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I'm shocked and saddened by the news of Shawne Merriman's reported suspension for a positive steroids test. I met this young man during Pro Bowl week and was struck by how he was a down-to-earth and thoughtful young man. He had a great work ethic and an excellent knowledge of the NFL's history and wanted to one day be a part of that illustrious history. Now I wonder how far he took that desire and if he realized the consequences of his actions, because now everything he's ever accomplished and will accomplish in football will be questioned.
The Rookie of the Year award and Pro Bowl honors we all thought Merriman earned last season have now been sullied completely by his imminent suspension. Going forward, whenever he plays in a game people are going to mention this positive test result. And the consequences aren't just off the field, they are also on the field; now players are going to take extra shots at him because he's going to be thought of as a cheater. Everyone in his locker room is going to look at him differently, and to some he'll be a pariah, never to be trusted again.
I don't understand how a professional athlete in this day and age could take steroids when there are so many consequences. Sure, I understand the great deal of money that is to be made if you're able to get away with it. But is it worth what he's now going to go through? This is a kid who presumably wanted to one day be mentioned in the same breath as luminaries like Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus, Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor. Now he stands a much better chance of being mentioned in the same breath as Brian Bosworth and Tony Mandarich.
Merriman, 22, was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season and started in the Pro Bowl after recording 54 tackles and 10 sacks. He also finished with five passes defended and two forced fumbles. Through six games this season, Merriman was second on the Chargers with 5½ sacks.
The San Diego linebacker has acquired the nickname "Lights Out" for his hard hits and aggressive demeanor.
"Shawne, of course, he's something," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said after Merriman won top honors for first-year players. "He's an extremely talented young man who brings it every snap. He's very, very competitive."
Merriman's suspension originally was to be announced last Tuesday when two other NFL players -- the Falcons' Matt Lehr and the Lions' Shaun Rogers -- were suspended for violating the policy. But Merriman reserved the right to appeal his suspension, so it was not announced.
"Per the collective bargaining agreement, the Chargers aren't allowed to comment on reports or results involving the league's substance abuse policy," Chargers spokesman Bill Johnston said Sunday night.
Merriman's suspension is the latest on a laundry list of on- and off-the-field issues Schottenheimer has had to deal with this season.
From a strictly football standpoint, Merriman's four-game absence decimates a San Diego defense already reeling from injuries.
Linebacker Steve Foley was shot in the leg by an off-duty police officer on Sept. 3 and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. Foley's replacement, Shaun Phillips, injured his right calf in Sunday's 30-27 loss to Kansas City and will be out four to six weeks.
In addition, defensive end Igor Olshansky is out after having arthroscopic knee surgery and is likely to miss a month.
Off the field, the situation has been at least as devastating.
The Merriman suspension will have an impact on the player, his team, the league and sports in general. More coverage:
• SportsNation Poll: Could suspension be the tip of the iceberg for the NFL?
Foley, meanwhile, has been charged with two counts of misdemeanor DUI stemming from his confrontation with an off-duty Coronado, Calif., police officer.
Police said that Foley, who, according to his agent, David Levine, is currently unable to walk or stand without assistance, had been partying in downtown San Diego and registered a blood-alcohol level of .233 percent, nearly three times California's legal limit of .08 percent.The charges carry enhancements that include being charged with DUI within 10 years of a prior conviction and having a blood-alcohol level exceeding .15. Foley has been arrested at least five times since 1999, including cases that police say involved alcohol and confrontations with officers.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.