Merriman Should Skip Hawaii

Trust me, this column isn't sour grapes over the fact the San Diego Chargers won the AFC West, nor is this solely my idea. After reading the comments from Miami Dolphins defensive Jason Taylor about sending the wrong message to America's children, Shawne Merriman should reconsider his Pro Bowl trip.

"You really shouldn't be able to fail a test like that and play in this league, to begin with," said Taylor on Wednesday. "To make the Pro Bowl and all the other awards, I think you're walking a fine line of sending the wrong message."

That fine line included Merriman expanding his weight some 20 pounds from his last snap at the University of Maryland to the final days leading up to the 2005 NFL Draft.

Was it a growth spurt? Maybe he was a late bloomer.

Merriman has denied the allegations, but the suspension clearly indicates that he cheated. Now the NFL is gifting him a paid vacation (All-Pro style) to Hawaii where he'll be decorated as one of the games best players in 2006. I realize the players, coaches and fans voted him into the Pro Bowl but the NFL should have made a ruling prior to the vote.

There is no doubt that he's one of the premier pass rushers in the game and he could shatter every sack record in this league someday. But can he do it clean?

But really, that isn't even the point. He was banned for taking a steroid-based substance. This wasn't an inhaler, but a chemical steroid that can only be taken to increase muscle mass. There was no other medical reason to take it. The NFL would not have suspended him four games if they weren't 100 percent positive of the content of the substance that caused him to flunk his test.

"A performance-enhancing drug is, obviously, what it is," said Taylor. "You enhance your performance by doing that. You fail that test, I think it's not right, it's against the rules and ultimately I think it's sending the wrong message to the youth in America and the people who look at this game not only as entertainment but also to learn lessons from it."

Taylor, a 10-year veteran, might be the lightest defensive end in the modern era of the NFL. He's barely 250 pounds soaking wet and plays within the rules like most every other player.

Sure, there are players who cheat and don't get caught. I'm not naïve to believe that it doesn't happen in every NFL locker room, but nobody has been suspended for taking Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid on the list of the NFL's banned substances.

By accepting his invitation to the Pro Bowl, Merriman is telling the fans it's OK to cheat. You can candy wrap it all you want, but the evidence is overwhelming. Merriman might not think so, but he's embarrassing the league. He'll probably get over it since he's receiving a nice bonus for playing in Hawaii. If he was a man who felt even the smallest amount of remorse he would donate that bonus to a local San Diego charity.

I can't fault Merriman alone because society often places players on pedestals despite fallacies in their behavior on and off the field. We're brought up in a society that forgives those who cheat, lie and steal. We are a nation of second chances and, to be fair, Merriman deserves one.

But he shouldn't be rewarded. The NFL must take a stand on this topic in future talks with players. The league is thriving but there are problems that shouldn't be ignored. With the Chargers and Bengals keeping the local authorities busy, you'd have to think the NFL would already have taken a stand on this topic and negotiated a change in the Labor Agreement.

NFLPA Union Chief Gene Upshaw needs to take notice of the situation and realize what sort of message it sends to young football fans across the country.

He's in a position to do something about it. Will he?

Upshaw will probably go down in history as one of the greatest Union Leaders of the 21st century. He's accomplished far more than Marvin Miller, his MLB predecessor, did in his tenure as baseball's most hated man.

No one can deny Merriman's talents on the field. Even Taylor has praise for the young pass rusher.

"He's always making plays," said Taylor. "He's one of the best young talents we have in this game right now as far as defensively, and he has had an unbelievable year."

But at what price?

"There are certain rules and guidelines we have to abide by to play in this game," Taylor concluded.

He's right and it's time for Merriman, the NFLPA and the league to continue to do their part in protecting the greatest sports league ever.

If they don't, the NFL may one day remind us of baseball, which hasn't even remotely scratched the surface of the BALCO fallout that looms over the next year or two. Top Stories