Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The current Robert Mathis saga is your classic "he said, she said" back-and-forth with the truth lying somewhere in between his version of events and the NFL's response to it.
In this case, it's really "he said, he said" after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the pass-rushing star four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
Mathis and his agent, Hadley Engelhard, quickly affirmed the ban was for a fertility medication prescribed by Mathis' physician, although the All-Pro did admit culpability by failing to consult with the NFL or the NFL Players Association before ingesting the banned substance, which turned out to be Clomid.
"I specifically asked the doctor if the medication he prescribed for me would present a problem for NFL drug testing, and unfortunately, he incorrectly told me that it would not," Mathis said in the statement posted on social media
"I made the mistake of not calling the NFL or NFLPA to double check before I took the medication."
Mathis said he took the drug "very briefly" at the end of last season, claiming his wife faced "fertility challenges" but they wanted to give his mother another grandchild after learning the matriarch of his family had cancer. The six-time Pro Bowl selection then claimed he quickly stopped after his wife became pregnant.
The spin continued when Mathis said he worked closely with the union to ask the NFL to consider discipline that didn't include a suspension, but the iron- fisted Goodell refused that request.
"I am deeply saddened that this situation will prevent me from contributing to my team for four games, and I regret that I didn't cross-check what my doctor told me before I took the medication," Mathis said. "I hope that my fans will understand the unique circumstances involved here and continue to know that I am a man of integrity who would never intentionally circumvent the performance- enhancing substance policy agreed to by the NFL and my union."
And that is what this is really about, Mathis and Engelhard trying to remove the PED-taint from the Mathis brand.
The league is on more than solid legal footing here and Mathis has already accepted responsibility for his guffaw and acknowledged he will have to serve his four-game suspension.
Engelhard, though, isn't letting this go, and confirmed Goodell was furnished Mathis' medical data and a sworn statement from his doctor.
"We have given him all the medical data," Engelhard said on ESPN. "We are just amazed that the commissioner and the NFL have put this kind of punishment on Robert."
"The league and commissioner Goodell have taken a stance that puts Robert under some strict scrutiny," Engelhard continued. "That is really unjust and unfair."
Usually, the NFL does not discuss details of players suspensions under either the performance-enhancing drug or the substance-abuse policies, but the outspokenness of the Mathis camp, and the plausibility of its excuse, forced the league's hand.
"The drug for which Mr. Mathis tested positive is not approved by the FDA for fertility in males and is a performance-enhancing drug that has been prohibited for years," the NFL said in a statement.
"Importantly, Mr. Mathis did not consult with the policy's Independent Administrator, a physician jointly approved by the NFL and NFL Players Association. Nor did he consult with his team doctor, the team's training staff, the NFLPA, the league office or the hotline established under the policy to give confidential information to players. Each of these sources would have warned against using this substance."
Engelhard returned that volley Monday morning when he took to the airwaves on the "Mike & Mike" program on ESPN Radio.
"They released a statement, which the NFL never does, and even in their statement, they're misleading the public," Engelhard claimed. "There's many drugs that are not FDA-approved for certain things and are used for other things, and the doctor, in direct and cross examination, even talked about that: He's been using this as a fertility drug for 20-plus years.
"There is not one shred of evidence that (Mathis) used it for other than fertility."
The NFL's senior VP of labor policy and government affairs, Adolpho Birch, answered those charges by going back to the basics.
"The policy is crystal clear that the player is responsible for what is in his body (and) that's by design," Birch said. "That's because of the union and the league agreeing that we don't want to have to make those sorts of decisions. We don't want to have to judge whether or not this is a reasonable story, this is an unreasonable story, this claim is correct, this claim is incorrect.
"We want to be able to treat everyone consistently and make sure that first and foremost, we are applying that policy in a way that we feel works to ensure that we eliminate the threat of these types of substances and deter the use of these types of substances in our game."
So. who's right?
Both sides are correct in regards to Clomid. The NFL's claim that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has never approved it for male fertility is spot- on as is Mathis' assertion that many doctors continue to prescribe it for such issues.
The Physician's Desk Reference description of Clomid calls it a drug that attempts to produce ovulatory stimulation so that pregnancy can occur in women for whom that would otherwise be unlikely. It's also common for men who have infertility related to sperm quality and motility, however.
The drug, though, is on the NFL's banned list for a reason. It's been used as a masking agent which also mitigates the feminizing side effects of steroid use.
It's certainly possible this whole mess was a sincere intent by Mathis and his wife to give his ailing mother another grandchild, a perfectly logical scenario clouded by so many other abusers who have turned the sports world cynical.
The harsh reality in my mind, though, lies in Mathis' performance last season when he amassed a career-high 19 1/2 sacks at 33 years of age.
Even if you buy that Chuck Pagano's attacking 3-4 scheme was a better fit for Mathis' skill set than the 4-3 cover-2 philosophy he played in for the majority of his career, the sharp uptick in performance smacks of a Barry Bonds-like surge at a time normal human beings are going in the opposite direction and nearly all NFL speed-based pass rushers suffer a steep decline.
I want to believe Mathis. Inject me with Sodium Pentothal and I'll tell you I don't.