Gates is highly intelligent.

The former Kent State basketball star once returned my call in the offseason to talk, well, college basketball.

I can recall how gruesome his injured foot looked when he showed it to me in the locker room the week of the AFC Championship Game in Jan. 2008. And he was sooo disappointed that he was at less than half speed in the frigid conditions in Foxborough as he felt his inability to separate from Tedy Bruschi on what normally would have been a sure touchdown might have cost the Chargers a Super Bowl berth.

So he’s accountable. Very accountable.

And that’s what makes me pause here — it is possible that Gates accidentally landed on the banned substance list without knowingly ingesting something illegal.

But then I read that statement and I see the player with 99 career receiving touchdowns is going overboard per angling for the benefit of the doubt.

That always raises a red flag when the athlete goes that route — and isn’t in front of the camera fielding questions — as the NFL excels at spin control.

At this moment, there is no way to really know whether or not Gates made a huge mistake or knowingly took a banned substance.

But the shock that a player and person of his caliber drew a four-game suspension remains.


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