‘Gates’ of Hall should remain open for Antonio

Presumption has already destroyed the Baseball Hall of Fame so let’s leave the morality to the professionals when judging star players like Antonio Gates and whether one’s ultimate career path should end in Canton.

This by no means is a defense of Gates, the San Diego Chargers’ tight end who was suspended four games last week for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing dug policy, nor is it support for Gates’ tired, cliche-ridden defense.

“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,” Gates said after getting popped. “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.”

The CBA prevents the league from releasing the results from any failed test so no one really knows why Gates will be spending September on the sidelines, and that kind of HIPAA-like confidentiality has opened up a cottage industry
of plausible deniability in which suspended players and/or their agents blame tainted OTC supplements.

Senator Orrin Hatch fueled a deregulation of the supplement industry so it is one rife with fraudulent advertising and claims. That said, if you were to believe every PED abuser using a tainted product as an excuse, GNC would surpass the Mexican cartels as the biggest drug dealers in the country.

Point being Gates’s excuse doesn’t hold much water with me. However, sullying his reputation as a football player because he got caught in a dragnet designed to hold up the unlucky few as some kind of proof that professional football is a clean sport is incredibly disingenuous.

Shannon Sharpe, the ex-Broncos and Ravens Hall of Famer, made that very leap, though, calling into question everything Gates has accomplished since he arrived on the scene as an undrafted former basketball player out of Kent State in 2003.

“It calls into question everything that he’s ever accomplished,” Sharpe claimed on Sirius XM NFL Radio. “If he does it at the beginning of his career because he was an undrafted free agent, people are gonna say he did it to get in the league. Now he did it Year 13, Year 14 — People are going to say he did it to remain in the league. It does, it makes you question everything someone has ever accomplished.”

The guy who is largely responsible for fueling Gates’s incredible numbers over the years, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers took a more tactful approach, standing by his long-time teammate.

11 NOV 2012:    Antonio Gates (85) and Philip Rivers (17) of the Chargers warms up before the NFL regular season game between the San Diego Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

Rivers has stood by Gates despite the PED suspension.

“Can I 100 percent say that (Gates’s explanation was true)?” Rivers asked rhetorically on San Diego’s Mighty 1090. “I don’t know that I can, but I feel like our relationship is such that if it was intentional, he would say, ‘I messed up. I’ve been doing this, I made a mistake, I just couldn’t do it anymore the way I was doing it.’ You know what I mean?

“I feel like he would say that to me. So that’s why I say I know, and that’s the only reason I say it. Could I be wrong? I guess. But I don’t think so. I don’t think so. The trust and relationship and the friendship that we’ve built over 12 years, he’d have no reason to tell me anything but the truth.”

The truth, though, is inconsequential.

Gates’s reputation will take a hit; there’s no avoiding that. But turning a player into a pariah because he went searching for that extra edge is an insanely competitive atmosphere is obtuse, especially in this generation where synthetic boosts are far more prevalent that what you’ve been told.

“As a friend you just hate it for him. I feel for him as a friend. I really do,” Rivers continued. “You hate it for him because of what perception and what thoughts people are going to have that you can’t really change their minds on. And me, knowing him, the kind of guy he is, I know it was without knowing that he was doing that. He’s first class in every way. So it’s tough knowing that he’s going to have that tied to him in some way and some people will always think something about it.”

It’s interesting that Cooperstown is no longer relevant because uneducated men (at least in regards to performance-enhancing drugs) are guarding the gates with some kind of warped moral authority, refusing to allow the best players
of a generation like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in. And the same fate is looming for Alex Rodriguez when he becomes eligible.

And remember none of those “proven steroid cheats” were ever caught by a MLB-administered drug test so what makes you think everyone who has been deemed deserving of entrance was really clean?

It’s the tainted keeping the tainted out.

And there’s a simple solution — a notation that makes visitors aware that this particular era was marred by PED use at a time where it was vilified in the general public.

The alternative is continuing to throw rocks from the glass house and pretend we know what Gates and others like him did and how it affected the games they played over the years.

Talk about hubris.

Greatness is greatness and “cheating” is nothing more than a buzzword coined by the black-and-white crowd incapable or unwilling of understanding nuance.

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